On a Sunday morning, one of my good friends invited me for a breakfast. “Dr Modak, I have a serious matter to discuss with you. Please could you bring your Professor Friend as well?” He sounded a bit exasperated.
My friend lived in one of the tallest buildings in Mumbai on the 104th floor. In fact, he occupied floors from 100 to 104 and owned the terrace that had a helipad. Few knew that he was the richest Indian on a global basis and yet he paid all the tax dues in full and in time to the Government of India and such several Governments. The world economy depended on him, his business and his investments.
Some believed that his Indian tax returns were more than the annual budget of Municipal Corporation of Mumbai. To me this was rather an underestimate. Most business tycoons and houses like Tatas, Birlas, Ambani’s and Mittals were dwarfs in front of my friends “might”. He however chose to remain anonymous and only PM Modi (and of course Amit Shah) knew about him. “Money is not everything in life” He used to tell me whenever we had occasions to meet. This was not surprising as he already had all the money of the world to make such a statement!
“So my friend? What’s your problem? I asked while sipping a freshly brewed Columbian coffee that was served in a solid silver mug.
“Well, you know my daughter is getting married this year. As it is going to be an important event that will draw attention of the world, me and my wife decided to start planning. I thought of engaging the Taj group and so called on Cyrus Mistry. The first thing, Cyrus asked me whether I have obtained an Environmental Clearance (EC) from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (and Climate Change).”
“Apparently, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar feels that the environmental impact of Indian weddings on an aggregated basis is much more than environmental impact of 100 coal fired thermal power plants put together! A report was prepared by 7 IITs to make a comparative assessment and the conclusions led to requirement of EC for Indian weddings where the number of guests or invitees exceed 500. It has been now put in the Schedule”
“Oh 7 IITs again” – I remembered the fiasco when 7 IITs were commissioned by the Ganga Authority to prepare the Action Plan – something the Professors had no clue about and the result was inconsequential!”
But my friend continued.
“This is a terrible stipulation. I estimate at least 50,000 people to attend my daughter’s wedding. This is something I thought was modest – of course a little more lavish than the Weddings of Roys, Jhunjhunwalas and Mittals. But how do I get this EC? Cyrus said that it will take at least one year as it will involve baseline monitoring, some mathematical modelling (essentially a show-of) and public hearing (for name-sake)”
Requirement of EC for weddings was a news to me. I knew that lately food waste had become a focus of discussions to flag the environmental impact of Indian weddings. A recent survey showed that annually, Bangalore alone wastes 943 tonnes of quality food during weddings. The survey showed that 22% food wasted in buffet system and 20% in served system “This is enough to feed 26 million people a normal Indian meal,” a study by a team of 10 professors from the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Bangalore, had concluded. The team, under the guidance of UAS vice-chancellor K Narayana Gowda, surveyed 75 of Bangalore’s 531 marriage halls over a period of six months. At an average cost of Rs 40 per meal, the total food wastage in the city is estimated at Rs 3390 million” the study said.
I realized that my friend’s plan of inviting 50,000 guests will mean that the economic implications of the food wastage could be close to annual budget of corporations of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata – put together.
Given this estimated impact, I told my friend that he hires one of the top EIA consultants in the country or for that matter in the world and get an EC on a “fast track”. “Speak to the PM if Javadekar is adamant” I said. “The party is powerful. They just got rid of Raghuram Rajan, Governor of RBI”
“Well, I don’t want to jump the queue”. My friend said humbly. “I will follow the rules and get a proper EC” He then turned to Professor and asked “Sir, will you help me and be my consultant?”
Professor lighted his cigar, took a deep puff and placed the cigar on an ash tray that was studded with diamond and in gold.
“I can certainly help you. We will prepare a high quality and comprehensive EIA report and follow all the required process steps”
He then started outlining his ideas.
“We will follow all the best known green wedding norms”
“All invitations will be e-mailed. Ministers and top administrators will however get hard copies on recycled paper as they don’t read emails”
“We will conduct baseline monitoring at the Brabourne stadium, which will be the appropriate venue, and place continuous air quality (including odor) and noise monitoring instruments on every 15 degree sector of the stadium. These stations will collect data on a round the clock basis over 3 months, especially covering the periods of cricket matches where spikes could be observed. We will later show through sophisticated prediction modelling that the impact on air quality and noise during our wedding will be much lower than the impact caused due to the game of cricket!”
“Regarding food, we will put placards with messages saying guests must not waste food and take only what they can consume. All those who will waste food will be tracked and fined”
“That’s not a good idea” my friend said. I saw him embarrassed.
“OK, then we will design the menu such that there is least impact in sourcing the raw materials. All raw materials will be sourced within the 10 km impact radius (following the norm of impact assessment followed in the Indian EIA system)”
“We will not have on the menu expensive delicacies such as beef, lobster and the ever-controversial shark-fin soup in the interest of animal welfare, sentiments and biodiversity. We will only select locally produced, organic, seasonal food, served buffet-style in order to minimize waste. This menu will influence people later to follow. There will not be any IPR”
“The bride and groom will wear only environmentally and socially responsible jewelry and cotton outfits certified by GOTS. The decorations will consist of 5,000 potted plants, reusable natural cloth, LED lights and paper flowers”
“Over 500 workers of a recycling firm will be deployed to segregate the excess food properly, pack and serve the poor that are so many in Mumbai. The food waste will be promptly dispatched to a biogas processing facility”
“We will thus influence the vendors to go green and create in this process a huge market for green products and services. A new green wedding industry will emerge”
Now Professor took a deep puff from his cigar for a new idea.
“We will hold a 2 minute session for Weddings wows that will be administered every one hour during the wedding ceremony. These wows will ask for making a public commitment that henceforth i.e. after attending the wedding, you will live sustainably. This wow will be administered by top Bollywood stars so that the wow will be heard, followed and practiced seriously”
“Great” said my friend “Any consideration on analysis of alternatives? Cyrus said that Javadekar is very particular when it comes to alternatives He has never seen generation and analyses of alternatives in the Indian EIA reports so far and is hence very curious.”
The Professor smiled
“Our environmental and social management plan will ensure least ecological footprint as much possible. We will study the addresses of invitees and come up with a decentralized strategy. The wedding will be relayed though screens of the size of a 6 storied building at multiple locations such that the overall carbon emissions are reduced. So in effect only 5000 people may attend the actual wedding at the Brabourne stadium and rest may participate remotely at say 10 locations. These locations will be carefully selected on application of Mixed Integer Zero One Programming. We will however take on cumulative impact assessment of the 10 simultaneous weddings. MoEF (&CC) is in a habit of asking such studies later as an afterthought. Further, an environmental and social management framework will be developed overarching the 10 locations emphasizing a common “green code of conduct”. Separate public hearings will be executed too”.
“Oh, that is very thoughtful of you Professor”, I said “So you will assess impacts with and without “project” and with “centralized” and “decentralized” approach.
“Yes, will you be giving any return gifts?” Professor asked my friend.
“Well, I was thinking of giving gold bars of 100 gms to everyone who will bless the bride and the groom” My friend said – “this is the least I can offer”
“Let me then come up with a high level Disaster Management Plan (DMP) as there could be possibilities of stampedes while collecting the return gifts” Professor said this thoughtfully and took down notes in his scratch pad.
I thought of butting in. “Why don’t we give 2 bars of gold if they chose to come in public transport. All they will need to do is show the manager the bus, tram or railway ticket as a proof”
“Good idea”. My friend said. “I really want to do something more for all those who will attend. Why not offer a free health check up on the nearby Oval grounds and give coupons of Rs 50,000 each to cover one year of medical expenses”
“So kind of you” Professor said. He continued.
“In any case, we will publish a sustainability report following GRI G4 format post the wedding as a measure of transparency and disclosure. Importantly, I will train the media on the GRI so that there is no mis-reporting”
In essence, your wedding celebrations will be low carbon-emitting, socially-responsible, energy efficient and embrace the four Rs (reuse, reduce, recycle, and repair). With all these commitments, the event will live up to the expectations of being one of the most memorable event talked about over the next 5 years (i.e. till your son’s wedding)
“Finally, carbon offsetting, i.e., reducing greenhouse gases from other emissions sources to compensate from our own actions will be followed. We will plant trees to absorb GHGs (that will in any case we very low) and if required buy land and raise the green cover in Mumbai to 20% “
We ended the breakfast with all this inspiring conversation. Professor was duly commissioned for getting the EC.
In few months, I received a call from my friend that the project proposal for his daughter’s wedding received the EC. The Appraisal Committee was extremely happy to see Professors robust environmental and social management plan. The only condition they imposed was to get an invitation to attend the wedding (of course for the purpose of monitoring they said and not for any other interest!)
My friend said that he was asked to join for Tea, post granting of EC, by Minister Prakash Javadekar in his chamber. When asked “any suggestions?” my friend said that while the idea of asking EC for weddings was a right step, how about asking for EC for holding political rallies? He said that rallies attracting thousands of people are rather impacting and could mean an aggregated impact equivalent to 200 coal power thermal power plants.
Apparently the Minister smiled and said “Well, we cannot – as these events are organized to generate income for those who work for, attend and participate – For rallies, we must take a broad perspective of socio-economic benefits and not focus only on the environmental impacts”
“Why don’t you and Professor join again for breakfast?” My friend ended the conversation. He once again sounded rather exasperated with this explanation!
Cover image sourced from http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/20/business/indian-wedding-gold-jewelery-prices/