My Conversations with Donald Trump on Environment and Climate Change


Donald Trump

After Donald Trump got elected as President of the United States of America, the world started wondering what Earths future will be.

Terms like Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability were clearly not in Trumps “dictionary”. In fact he was both acidic and allergic about these terms right through his election campaign and I guess he continues to be.

“I would like to dismantle the office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We will have little tidbits left but we’re going to get most of it out,” he said this a number of times in his election speeches.

(By the way, if you looked for synonym for TRUMP in Microsoft Word, it cites Decider as the equivalent term. So Trump decides and others listen just like our PM!)

“What EPA does today is simply a disgrace. Every week EPA comes out with new regulations that destroy our business. I think it would be much better without the EPA as it will free up the US economy and let the economy boom forward. And we’ll be fine with the environment without EPA”

He said this to me as we entered one of the gold plated elevators of the Trump Tower. The buttons on the panel were studded with diamonds and so shining. This renovation was done right after the election results – someone said.

I was impressed to see Trump’s firm but friendly views on environment

I told him that he must visit India as soon as possible and meet our PM. “I am sure our PM will follow you and shut down the Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) and the State Department of Environments.  These organizations are not effective and create unnecessary hurdles to India’s economic development”

“Yes, I am planning to visit. But I will be first in Mumbai where we have some business. I am doing a 75 stories Trump Tower there with the Lodha Group” Trump said this while ushering me in his private conference room. “Are you interested Dr Modak to book a flat there?” He asked me rather casually.


Proposed Trump Tower in Mumbai

“Oh, thank you for asking Mr. Trump. But I simply cannot afford” I said this in a voice like a mouse –while Trump was looking at me like a Lion.

“The problem with you is that you paid Income Tax to your Government for the last 30 years. Imagine you didn’t and did what I have been doing. The Tax money evaded would have helped you to get a 3 bed-room apartment in my Tower”. He winked.

He called for a coffee that was served by a beautiful girl with minimal dress reminding me of the book “Coffee, Tea or Me!”

“Well tell me more about your PCBs and DOEs” Trump continued our conversation “And I believe that you have a Union Ministry of Environment & Forests?”

“Yes, it’s called now as Ministry of Environment & Forests & Climate Change” I started explaining

“Oh, stop that Climate Change crap” Trump said this in an irritated tone. The first thing I am going to negotiate with your Government is ask your PM to drop from the Ministry’s title the term Climate Change. I don’t mind trading our nuclear secrets if Climate Change is dropped from your Ministry’s title. Managing Environment & Forests itself is a challenging task and adding the dimension of Climate Change (which is not real) just to show that you are contemporary will not help. Your Government must get realistic Dr Modak”

I thought that Trump had a point. We have been mismanaging our environment and forests on the ground for years. Perhaps, Climate Change is more of an elevated issue that could be dealt later.

[By the way, Trump has said that he does not believe the planet is warming as a result of human activity – despite the research-backed consensus reached long ago by researchers across the globe. He even tweeted publicly in 2012 that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” More recently, Trump has pledged to roll back Obama’s Clean Power Plan – a set of rules that requires states to substantially reduce their emissions over the next few decades]

“So have you considered shutting down these useless environmental offices” Trump insisted asking this question to me once again.

“Well, we cannot do that so easily” I told him

“We however started the process of review of India’s Environmental Governance in 2014 by appointing T S R Subramanian Committee”


This committee called as High Level Committee (HLC) was headed by Mr. Subramanian, retired cabinet secretary. The HLC was tasked with reviewing six environmental statutes namely, Environment (Protection) Act, 1986; Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980; Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974; Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981; and The Indian Forests Act, 1927.

The HLC was given only three months. In November 2014, the Committee submitted its report to the MoEF&CC

Following were the key recommendations

  • Creation of a new “umbrella” law by subsuming the existing environmental laws. Under the proposed new Environment Law Management Act (ELMA), full-time expert bodies—National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and State Environment Management Authority (SEMA)—are to be established at the Central and State levels respectively. They should evaluate project clearance (using GIS based data and multi-disciplinary expertise), in a time bound manner, providing for single window clearance.
  • The existing Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the State Pollution Control Boards (SPCB) may be “subsumed” under NEMA and SEMA once the new bodies come into existence.
  • An “environmental reconstruction cost” should be assessed for each project. The assessment should be on the basis of the damage caused by it to the environment and damage be dovetailed with the cost of the project. This cost has to be recovered as a cess or duty from the project proponent during the life of the project. An “Environment Reconstruction Fund” is proposed to be established for accumulation of this cost and other penalties recovered from projects.
  • Protected areas and forests with over 70% of the tree coverage should be declared as ‘No GO’ areas. Compensatory afforestation in the revenue land should be modified to 2:1 from the existing 1:1 ratio. The compensatory afforestation in degraded forest land should be modified to 3:1 from the existing 2:1 ratio.
  • Condition of approval by gram sabha (local body) should be removed particularly for linear projects like roads, railways or transmission lines.
  • An all India Service with name as ‘India Environment Service’ may be created.

A Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) was appointed to review the report of HLC. In January 2015, a number of experts, including members of civil society organizations and non-profits, deposed before the PSC.

On the various observations and protests made, the recommendations of HLC were rejected by the PSC in July 2015. The PSC recommended that the Government should constitute a new committee to once again review the laws and this time conduct meaningful and wider consultations with all the stakeholders. The PSC feared that recommendations of the HLC “would result in an unacceptable dilution of the existing legal and policy architecture established to protect our environment”

I had a note printed out. I passed the note to Trump for a quick read.

“Oh, this is good” Trump said this gulping his coffee (Trump does not sip a coffee– sipping is done by people meek and gentle like me). “You were almost there but couldn’t close the deal” he said.

“You should have appointed a Transition Manager at a senior level –someone close to your PM – tasked solely to ramp this change. Your HLC lost out because his/her absence. I picked up Myron Ebell just for this very purpose – He will oversee the EPA transition”

[Myron Ebell is not a scientist, and has no degrees or qualifications in climate science. But he serves as Director of Global Warming and Environmental Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a libertarian advocacy group in Washington, DC. In practice, that means he spends his time rejecting and trying to discredit scientists who work to understand the global climate.

In an interview with Business Insider in August, Ebell repeatedly referred to climate scientists as “global warming alarmists” and suggested that climate research is in fact an arm of a coordinated political movement.  Some said that having him lead the transition team at the EPA is literally putting a tobacco lobbyist in charge of America’s lung protection agency!]

I liked the term Transition Manager for the downsizing or closure of MoEFCC/PCB/DOE and implement reforms suggested by the HLC. Who could this Transition Manager be? I was wondering. Should it be Cyrus Mistry or Ratan Tata (who are fighting today on the transition) or the intellectual tycoons like Nandan Nilekani or Narayana Murthy who are used to outsourcing? Or perhaps the powerful Amit Shah or the disruptive Dr Subramanium Swamy? I started thinking about the options and the pros and cons.

Finally, while closing the coffee session, Trump changed the topic and asked me “Seems India is in turmoil right now because of the surprise demonetization directive on 500 and 1000 Rs notes. Tell me what’s happening on the ground other than I get to see on the TV channel -Times Now. ”

“We are struggling Mr. Trump given the size of population in the country and opposition parties putting all the spokes. We have given 50 days to exchange old currency notes with new notes. You can do this at the Banks, Post Offices and in rural areas and take help of the local coordinators or facilitators” I explained.

Trump listened to me, opened the door for me to exit and with some pause said like an afterthought.

“Why don’t you allow the industries to deposit the old currency at the offices of Pollution Control Boards? Firstly, most industries are used to deposit cash in these offices anyways, even in the normal circumstances”

But why should they as there will not be any currency exchange? I asked as usual a stupid question

“Well, You incentivize deposing of old 500 and 1000 Rs notes by extending the period of the validity of their permit (consent) given to the industry. The industries will be happy. The money deposited can be used finance the Environmental Reconstruction Fund your High Level Committee talked about. It’s not the case of converting black money to white but essentially black money to green.” Trump said this in a tone of a good business proposition.

Wow, I now realized how Mr. Donald Trump thinks and works!

As I got out of the elevator of the Trump Tower, I called Finance Minister of India, Mr. Arun Jaitley right away.

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Love is not blind


We often fall in love. Have you?

Falling in love in our young age is an experience. We cherish this experience throughout our lives.

But falling in love is not a planned activity – falling in love simply happens. You start liking someone so dearly, beyond any rationality and reasonableness that it occupies your thoughts and influences your actions or behavior on 24×7 basis. You day dream about him or her all the time and your dreams at night no more belong to you. You get simply possessed and you don’t anymore live in the real world.

Recalling your mate of the past sometimes pains you if your love is “not successful” but the bitter-sweet memories “tickle” you as you grow older. Love adds salt and pepper to our otherwise bland or busy life.

“What if we were married”, you muse. Sitting with a glass of single malt whisky with lots of ice or smoking a thick cigar relaxing on a cane chair – all alone in a verandah at a bungalow on a beach resort is a perfect setting for such a recall. These can be a great evening sit-outs while watching a sunset for an introspection, sometimes repentance but ending with a smile to yourself- understanding the game of life we have to play and live with. Some end this introspection with tears but that’s alright too. As these tears are special, genuine, pure and relieving.

Falling in love as you grow older, changes its color or tone or the “grade”. Some say that your early age passion to love is more physical (but that may not be true always), later more “intellectual” seeking for a company, to experience the joy in sharing of thoughts, supporting and respecting each other’s emotions and aspirations.  Here there is less of urge or the lust (as some say crudely) and more of the warmth. Love in the young age looks more like a flame and at a later age love is more like the “candle in the wind”.

It’s strange that often people who fall in love are not conventionally compatible. They come from different religions, cast, culture, education, profession or income. So you wonder how these two “souls” want to come together and want to marry to share their lives. I see many times objections coming from families, some form of resistance or disapproval and it’s great to see how the two souls in love struggle, rebel and take decisions that are seemingly “irrational” to “everybody”. I love to see when they succeed and marry– whether right decision or wrong – as either way there could be a repentance!. The “forth dimension” of love, that we often don’t see, helps them to “win” over.

But falling in love does not mean that you must or have to marry. You simply love, bask in its warmth in the light and live in a bliss. Do you need a formal engagement of a marriage at all? I tell this to the youngsters around me. But I know I could be wrong. Honestly, it’s everyone’s own choice. And don’t forget that some fall in love with many at the same time (apart from the wife or husband).

Again, love is something not limited to the humans. You fall in love with your pet dog or cat, you love some kind of food, the music, the books, your favorite place and your profession. My wife tells me that I am too much in love with the field of environmental management and on 24×7 basis. “Think of something else and do something different other than the work you do”.  She says in all seriousness and I do try to be “different” at least for a couple of days. I try my best.

But the ultimate expression and form of love is perhaps falling in love with the GOD. For a person like me who has gone through interesting stays in Mumbai’s hospitals (with “touch” to “return”), you don’t even realize that you have now fallen in love with the Almighty. And as I said earlier this simply happens.

Love can be blind.

I remember story of a close friend of mine who is a great saxophone player in Mumbai. I was at his house in Parsi Colony in 1990. He was playing his saxophone and unwinding some great pieces of Jazz. I asked him “Ruben, how do you feel when you play such fantastic music”

Ruben pointed to the upright piano that was in the hall below an antique chandelier and said “I wish there was someone with me to accompany on the piano – if I find someone and whom I love, who accompanies me then I will be blessed in my life. We will play together and share our joy and happiness”

A week later, there was an announcement in the newspaper about the concert “Songs of Asia” at the Homi Bhabha Auditorium at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) situated at the Navi Nagar – end of Colaba overlooking the sea. I always liked to attend concerts at TIFR because of the picturesque location of its West Canteen where you could sip a ginger tea with cookies in the air of scientific sophistication.


The West Canteen at TIFR

I booked the concert tickets for me.  Ruben and I reached an hour earlier and spent some quiet moments in the West Canteen.

The concert began. There were violins, a viola, percussions, a grand piano (that looked so majestic) and of course the vocals. The stage was illuminated with the conductor at the center standing on the podium directing the musicians.


The Homi Bhabha Auditorium

There was however no “throw” of light on the pianist. All we could make out that she was a woman. The lights were on the shining keyboard of the piano and we could see the hands in white gloves doing the magic. The grand piano was of Yamaha make and since we were right in the third row we could see the reflection of the movement of her hands (and the fingers) rendering or rolling out notes that mingled and supported the songs that were sung.

There was a solo piece in between that the lady on piano performed while others faded. It was for about 2 minutes and it was so charming, elegant and flawless, that exhibited her emotions through a volley of complex notes but in a simplicity in disguise. I noticed that Ruben was in some kind of trans, with tears in his eyes and his hands tight on the arms of the chair. After the song ended, there was a loud applause and perhaps more for the lady pianist.

Ruben whispered in my ears “Prasad, she is the one I am looking for. I want to marry her”

Although I knew Rubens’ passionate and crazy behavior, I was shocked with what he said. “You know nothing about her Ruben, you have not even seen her. And she could be married already. It will rude and crude to ask”

Ruben did not respond to my (stupid) protests. He kept staring at the Piano and after some pause said quietly and firmly “I will see her during the first break and make a proposition”. And I knew he meant it.

In the break, Ruben and I went behind the stage and sought entry to the green room. I accompanied him so that I could rescue him from any embarrassing situation that I was sure he will be confronted with.

The artists were taking a break – some were on the stage with curtains down, re-tuning or re-calibrating their instruments and some were having a coffee served from the West Canteen.

The Manager of the concert stopped us at the entrance. When questioned, Ruben said that he wanted to see the Pianist and thank her for the great performance and have a short chat. Ruben introduced himself as a Saxophone player and a senior member of Time and Talents Club. Perhaps, that made some difference.

Well, the Manager said – “My only request is that please be gentle to her. She is an outstanding pianist, coming from Prague. We are grateful that she agreed to be part of us and travel across the world. I hope you know she is blind from birth and very sensitive if you ever show your concern or empathy towards her blindness. A very upright person she is. That’s the reason why we illuminated only the keyboard and not her face”

There was a stoned silence. Managers words came as a shock to me. I looked at Ruben.

But Ruben was unmoved. Probably this piece of “new” information didn’t matter to him.

He told me to stay where I was. He walked towards the pianist who was sitting alone at the corner of the room. I saw him speaking to her. I think he proposed to marry her as I could see her face shocked. Then I saw him holding her hands – in the white gloves.

Ruben married Easter in a year. I was amazed to see his courage and her generosity. They married in the church in Bandra on a bright Sunday. Easter looked so beautiful and elegant in her wedding dress.

Easter and Ruben now live in Ruben’s house in the Parsi colony in Mumbai. They play music together practically every day and occasionally I get invited or I bump in. Both live so happily as the music continues to bond them. And love always wins whenever they disagree or grump on matters that are silly.

Last week, they performed one of the songs (Time) of the movie Inception composed  by Hans Zimmer.  I would highly recommend you to watch and listen to one such rendering  by two artists (Frank Bergmann and Miriam Geier). These artists performed in Extraschicht 2015 in Waltrop in Germany. It is a master piece on YouTube.

I am sure your will enjoy. Imagine the pianist there as Easter instead of Miriam Geier and saxophone player as my friend Ruben instead of Frank Bergmann!

So love is not blind. A sunshine that brings a new meaning to our lives. Its a breeze of fragrance. It’s a bliss.

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Who is the Air Quality Manager for Delhi?


Professor called me Sunday morning of last week and asked me to join the high power roundtable on Delhi’s emergency on air pollution. “I will pick you up – the event is at the Habitat Centre” – he said.

“But why the roundtable?” I asked– In these round tables, you will simply go round and round and end up with nothing. For years, we have been proposing air quality action plans for Delhi but there is no action on the ground – I guess it will it be a yet another session of PowerPoint presentations with rhetoric, blame games or passing of the buck – or an exercise of scientific acrobatics ”

“Oh Dr Modak – don’t be so bitter and sadistic” said the Professor– This time we will have some of Delhi’s top politicians attending. Administrators working at the Pollution Control Boards will also be there, Academicians (including those from Columbia, Harvard and University of California, San Diego) and NGOs like Centre for Science and Environment will speak with new PowerPoints”.  Professor said

“I am sure Mr. Rahul Gandhi will be there” – I said. He loves to be like a common man attending hospitals to share and feel the pain and express his intimate concerns. I was told that he took a morcha on Delhi’s air pollution at India Gate without wearing a mask – is this true?” I asked

Unfortunately not said the Professor, Mr. Gandhi is currently focusing on joining the queue outside the ATM machines to attempt withdrawing money or exchanging the 500 and 1000 Rs notes – he is not yet advised by the party to capitalize on the problem of Delhi’s air pollution” Professor answered

While driving to the Habitat Centre, I asked “How about the National Green Tribunal (NGT)? Have you invited Justice Swatanter Kumar – Chairperson of the NGT bench?

“Yes, we have invited him. But because he is coming, the Government representatives of the States of Punjab and Haryana are not participating. The NGT just pulled up these Governments for not controlling the burning of agricultural residues. These Governments don’t want to face Justice Swatanter Kumar again as there has been no action. Remember that elections are due in Punjab” I thought the Professor made a valid point.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) defined the term “environmental emergency” and listed measures to be taken by Delhi and its neighboring States whenever the air quality index crosses “severe” levels.

“The States owe a Constitutional, statutory and public law obligation to provide to its citizens at least breathable if not absolutely clear air to breathe,” said the NGT bench headed by chairperson justice Swatanter Kumar. He pointed out that the Supreme Court had declared nearly a decade ago that Article 21 of the Constitution should be expanded to include clean environment as a fundamental right.

When we reached the Habitat Centre, there were people with Tee-Shirts with slogans “Let me Breath” and “I have Right to Breath” etc. They were wearing masks and were holding banners with graffiti such as trees with no leaves etc. All this helps to create the right setting for a serious discussion I thought – admiring the creativity of NGOs who run projects with international sponsorship.

There was a crowd in the corridor where I saw someone important or a VIP resembling the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP). He was explaining to the Journalists “UP is one of the most progressive States in the country. We are doing well in every segment of economy, development and of course the environment. For example, some of the highest Air Quality Indices (AQI) can be found only in the cities of UP. We are simply on the top”

I couldn’t resist stopping him and let him know that higher is the AQI, worse is the air quality i.e. other way round. Alas, our politicians understood this basics.

Talking about AQI, Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES), Govt. of India, introduced a major national initiative, “System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting and Research” known as “SAFAR

The SAFAR system was developed by Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, along with India Meteorological Department (IMD) and National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF).

The SAFAR model requires several key inputs for accurate forecasting. Major among them are- emission inventory of pollutants from various sources, weather parameter, topographical data, land use-land cover data, initial and lateral boundary conditions, etc.

I am not really sure how the SAFAR system picks up the “real time” data on emission inventory. SAFAR algorithms have not been widely discussed in the air quality modelling community and appears more like a “black box”. This has been my concern.

Table below shows the six AQI categories based on pollutants prescribed under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.







24 hr avg



24 hr avg



8 hr avg



8 hr avg



24 hr avg

Good + Satisfactory 0-100 0-100 0-60 0-1.7 0-50 0-43
Moderate 101-200 101-250 61-90 1.8-8.7 51-84 44-96
Poor 201-300 251-350 91-120 8.8-14.8 85-104 97-149
Very Poor 301-400 351-430 121-250 14.9-29.7 105-374 150-213
Severe 401-500 431-550 251-350 29.8-40 375-450 214-750

Given that most of the times, Delhi’s AQI falls in the zone of Severe, I would rather call the SAFAR system  as  “SUFFER”!

The roundtable was set up and was occupied by all the veterans and experts who mattered in discussing Delhi’s air pollution.  Some participants were wearing half spectacles, some were carrying jute bags and some were sporting Modi jackets.  Presentations were made on the status on air quality, health impacts, actions earlier proposed and actions that need to be taken etc.

Actions proposed included sprinkling of water (by helicopters), shutting down of stone crushers and construction activities and transportation of construction material until air quality standards are brought below the severe level. The construction industry representative said that now this action is possible as there is no cash with the contractors because of PM Modi’s surgical attack on the 500/1000 Rs notes and arresting the flow of cash or the black money.

Professor joked saying “wish PM comes with a similar surgical attack on addressing the Black Carbon (BC)” BC is a product of incomplete combustion – e.g. from burning fuel in cook stoves; use of diesel cars; emissions from brick kilns etc.

A mention on BC, led to a discussion between some of the Indian and US scientists on the Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (SLCPs) – a term many were not familiar with.

Black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are examples of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs). SLCPs have a short lifetime – a few days to a few decades – but their effects on climate and on the air we breathe are much more than brief. SLCPs therefore nees attention as much as the “conventional” air pollutants.

“We need to simultaneously work on both CO2 and SLCP reduction in the interest of improving local air quality, protecting health as well as address the global concern” – The American Indian Professor continued with slides rich with data. He stressed that CO2 stays for 100+ years causing global warming. CO2 should be declared as a pollutant like done in the United States. His important point was however not heard. Some participants listened to him with blank faces, some with skepticism and some decided to focus on the plate of cashew nuts instead.

Then there was volley of questions with explanations demanded on why some of the earlier actions proposed never got implemented e.g. Discussion covered need for another round of odd-even initiative, Shutting down Badarpur coal plant for 10 days, Five-day ban on diesel generators, piloting cloud seeding – a process that induces artificial rain that can help settle pollutants and clear the smog, meeting of cleaner fuel standards by 2020 that will help cut vehicular emissions by 60%., implement Green buffers along traffic corridors within 90 days etc.

Recommendations were also made such as below

  • Impound vehicles using city as thoroughfare, no day movement of goods.
  • Levy higher tax for fuel guzzling SUVs and incentive for electric cars (latter already done by the Ministry of Power but not well promoted or advertised)
  • Hike parking fee, introduce congestion charge in busy areas
  • Declare all shopping areas such as CP, Khan Market, and Sarojini Nagar as no vehicle zones. Introduce pedestrian and cycle tracks
  • Improve last mile connectivity from all metro stations
  • Notify dust management rules for all agencies. Govt and private. Violators have to pay hefty penalty.
  • Introduce Clean Air Scorecard system promoted by the Asian Development Bank

Most were convinced that all these actions will never get implemented on priority and it will only be a talk as before.

Wearing masks and installing outdoor air purifiers could be the short term solution to protect the health. In fact, there were whispers during the “health break” of the roundtable, that some of the politicians and administrators were hand in glow with manufacturers of masks and air purifiers.

Supplying masks can be a great business – except we would need to figure out how to dispose the used masks! Remember all these masks that are not biodegradable will ultimately reach Delhi’s landfills.

Air purifiers are expensive but an Assocham survey reported that there has been a jump of nearly 50% in the demand for indoor air purifiers in Delhi-NCR.  Now time has come for the Outdoor Air Purifiers.

(Incidentally, the health breaks were sponsored by one of the largest outdoor air purifier company from Hong Kong. The Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi showed a great interest to visit Hong Kong and personally check out the performance of such outdoor air purifier machines. “I have done enough shopping in Norway but haven’t taken advantage of shopping sale in Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui” he said)

In Hong Kong, property developer Sino Group has teamed up with engineering-and-urban design experts Arup to develop a roadside air purifier. Placed on the busy Queen’s Road East in Hong Kong’s crowded Wanchai district, the prototype looks like a tram or bus shelter

The outdoor purifier device sucks up air near ground level and, after passing through a filtration bag that removes PM10/ PM2.5 and pumps out fresh air through louvers at the top. If the experiment proves effective, Sino says that the device could be put at bus stops and tram stops as well as outside buildings. Power could come from solar panels or even from piezoelectricity, i.e. power created by stepping on special energy tiles.


At the end of the roundtable discussions, each one us was asked to speak the last sentence. I was sitting at the end and was really reluctant to speak. But when my turn came, I couldn’t resist asking

“Well ladies and gentlemen – the discussions we had today were much thought provoking and interesting. But who is the air quality manager for the city of Delhi? Do we have one? I am a bit confused”

And there was a silence. No one spoke. Indeed, most in the meeting were playing role as “advisors” recommending diverse solutions but  the “integrator” agency with responsibilty was missing.

Professor sighed (perhaps in despair).

He closed the roundtable with a vote of thanks.

Reports you must read

BREATHING CLEANER AIR Ten Scalable Solutions for Indian Cities A self-organized task force report for the World Sustainable Development Summit, New Delhi, October 6, 2016 Task-Force Chairs: V. Ramanathan, I. H. Rehman & S. Sharma

Urban air quality management-A review by Sunil Gulia, S.M. Shiva Nagendra, Mukesh Khare and Isha Khanna, Atmospheric Pollution Research, Volume 6, Issue 2, March 2015, Pages 286–304,

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Green Public Procurement – A Potential Game Changer for India?



Green Public Procurement (GPP) may be simply defined as “Public procurement for a better environment“. Those not accustomed to simplicity, define GPP as “a process whereby public authorities seek to procure goods, services and works with a reduced environmental impact throughout their life cycle when compared to goods, services and works with the same primary function that would otherwise be procured.” (Phew!)

GPP is fundamentally a voluntary instrument, but it can be legislated.

Japan already has a law on GPP. In 2000, in South Africa, Department of Environment Affairs adopted a Preferential Procurement Policy under the ‘Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act, 2000’. In China, from January 2007, provincial and central governments have made a list of environment friendly products certified by China Certification Committee for Environmental Labelling and these products have to mandatorily meet environmental protection and energy saving standards. In Mexico, the 2007–2012 National Development Plan brought in sustainability criteria in the procurement policy followed by a procurement law. The law recognized that all wood and furniture procurement by public agencies requires a certificate highlighting its legal origin and paper procured by public agencies will need to have 50 % recycled content

Public authorities are major consumers in Europe. They spend approximately 1.8 trillion euro annually (2015 statistics), representing around 14 % of the EU’s gross domestic product. By using their purchasing power to choose goods and services with lower impacts on the environment, consumers in Europe can make an important contribution to Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP).

European Union (EU) adopted two directives on 26 February 2014. Today many of the EU countries have transposed these directives or rules into national laws. The new rules are driven by goals that include environmental protection, social responsibility, innovation, combating climate change, employment, public health and other social and environmental considerations.

Importantly, these directives support Innovation partnerships where a contracting authority wishes to purchase goods or services, which are not currently available on the market. The authority may establish an innovation partnership with one or more partners allowing research and development (R&D), piloting and subsequent purchase of a new product, service or work. The procedure for establishing an innovation partnership is set out in Article 31 of Directive 2014/24/EU. Further, these procurement directives allow for preliminary market consultation with suppliers in order to get advice, which may be used in the preparation of the procedure.

Green purchasing is thus about influencing the market. By promoting and using GPP, public authorities can provide industry with real incentives for developing green materials, technologies and products. GPP is therefore a strong stimulus for eco-innovation. To me this is a very important game changing feature – something India badly needs while pushing the agenda of “make in India”.

GPP has  great environmental benefits too. In Brazil for instance, procurement of recycled paper notebooks in middle and higher schools has helped in saving 8 million liters of water, 1,766 tons of waste, 241 kg of organo halogen compounds from procurement of 17,97,866 high school and 19,94,149 middle school “green” kits.

To be effective, GPP requires the inclusion of clear and verifiable environmental criteria for products and services in the public procurement process. Several countries in the world have developed guidance in this area, in the form of national GPP criteria. In India, the Eco-mark label miserably failed. Recently, CII has launched a certification scheme called Green Products or GreenPro to promote products that are green. So far, more than 100 products (mainly related to construction) have been certified. The green criteria used however is not well defined, not easily verifiable and many times ambiguous. I won’t attribute much credence to GreenPro certification. It’s more of a PR initiative to me.

My company Environmental Management Centre LLP (EMC) was chosen by the Ministry of Finance in Mauritius to pilot GPP. The main objective was to develop a Framework for Sustainable or Green Public Procurement that will ensure that procurement decisions take the following key factors into account when evaluating goods and services:

  • Economic: The need to achieve better value for money with the financial resources available
  • Environmental: The product, service or work requirements should include environmental performances following environmentally friendly production methods, higher energy efficiency as well as maximum use of renewable energy, lower generation of waste and emissions and avoiding use of non-biodegradable and toxic substances.
  • Social: reduction of poverty and inequality: promoting security and social inclusion; improving working conditions and employee welfare; promoting gender balance.

We developed a SPP Action Plan for Government of Mauritius on this basis. This Action Plan was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers in December 2011. A Workshop was organized with a view to develop sustainability criteria for 5 products as an initial phase. These products included paper, ICT equipment, office furniture, passenger cars, detergents and cleaning materials. A second workshop was held to train procurement officers and hence facilitate implementation of SPP – the participants included both procurement officers and suppliers. Model bid documents were then prepared after training and consultation.

I was personally involved in this project that was supported by UNEP’s SPP. And it was a satisfaction to see that we could implement GPP at policy as well as operational levels – even if I couldn’t do so for my own country!

Today, thirty per cent of the GDP of India is spent on public procurement. Given the massive size of public spending, public sector in India can be a prime driver towards sustainable production and consumption and can create environmental and economic benefits. Unfortunately, In India, GPP is still in infancy.

Some public sector entities and government departments have started internalizing environmental and energy efficiency criteria in their procurement decisions. For instance, Indian Railways, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), and Indian Oil Corporation are promoting sustainable public procurement in a decentralized way in project specific sites with a major focus on procurement of energy conserving equipment in the procurement process of small items. However, such efforts have been undertaken in isolation and have not been replicated or scaled up across organizations, sectors, and levels of governments. Green Procurement related policies may be now seen at Tata Consulting Services (TCS)  and Mahindra .  These examples are like “islands” in “isolation”

The challenge of making GPP as a common practice still remains. See TERI’s Policy Brief that provides a good analyses of the situation.

In 2012, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) carried out a study and came up with GPP Guidelines. The Thirteenth Finance Commission of India emphasized the need for incentivizing growth of India with lower environmental and resource footprint. In April 2012, the Union Cabinet approved the Public Procurement Bill, which is currently pending in the Lok Sabha. The Bill aims at ensuring ‘transparency, accountability and probity in the procurement process, promoting competition, enhancing efficiency and economy, maintaining integrity and public confidence in the public procurement process.’  There is hardly any green in this bill, except in Clause 21 where one of the criteria mentioned is “environmental characteristics” of the product.

I think we need a better bill from the green perspective and perhaps at the same time a good pilot. GPP at Indian Railways (IR) could be the pilot given that we have visionary Railway Ministers like Suresh Prabhu.

IR has introduced several green measures and preferences already. IR now produces modern green three-phase drive locomotives with regenerative capability of producing electric power during breaking of trains along with conventional locomotives. This has been done by forming collaboration with General Electric (GE) and BHEL.

Mineral insulating oil is another case for greening of transformers. The latest green intervention is to use organic ester-based insulating fluid in transformers. These fluids are biodegradable. The BIS Draft standard was under discussion on operation of such transformers – DOC ETD 3 (6354) 2012 – and was finalized in April, 2016

Key goods of focus for greening could include ceiling fans, refrigerators, Air conditioners, motors where emphasis could be on energy efficiency and hence reduction in GHG emissions and life cycle costs. IR has already taken steps in this direction by specifying minimum 3 star energy rating during procurement. These requirements could be heightened gradually as market matures.

Although the volume of procurement is negligible as compared to total procurement of IR, the human resources engaged for employment are large. IR could consider supplies of all uniforms for instance made out of Khadi that meet the green requirements and in the process generate revenues and employment for KVIC with reduced environmental footprint.

Introduction of biodegradable bottles for RailNeer, biodegradable paper cups, use of leaf plates etc. could be examples of greening. IR has already installed Bio-toilets for efficient waste disposal and resource recovery. Paperless e-ticketing has been successfully introduced leading to significant reduction in the environmental footprints. Water is now recycled after washing the wagons and solar energy producing plants & self-sustaining hydro-electric and bio-diesel plants at vacant railway lands are getting commissioned.

IR has already started using Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) in its fleet of multiple diesel units and introduced bio diesel in the sector. Trials have also been completed and one power car of DMU has been converted to run on dual fuel mode using CNG and further proliferation is in progress. Laboratory tests have been carried out by using 10% blend of bio-diesel on Trains that have shown successful results.

The only problem is that all these interventions have not been well documented, or third party assessed with metrics to make a strong case for GPP that makes an economic, environmental and social case. We need the numbers to communicate the entire story. Imagine the massive impact of GPP as a pilot at the Indian Railways! There will simply be a surge of green product makers and service providers (e.g. on reverse logistics) and India will move a few inches at least towards Green Manufacturing & Green Market. And more importantly, ride on the innovation and become even globally competitive

Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has been a good friend of mine. I have decided to see him in his office to address my above concerns. Or may be I should ask him to travel with me between Mumbai to Delhi on Rajdhani Express – we could then spend the 17 hours of the Journey together to come up with a pilot and plan to change the game by the time the locomotive of the Rajdhani Express whistles into the New Delhi Railway Station!

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