Whats your Story?


In our profession, we are often required to tell a “story”.  We use presentations and summaries to communicate.

In order to be effective, we need to be good in making a presentation that is remembered. When we write couple of pages as a summary to our report, it must communicate that is the essential and serve as a “teaser” to make the reader go through the entire report.

I often tell my students and colleagues to master the skill of effective story telling. Unfortunately, these skills are not imparted in the universities and are just let go.

In making presentations, we need to have creative capability to organize our thoughts and presenting to the audience in a limited time. The presentation must convey the “substance” and engage the audience.

In writing an Executive Summary of a report we want to be sure that we don’t miss out anything that we want our reader to know. Most people are not interested to do a “full read” and many a times stick only to the Executive Summary.

Technique of PechaKucha 20×20 is an example of the first skill that I highly recommend. This technique should be experimented, experienced and mastered. PechaKucha is a presentation format where you show 20 images (slides), each for 20 seconds. Every speaker has thus only 400 seconds (approximately 6.75 minutes) for presentation.

The images in a PechaKucha “show” advance automatically and your talk should “flow” along to the images. Once you start, the slides move and you don’t have any control. You cannot stop, “rewind” or “skip”. You have to simply “perform” resonating with the moving slides. A simple format of PechaKucha can be therefore deceiving. You need to take PechaKucha presentation very seriously and rehearse.

PechaKucha format was devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architecture. PechaKucha in Japanese means “chit-chat”. The first PechaKucha Night was held in Tokyo in the gallery “SuperDeluxe”. Today, PechaKucha Nights happen in over 900 cities around the world, taking inspiration from Tokyo. The PechaKucha get-togethers are often held in fun spaces (essentially places for “thinking and drinking”) where people can show and share their work in a relaxed manner. (Alas! when do we get time and space to relax now-a-days!)


A PechaKucha Night

I feel that PechaKucha format is best suited when we hold conferences that often get crammed with speakers. Many a times, we stack too many speakers in a session (just to oblige) and the first speaker hogs the time by showing some 50 slides – ending with apologies. There is hardly any time left for the last speaker and for Q&A. The situation of the Chairman of the session is like the Speaker of the Indian Loksabha – helpless and hopeless.

Here imposing PechaKucha format can make wonders.

I remember attending a session at the IAIA (International Association for Impact Assessment) event where we could comfortably “accommodate” six presentations in just one hour. More than management of time, the presentations turned out to be very engaging and sometimes hilarious.

I will recommend you to read guidance materials on how to prepare a PechaKucha.

Take a look at presentation by industrial designer Dave Bramston. Follow him during one of his journeys in China to understand Upcycling and innovative product design.  Or watch David Gunawan’s presentation on his ideas on sustainability and healthy eating as a chef. In his talk on “Promoting Sustainability and Consciousness in Food” you can see  that David strives to find local, organic foods by creating a healthy and viable relationship with farmers.

Few years ago, I started experimenting PechaKucha format in my office with my colleagues. And wow, it opened new doors to creativity and composing – leading to confidence in communication (my 4c’s). I witnessed some outstanding and bold presentations.  I am sure my colleagues gained significantly by preparing, making and listening to such presentations.

Imagine if conferences in India start holding one PechaKucha session to start with.  It will be something so effective and transformational! Let us demand such PechaKucha sessions.

The second skill I urge my students and colleagues is to master writing of an Executive Summary. Executive Summary is often the toughest piece to write. Some people read the Executive Summary to find out if they need to read the full report.  It’s this group that you really need to worry about, because they’re likely to include the Board or executive team of your organisation, as well as journalists. What goes into the Executive Summary, therefore, is the message that they’re going to take away, that may be spread more widely. For these people, the Executive Summary is their window to your full report.

So, when you are writing your Executive Summary, you should always keep your intended audience in mind and write your summary for them. Unfortunately, Executive Summary is given a low priority by many and is written at the “last moment” and generally with less attention than it deserves. I have seen umpteen number of instances where a report, painstakingly prepared, gets abused or misunderstood because of the poorly written Executive Summary.

Broadly, an Executive Summary summarizes the main points of the underlying paper, and draws out the key points. A good way to think about the key content of the Executive Summary is to imagine meeting your boss or CEO in the car park or at the coffee machine. These conversations are generally difficult! You often miss the point.


Ensuring Clarity, Maintaining Relevance and Using the right Keywords is Important

An Executive Summary has typically three sections: introduction, main body and conclusion. The main body of the Executive Summary needs to be stand-alone without the reader having to refer to the main report. But remember that the Executive Summary should not be stuffed with overwhelming Data or Tables. You only provide a top view and make a reference. Please refer to the Guidelines

There are how a few commercial software tools available to “generate” a summary. Visit  http://freesummarizer.com/. Some tools are even online. See http://textcompactor.com/

Do try these tools and have some fun. Indeed these tools are not a substitute for writing an Executive Summary. There is no option but to sweat.

In the field of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a Non-Technical Summary (NTS) is considered as a special form of an Executive Summary. In countries like United Kingdom, NTS is asked as a requirement in the preparation of an EIA.

A NTS is not equivalent or substitute to an Executive Summary. It should be written in a local language. But a NTS is not a translated version of the (Technical) Executive Summary.

Writing a NTS is an art where we use less technical jargon and use more easy to understand words or expressions. We should not take the reader for granted. For example, we should know that an ordinary citizen does not know the term BOD and the abbreviation may imply to him/her as Board of Directors and not Biochemical Oxygen Demand.

IAIA has come up with guidelines on how to write a NTS. In India, we do not have such a requirement. We should ask MoEFCC to specify so by amending the EIA Notification.

So, while selecting a new Team member in your organization, it is a good idea to ask for a PechaKucha presentation and give an exercise of  writing an Executive Summary. I guarantee you that anyone doing good in these two “tests”, will be an asset to your organization for effective “story telling”.

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Muhammad “bin” Tughlaq advises Naidu on Bins and Waste Segregation


The Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Management and Handling Rules in India prescribe waste segregation at the source under Section 4 that describes Duties of Waste Generator. The directions are as follows

  • segregate and store the waste generated in three separate streams namely bio-degradable or wet waste, non bio-degradable or dry waste and domestic hazardous wastes in suitable bins and handover segregated wastes to waste collectors as per the direction by the urban local body from time to time;
  • wrap securely the used sanitary waste as and when generated in a newspaper or suitable biodegradable wrapping material and place the same in the domestic bin meant for non bio-degradable waste or dry waste;
  • store separately construction and demolition waste in his own premises, as and when generated and shall dispose off as per these rules; and
  • store separately horticulture waste and garden waste in his premises and dispose of the same as may be prescribed by urban local body from time to time.

People are required to follow implementation of these Rules by putting the household waste in three different bins. Two additional bins may be put on premises or at community level for construction and demolition waste and horticulture waste.  In reality, very few follow this directive. People are generating more and more waste and not following the rules of segregation at source, Mixed waste makes  reuse and recycling of waste both difficult and uneconomical. Littering continues to be an eyesore in the streets and the railway stations.

Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu, the Union Minister of Urban Development, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and Information & Broadcasting called for a high-level meeting to address this challenge. He extended me an invitation as an Observer. The focus of the meeting was bins at the household level. Naidu in his opening remarks said that poor segregation of waste at the source was the real culprit for the slow progress on the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan (SBA). The Abhiyan wasn’t doing that well as compared to the “hype” it had created.

After Naidu’s opening remarks, the meeting opened up for suggestions and discussions.

“We are asking for waste segregation only in 3 bins while world has moved to 4 and 5 bins and in some cases even more number of bins are practiced – like in Japan. We must ask for at least 5 bins” One of the leading bin manufactures from Andhra Pradesh said.

Naidu asked “Does anyone know about the statistics on the number of bins in various countries?”

“Yes Sir”, a Woman wearing expensive spectacles with a chain, a khadi saree and diamonds in the ears said. “We just compiled such information”. She cited the reference and reported the following

There are many countries, like Poland, Belgium, Serbia, Bulgaria, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Norway, the Philippines, Egypt and Latvia, that are using recycling bins at home. Some countries like Brazil, Russia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Argentina (La-Plata) have a 2-bin facility for dry and wet waste, whereas Moldova and Malaysia prefer 3 recycling bins for paper, plastic and glass. Some countries, like Portugal, the Czech Republic, Finland and Spain are using 4 or 5 bins at home for segregation of recycling waste for paper, plastic, metal, glass, compostable and e-waste.

“Oh, separate bin for E-waste?” Naidu exclaimed. His PA immediately noted.

I tried to butt in

“Minister Sir, in India we don’t throw away paper and glass. Newspaper and magazines go to the Raddiwala and glass bottles to the Batliwali. We store used electronics in the house and look for the first opportunity to trade. Too many bins will clutter the already narrow passages in the building. It will only help the building cats to go to the right bin (i.e. organic/wet/biodegradable) for their brunch

Minister Naidu did not like my intervention. “We must follow what’s happening in other countries. We cannot be lagging behind. If others are using 5 waste bins, then we should go for 6 bins”

“The issue is not number of bins but the interest in segregation. There is an attitudinal barrier. We must undertake a survey across different income groups and religions in the metro as well as tier – 2 cities to find out why people don’t want to segregate the waste. That’s the million-dollar question.” A Professor from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) quipped.

“Good point”, Naidu said and immediately sanctioned a research grant of 1 million to TISS to conduct such a survey.

“The crux of the problem is that we are following the conventional and drab bin designs. These designs are not attractive to compel the use of the bin” A consultant cum professor from National Institute of Design (NID) said this in a rather somber voice. He had just returned from a summer school held on waste management infrastructure in Amsterdam.

He expanded his point further. “Why cannot be make the bin design say “child friendly”?. He said this while circulating pictures of bins that were shaped like a Donald Duck. “Kinds of today are the major waste generators. These kids will love to use such bins and segregate the waste. And look at this “trunk” design of the bin for storing the horticulture waste. This bin when placed in the garden is going to catch attention of the morning walkers (who often litter)”



Naidu was very pleased to see this “out of the bin (Oops box!) thinking. “Please send me a proposal on a pilot project on innovative bin designs and the SBA will be happy to fund”, The NID expert was happy.

There were some smart looking firangs in the roundtable. One of them had just flown in from Chicago and seemed to be in a Jet Lag.

“Minister, how about the smart bins? We can offer you such bins that will well fit in your smart city program” He saw that most members had a bit dumb expression on their faces. “Can I show a few slides?” He had a portable LCD projector. I thought he was smart.

His very first slide had the following header line “Revolutionizing how Smart Cities and Responsible Recyclers manage their collection operations using unique container intelligence”. This header line impressed everybody

The smart bin solution he proposed was essentially at the premise or community level. The benefits were “Know the fill-level of your containers always, send optimized routes directly to the vehicle drivers, Cut the collection service costs by up to 50% and reduce the city’s carbon footprint” All this  looked very impressive.


A Smart Waste Collection System

Well, one of the senior Municipal Commissioners said “This looks interesting – but remember that first the waste has to reach the smart bins and in a segregated form, then the vehicle drivers need to understand and follow the routing “system”. The tough part is the integration of traffic related data with the waste collection system. All these ideas and propositions are difficult to achieve on the ground”

“Oh, Come on Commissioner”, Naidu growled. “We must start somewhere. We must look into the future. Let us have a pilot on this in Delhi where we can take our international visitors to show case. Visit Chicago and see the application by yourself, ask all the questions and get convinced”

The Commissioner agreed to the pilot proposal when the Minister said that he could visit Chicago. His son was studying in Illinois.

A retired Finance Secretary (FS) was attending the meeting. He being an IAS spoke at the end. Many of your know that a typical IAS summarizes, steals all the good points and articulates them as if they are his/her own. In his clever summary speech, the Ex-FS highlighted need to provide financial incentives and disincentives. “Reward people if they segregate waste in bins – and when they do so regularly and correctly. Tax them when otherwise. I am sure that the money collected on penalties will far exceed the budgets set to provide incentives. So no additional Government borrowing or budgeting will be required”. Everybody just listened as this has been said by many several times before.

In the evening, Naidu met PM Modi and reported the outcomes of the high-level meeting. PM wasn’t very happy with the discussions. “We must get in touch Muhammad bin Tughlaq. I recently consulted him on demonetization of Rs 500/1000 notes.”

I thought PM wanted Tughlaq because his name contained the term “bin” that was important for waste segregation. But well, that could be just a coincidence and not the real reason.

Muhammad Bin Tughlaq has been a man of controversies and crisis. He experimented to shift his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad that was disastrous decision which cost millions of tankas and thousands of lives. The decisions had misfired.

In the context of the recent demonetization move in India PM Modi is described by the Opposition as the “modern day Tughlaq”. It is said that Tughlak rule spread out from Delhi to Daulatabad, while Modi rule spread out from delhi to Daulat(money)bad(black)! (see comment by Bhaskar Mukadam)

Bin Tughalaq was living in disguise in the old part of Delhi in one of the abandoned forts. When I accompanied Naidu to meet him, he asked us all the relevant questions regarding waste characteristics of today, the MSW Management & handling Rules and the challenge of waste segregation. After a patient hearing to both of us, he looked outside the window for a while and gazed.

“Well Minister Naidu and Dr Modak, I have a question and suggestion. Why do you need to segregate the waste at source? This is never going to happen in India. Even if citizens segregate waste, the waste collection people often remix the segregated waste at community level defeating the entire initiative, and frustrating the segregators. So, let the waste stay mixed”

“Instead of promoting or investing in the six bins that you propose, I will recommend that you invest in waste sorting and shredding machines. These machines will separate the waste streams efficiently and provide opportunity for both recycling and volume reduction. Insist that every housing society must have a waste sorting cum shredding machine at their premises and operate a waste collection system on this basis. This will open up a new industry and business segment. Besides, people will not be inconvenienced to figure out which waste goes where and make mistakes and waste their time. The SBA should come up with an aggressive financing scheme to make the installation of waste sorting/shredding machines possible and viable”

I though this time Bin Tughlak was right.  He looked much more realistic and smarter!

Don’t be surprised that the NDA Government will come up with a yet another Bin Tughalaq recommendation. Never know this time it could just work!!

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Halliday and Resnick


When you are young, you are in an impressionable age. People who you see around greatly influence you. You are also looking for role models that you would like to follow. But at the same time, you also want to do something different, express your passion and act accordingly. The realities of the world around often “tame” you and people with practice experience tear your world of dreams. Alas – this often leads to a life without oddities.

I studied at Balmohan Vidyamandir, a well-known Marathi medium school in Shivaji-Park in Mumbai. Physics (“Padarthvidyan) was introduced to us in the 8th standard. Physics fascinated me. I liked the sheer rationality of the subject and its importance and vast potential as a foundation to the applied world. The teachers who taught were as precise as the subject and delivered lectures intermixed with problem-solving that built our confidence and understanding about the subject of Physics.

After schooling, I joined First Year Science at Ramnarayan Ruia College. Physics was taught to us by Professors R D Gupte and Karnik. Prof Gupte covered Mechanics and Prof Karnik Heat. Prof Gupte had an impressive personality, a British accent and great oratory skills. He would walk around the stage and the podium in a rhythm. He used the blackboard to write key points and the equations. He did not follow textbooks of Indian authors (not because they were inferior) but instead introduced to us the book “Physics-I” by Halliday and Resnick – the most celebrated book on “College Physics” (Now the book is on its 10th edition with James Walker)

A combination of Prof Gupte’s style of teaching with the book by Halliday and Resnick was intoxicating. I fell in love with Physics. Professor Karnik, though equally a good teacher, seemed much more “conventional”. He taught us the subject of Heat more to do well the University examination, and did not follow Halliday & Resnick and did not have Prof Gupte’s charismatic style of delivery.

I remember we had pre-university exams at the College as “qualifier” to the main university exams. The paper on Physics was set in two parts – one by Professor Gupte and other by Professor Karnik. We were provided with two separate answer sheets for each part.  Prof Gupte had put tough questions for his Mechanics portion making us “think” while Professor Karnik’s paper on Heat was rather straightforward – i.e. if you knew the equations, all you needed was substitution of the right data or the input.

I decided to solve only Professor Gupte’ s part. The minimum marks for “passing” were 35 and I was confident to get at least 35 out of 50. So I saw no need to solve Professor Karnik’s portion for the purpose of passing – and the subject of Heat (and the way it was taught) wasn’t exciting to me. The duration of the paper was 2 hours.

I walked out of the examination hall in one hour (so as to be fair). I submitted a completed answer book for Mechanics and a blank answer book only carrying my roll number for Heat. Everybody in the hall was surprised to see my “early exit”. Most thought that I had an emotional breakdown!

Two weeks later, Professor Karnik announced a session where answer books were to be shared with marks and of course guidance was to be given for the final university exam. The lecture hall was full as attendance was compulsory. Prof Karnik was reading out the roll numbers one by one with names and the student had to go to the Dias to collect the answer book. It appeared that the overall performance wasn’t good or perhaps the marking was rather stiff as most students scored between 35 to 45 out of 100 (some were probably given “grace” marks to clear the “wall” of 35).

My roll number was 85. Professor Karnik reached Roll number 84 and then skipped calling me and moved to Roll number 86. I was shocked – why did Prof Karnik not call me? I started wondering. I thought that my submission of blank answer book for the Heat part must have made him really upset and angry.

When everybody got the answer books, Prof Karnik took a pause and then called out my roll number and name. I sheepishly walked slowly to the Dias. I was prepared to listen to his firing or harsh words.

Prof Karnik smiled instead and then held my hand and raised it high like a winner of a boxing competition. He said loudly in his characteristic squeaky voice “This boy answered only the Mechanics part and got 50 out of 50 and yet he got the highest marks in the class”.

Wow, I still remember the applause that I received by equally shocked student audience.

As I left the class like a “hero”, one of the best-looking girls approached me in the corridor. My heart started throbbing. She said “I am really impressed with your style; will you teach me physics?”. I then realized that doing well in Physics could lead such exciting possibilities!

(We met several times then at the Durga Parameshwari (more known as DP) café that was right outside the gate of Ruia college. But I hardly taught her any Physics! I was later told that she did her doctoral in Physics at the very Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where Resnick used to teach)



Cafe Durga Parameshwari as of today

Professor Gupte called me to the faculty room after this episode. He told me not to repeat such oddities. “Go and say sorry to Prof Karnik” he said softly.  He then paused and said “You seem to be really interested in Physics. Why don’t you attend series of lectures on Cosmic Rays by Professor Lavkire of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR)? These lectures will be in our college in the evenings of every Monday at 6 pm”

I attended the three-lecture discourse of Professor Lavkire on Cosmic Rays. Lavkire unfolded the mystic of the subject in a language we could understand. These lectures used to end by 8 pm. I used to walk alone from Ruia college through Hindu Colony crossing the Tilak bridge to Shivaji-Park and brood over the lectures. I dreamed that one day I will become like Professor Lavkire and make a career in Astrophysics.

I joined Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay for BTech program in Civil Engineering. We had five courses on Physics in the first five semesters and great teachers like Professors S H Patil, A S Mahajan and M G Rao. These courses on Physics influenced me a lot. The first textbook was once again Physics by Halliday and Resnick.

After the five Physics courses, I thought of shifting from Civil Engineering to MSc Physics. Professor G Tyagarajan of Physics Department who was also the Institute Dean of Academic Program called me to his chamber. He knew that I belonged to a family of civil and environmental engineers and so he said “stay interested in Physics, but Physics need not be your career to earn your living. Understand the realities. You are not going to make money on Physics.”

I continued my interest in Physics by reading books by George Gamow and Richard Feynman. Gamow’s book “Thirty Years that Shook Physics” was something that still cherish and of course the book “Surely you are joking Mr. Feynman”.

I loved to read these books to get insight to the work and the lives of some of these great physicists. But I found that I was getting more interested in their personal lives than the “substance”.

In my third- year onwards I decided to specialize in environmental science and engineering. This choice was both due to my interest (due to exciting course taught by Professor S M Khopkar of Chemistry department on Environmental Pollution) and certainly due to the influence of my family. The choice of making career in environmental science and engineering seemed so natural to me.

I took four institute electives on environmental science, did a two months internship at Dorr Oliver (a well-known company doing business in process engineering and pollution control) and completed a BTech project on Anaerobic Digestion. My career in environmental management deepened further as I later did my Masters and Doctoral research. Now I spent last thirty years learning this fascinating subject.

But the first love to Physics continued and it has always stayed. I bought the three volume set of “The World of Physics” by Jefferson Hane Weaver after getting my first salary. These volumes were quite expensive to purchase (even today)


A Great Library Collection on Physics

I realized that I did not have copies of Halliday and Resnick (H&R). So very recently, I bought the two old volumes of H&R  (First edition that we had used at IIT). I picked up these copies from a street vendor selling second-hand books near the Fort area of Mumbai. But this time, I also purchased the “Solutions Manual”!

Many friends wondered why.

“Don’t tell us that at the age of sixty you are going to re-start reading these old college physics books” Few quipped.

I smiled – held the second-hand copies of Halliday and Resnick close to my nose to experience the faded fragrance and turned a few pages. The pages carried scribbles like “important”, “to ask” etc. and caricatures of the professors who taught.


I felt rather familiar and a bit nostalgic. I also realized that we badly need equivalent of Halliday and Resnick for introducing a foundation course on Environmental Science. This book like Halliday and Resnick  should hit the 10th edition!

While returning home, I decided to check the whereabouts of the good-looking girl whom I used meet at the “DP Cafe” in front of the Ramnarayan Ruia College. I thought of connecting with her and learn about her experience of being on the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Now some coffee? My 20 years of Association at IL&FS Ltd


I worked for Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) in various capacities since 1996. I was their Corporate Consultant on Environment, later the Chief Sustainability Officer and in addition Head of the Knowledge Management Unit. I was also the first Dean of IL&FS Academy for Applied Development (IAAD) that was set up with a mission to put sustainability in practice.

I left IL&FS on November 30, last week relinquishing all the above positions.

I was never a full time staff or an employee of IL&FS. I continued running my own consulting and not for profit activities, teach at IIT Bombay as Professor (Adjunct) and work as an independent international consultant with UN and Multilateral/Bilateral Development Agencies. I must credit IL&FS for letting me to be a “free radical”.

This blog post is an account of my experience working with a leading Corporate with a multifarious business canvas of diverse sectors such as water, wastewater, energy, transportation, education etc.– and the value it added to my career and life.

I am also using this post to make my observations on the Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) at Financing Institutions.

P Illangovan, my buddy at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkok, sent me an email in 1995 to contact one Mr. Hari Sankaran at Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS). “These guys need some help to set up an Environmental & Social Management System. You could help” he said.

Illango was working as an Environmental Specialist at the Washington office of the World Bank. The World Bank was appraising a loan of around 180 million USD for private sector financing in infrastructure in India through IL&FS. As per the requirements of the Operational Policy (OP) of the World Bank, IL&FS was required to set up an Environmental & Social Management System (ESMS), prepare the required documentation, recruit staff and train them through piloting of the system on some of the infrastructure projects.

The idea was to identify environmental and social risks at various stages of the project cycle on a proactive basis, prioritize and minimize these risks by influencing the project concept and design and thereafter mitigate the residual risks through an environmental and social management plan. The residual risks were to be addressed by allocating them across the stakeholders through concession, contract obligations and covenants. The system was to be customized for Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects – that IL&FS was to develop and finance

Somehow, I did not like the company name “IL&FS”. Having just left teaching and research at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Bombay, terms such as “Leasing” & “Financing” were alien and allergic to me. I did not contact Mr. Hari Sankaran

A month passed and I got a reminder email from Illango and then a frantic phone call. “Prasad, what’s happening? I had suggested your name to Hari and promised that you will reach him and help in the establishment of ESMS. George Varghese of Development Alternatives has already prepared a draft and you need to fix it and operationalize the ESMS at IL&FS. Unless this is done to Bank’s satisfaction, the loan will not be sanctioned. Everything else is ready except the ESMS part”

I told Illango that I did not quite like the company name.

“Come on Prasad, be serious. IL&FS is run by some great guys who understand PPP in the infrastructure business. With ESMS integration IL&FS will be able to show case how to mainstream E&S issues and influence the PPP business in the country. They will be the first movers in the E&S space and you will be part of it. At least go and see Hari for my sake, say “no” if you like but for courtesy, show up your face please” Illango said this in a rather irritated tone.

In those days, IL&FS had office at the Mahindra Towers in Worli. I called Hari’s office and fixed an appointment to see him around 11 am. “Well, let me do this meeting formality for Illango’s sake” I said to myself.


“Hurry” Sankaran

Hari Sankaran was then Senior Vice President (SVP) at IL&FS. He did not sit in a cabin. I saw him sitting on a desk with a large table lamp, with hardly any papers pending on the desk, a coffee mug and few soiled paper napkins.

“Dr Modak, we have been looking for you” He beamed. “When do we start working on the ESMS?” I was dazed with this man’s style of approaching a stranger, with utter confidence and not wasting time in the preliminaries and coming straight to the point. I thought he should be spelling his name as “Hurry Sankaran” and not “Hari”.

Hari briefed me in the next 20 minutes on ESMS, shared the base document, proposed an agenda (essentially time lines for delivery). I gave my ideas too and we had a great conversation. I sensed that I was speaking to someone already up on the curve, excited and serious about implementation of ESMS.

“Now some coffee? Hari ended the conversation. I realized that we had gelled extremely well. Meeting Hari was an important part of my destiny! Not only as a professional and but later a close friend.

Just by then, Hari received a call from Chennai. IL&FS was developing Tirupur Water Supply Project in a PPP format – one of the first PPPs in the water sector in Asian. Government of Tamil Nadu (GoTN) was the partner with support of the World Bank. Tirupur was the top textile export center of India (more than a billion US$ export then) with a cluster of 700 industries. Tirupur was “thirsty” for 185 million liters of water every day. Ground water situation was no good and water was to be pumped over a long distance from river Cauvery.

“Prasad (Hari had stopped by then calling me Dr Modak), are you free to travel with me to Chennai tomorrow? Some bureaucrats at the GoTN want to know the implication of following ESMS. You will be the best person to explain what’s in India’s environmental governance and what is the World Bank expectation. We will be back in the evening. Let us meet for the 7 am Air India flight at the airport”

I nodded yes (it was so hard to refuse)

My association with IL&FS thus started in a spurt and continued like a breeze for the next 20 years.

We implemented the ESMS and met expectations of the World Bank. While working with IL&FS, it was exciting for me to see how E&S perspectives could influence the project – its scope, alternatives, identification of preferred option including different forms of execution i.e. financing and institutional arrangements. All the interventions led to the projects advantage.

I recall projects like Ahmedabad-Mehsana Toll Road, Vadodara-Halol Toll road and Delhi-Noida Toll Bridge. E & S integration in these projects became success stories, got well documented and publicized. In case of Vadodara-Halol the route was optimized to reduce the displacement of people from 1000+ to less than 40; cattle underpasses were provided and tree transplantation was carried out for Ahmedabad-Mehsana Toll Road and high-powered citizen committees were created (one with Maneka Gandhi and other with Professor Yash Pal as chairmen), holding meeting at the construction site of Delhi-Noida Toll Bridge every month (on each side). These committees served as a watchdog on Marubeni, the contractor and over a period established cordial relationships from the confrontations in the beginning. I used to attend every citizen meeting at the site and at the both ends of the bridge.

In all these projects, those whose lands were affected were compensated at market rates and Income Generation Schemes (IGS) were designed that provided skill building and ensured sustainability in their incomes. In the RIDOR project (Roads in Rajasthan) that impacted nearly 1100 families due to land acquisition were handled sensitively and were provided with customized IGS (in addition to the compensation for the land acquired) with a follow up of a 3-year monitoring & evaluation program to adapt and ensure that the affected community received the intended benefits. The later helped IL&FS to borrow from KfW a debt at a very concessional rate and over long duration.

Many of the E&S measures implemented at these projects increased the cost of the project, albeit marginally (estimated between 1 to 2%) but gave rich dividends in terms of projects acceptability (something critical in the PPP format), reduced risks (to the lenders and investors) and led to a “brand” building. For example, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by one a “competitor” on Ahmedabad-Mehsana road was squashed by the Judge looking at the exemplary environmental & social management plan of IL&FS which would have otherwise led to 6 months of delay (costing to at least 8% increase in the project cost and loss of income from tolling).

The World Bank considered all such projects as show cases of good practices. The staff of the World Bank was taken to these sites for learning. So the agency who imposed ESMS, used the practice experience of IL&FS to build their own capacities! That was something interesting and to be proud of.

The ESMS at IL&FS expanded in 2007 to Environmental and Social Policy Framework (ESPF). This was necessary as IL&FS restructured its business into independent verticals such as IL&FS Toll Network Ltd, IL&FS Energy, IL&FS Water, IL&FS Environment etc and this required a hybrid of non-compromising core principles enshrined by Corporate Policy and adaptation of the principles into procedures with practice guidance as appropriate to each business vertical. I really enjoyed this phase of establishing and operating ESPF across the IL&FS Group. This was lots of excitement and learning

By then Hari rose to become Vice Chairman and MD of IL&FS. But he still found time to discuss E&S perspectives (now in Sustainability parlance). He was always involved and supported me. Looking back however, I realized that he was perhaps the only one in the entire organization who understood the true spirit and the benefits of E & S integration in the business. Many who were “downstream” were simply the followers, some were biased that E & S management only adds to the costs while some remained indifferent and many stayed or chose to be ignorant. We conducted several sessions on awareness at the level of CEOs and training of middle level on ESPF and appointed ESPF coordinators in each IL&FS vertical – but couldn’t get the traction that we wanted to see.  The initial “golden era” of projects such as Vadodara-Halol or Delhi-Noida toll bridge was perhaps eroded. The business models had changed with less control to “influence”

I started getting questions from the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Chief Financial Officers (CFO)s “Show me the Money”. That became my big frustration. I felt that I was wasting my time. I decided to give more time to my consulting company Environmental Management Centre and the non-profit outfit Ekonnect Knowledge Foundation. I also realized that I needed to balance work and health and spend more time to write, teach and get more connected with students and the academia.

Many financing institutions today are adopting ESMS like systems like IL&FS. I had opportunities to establish ESMS at other financial institutions such as National Bank of Egypt, IDCOL in Bangaldesh, CIMB in Malaysia etc as a Consultant. In most instances, the reason for ESMS was due to pressure or a push from the investor like the World Bank or International Finance Corporation (IFC). These systems were created for the sake of compliance and for mobilizing moneys.

The emphasis of the ESMS has been  generally to address risks but rarely to seize the opportunities. So, systems do get created, but are used on a perfunctory basis (more like tick marks) and do not add “value” to the investments/projects/partners. We need therefore a paradigm shift and convincing case studies, especially for the CEOs/CFOs.

On November 30, when I was leaving my office on the 9th floor of IL&FS, I was thinking of walking to Hari’s desk to say “good bye”. I saw him at a distance, busy on his cell phone, with hair now grey and a pair of spectacles drooping on his nose. The past 20 years had aged him a lot like me.

I decided however not to see him. I was afraid that if I see him, he would ask “how about some coffee?” and start some exciting conversations. These conversations could be so engaging that I may perhaps change my mind

So, instead I walked straight to the elevators and exited quietly from the ground floor, rather unnoticed.

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