Citizens Sense!

humanbrainwired

Until recently, measuring air pollution was a task that could be performed only by trained scientists using very sophisticated – expensive equipment. Environmental Sensors are now getting advanced, miniaturized and cheaper, opening up new methods of collecting environmental data.

Environmental data capture is no more left to the regulatory agencies today. Its now led by the citizens. Citizen can “sense” the environment using readily available sensor devices with smart phones, and share this information using existing cellular and internet communication infrastructure.

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“Democratization” of technology and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) hardware platforms, have the potential to enable citizens to sense. It is estimated that by 2019, “citizen environmentalists” will have more personal sensors, measuring air and water pollution, energy consumption, health parameters etc. than the governments.

US EPA is challenging communities across the country to collect data using hundreds of air quality sensors as part of the Smart City Air Challenge. The agency just offered up to $40,000 apiece to two communities to help them develop and implement plans for collecting and sharing data from air quality sensors. The award money only covers part of the program costs, so communities will need to partner with sensor manufacturers, data management companies or others to get resources and expertise to implement their plans.

The State Pollution Control Boards in India should think of taking up such initiatives.

I came across the Air Quality Egg.  This is a network of about 1,300 CO2 and NO2 sensors, which cost $240 each. Another popular device is the Smart Citizen Kit.   Here data is uploaded to the Smart Citizen Website which shows about 800 kits deployed across the world, with more than half deployed in Europe. The basic kits cost about $170, before tax and shipping. There are dozens of such sensor packs and gateways now available and the number is constantly growing.

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Air Quality Egg Sensor

We don’t have such devices and networks established in India.

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Forty Air Quality Eggs in Georgia

The Do-It-Yourself Mantra

EnviroDIY in the US is a community of enthusiasts sharing Do-It-Yourself Ideas for environmental monitoring. All EnviroDIY members can showcase their environmental sensing gadgets or describe their own homegrown approaches to monitoring, sensor calibration, installation hardware, radio communication, data management, training or any number of other topics. Members can pose and answer questions and can network within interest groups to collectively develop new devices, tutorials, or other useful products.

Empowering the Youth

The Kids Making Sense program empowers youth to drive positive change and improve public health by collecting credible air quality data around their neighborhoods. Students participate in hands-on science tasks, discuss their findings with an air quality scientist, and share their data with the global air quality community. They can even use their data to identify local sources of air pollution and take actions to be part of the solution. DIY is the strategy.

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Students in Bangkok participating in Air Quality Sensing

Market forces and consumer convenience are driving the growth of DIY sensor market. Whatever the motivation, these sensors are being used now by many organizations, including concerned citizen advocacy groups, and to some extent by the regulatory community. Regulators are interested in the low cost sensor technologies because they can cheaply expand measurement capacity. But at the same time, they are cautious because of uncertainties about measurements that do not comply with narrowly prescribed measurement methods.

Many environmental sensors are still in an early stage of technology development, and many sensors have not yet been evaluated to determine the accuracy of their measurements. So there are important concerns about how well and how accurately these sensors work.

The latest version of EPA’s Air Sensor Toolbox provides a variety of resources on using air sensor technologies, including new sensor performance reference tables. One of the most popular resources is the Air Sensor Guidebook, a how-to for using of air sensors and what to consider before getting started with a citizen science project. In addition, the Toolbox includes scientific reports on air sensor monitors that undergo testing and evaluation by EPA. Technical documents on operating procedures also are available.

But low-cost air monitoring does have merits. It is not hard to build a $30 sensor to measure carbon monoxide, although such a device probably will not be able to measure concentrations less than, say, one part per million. In many advanced countries, where pollution levels are relatively low, such a device would not produce meaningful measurements. But on a busy street in New Delhi, or near a brick kiln in Patna, it could be quite useful because pollution levels are significantly higher that citizens would like to sense.

Sensors of Tomorrow

The team, led by Professor Giacinta Parish, has come up with a new kind of sensor. It’s made from gallium nitride, a material that can perform in extreme heat and at high power levels, unlike the materials silicon and gallium arsenide that are often used in sensor chips.

Parish’s team along with engineers from CSIRO, Australia have used the gallium nitride to build a single sensor chip that can detect many different ions without the need for a reference electrode that would add to its size and weight.

Plants have amazing and significant sensing capabilities. For instance, each single root apex can simultaneously and continuously monitor many chemical and physical parameters. A digital network and a powerful algorithm transforms each tree into an environmental informer. A group of Italian, British and Spanish researchers are working on developing a network of micro sensors that can be embedded in plants, sending us information on how plants respond to changes in temperature, humidity, air pollution, chemicals and many other changes in their environment. A project called PLEASED (PLants Employed As SEnsing Devices)  has been launched with €1.07 million ($1.46 million) funding by the EU.


I am a strong advocate of citizen monitoring. To encourage the citizens to sense our environment, engage into science based discussions and action, we should probably consider launching a nation-wide program on “citizen sensing”.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) should take the task of setting a Toolbox like US EPA did to ensure quality entry of the sensors, guide correct use and provide tips and training for the interpretation of this data.

Department of Science & Technology should sponsor research on low cost environmental sensors that can be indigenously manufactured and serviced and promote entrepreneurship in this area. Our venture capitalists should seriously consider investing and come up with innovative business models.

Some may say that involving citizens in “sensing” will increase the Public Interest Litigations (PILs) and appeals to the National Green Tribunal (NGT). But whether the regulators like or not, citizens and especially the youth – are going to get more involved – since the environment matters.

Citizens are now interested to know more about the state of environment they are living and not solely depend on the monitoring reports of the regulators. Don’t you think it makes a pretty good sense!


You may want to read my following previous posts

Participatory Air Quality Monitoring

Why Monitor Environmental Quality – Why not Generate Random Numbers?


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Environment Minister Looks for an Officer on Special Duty

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During one of the Ministerial Get-togethers, held in the lawns of the Prime Ministers bungalow, the Environment Minister observed that few people were floating around Ministers of Energy, Agriculture etc.   These people looked a bit special. While they looked like “babus”, they were enthusiastic and efficient. That seemed odd.

When asked, the Environment Minister was told that these people were the Officers on Special Duty (OSD).

“Don’t you have one?” The Energy Minister asked the Minister of Environment. “If you want the impact or bring in a change, then you will need one – You can also use an OSD to checkmate the volley of secretaries in the Ministry – one of the greatest stumbling blocks to bring in any change”.

An OSD (Officer on Special Duty) is an officer in the Indian civil service considered of the status between a Secretary and an Under Secretary. The practice dates to the British colonial rule in India.

The Environment Minister called my Professor Friend for help and suggestions. As usual, Professor asked me to tag along and I gladly obliged.

Do you have any special duties at all Minister? Professor asked a question so basic and fundamental.

“Good question – “The Environment Minister said. He looked outside the window.

It was a Friday evening and Delhi was under a thick smog and it appeared as if the streetlights were in tears and blinking. The traffic was crawling with emissions oozing out like a slow poison. Solving the puzzle of Delhi’s air pollution could be a special duty that could be assigned. The Minister muttered to himself.

I knew that this task was far beyond any OSD or the Prime Minister for that matter and a herculean task even if the Nations were United.

So, I decided to make a practical suggestion. I said ““Well Minister” – I see several special duties that could be performed by an OSD at your Ministry”

For a change, the Professor allowed me to speak.

I said “Environment Ministry has 40 odd divisions listed on its website. Do we really need 40 divisions? Can we ask the OSD to come up with just 10 divisions and stay focused? He could take up reorganization and streamlining of the Ministry as a special duty. This will lead to a higher efficiency and a considerable impact besides getting out of the redundancy “

“Well Dr Modak, don’t forget that these divisions were created to accommodate interests of the individuals and not because of any reasons genuine. If we apply rationality and collapse these divisions, then we will be confronted by protests & political inquiries” Professor said this with some caution. The Minister agreed.

I was disappointed. I thought that the Ministry required a thorough restructuring rather than the present amoeboid format.  But I didn’t want to give up.

I said “I have another idea. The Ministry has signed up more than 10 International MoUs with various bi-laterals (see http://www.moef.nic.in/division/bilaterals)  We will ask the OSD to find out what’s really happening on these MoUs and check whether they are still active – then revisit/restructure MoUs and follow up to our benefit”

Professor did not like this idea either. “Minister – This task is no big deal or worthy of putting time of an OSD as we already know that nothing happens after the MoUs get signed. The case is just like MoUs signed during Vibrant Gujarat. Most MoUs use the broad term “cooperation” and make a “laundry list of topics for collaboration”. You should be firing those who drafted such inconsequential MoUs”.

I kept shut. I thought that Professor was right. Most such MoUs of the Ministry were drafted by retired Secretaries and Ex-Professors from JNU.

The Environment Minister suggested. “What if we attach the OSD to Ministry’s Economic Cell?”

“Well, Minister Sir, Are you aware about the functions of the Economic Cell? ” Professor asked.

(I did not even know that such a cell existed in the Ministry).


According to S R Maheshwari (S.R., Maheshwari (2003). Indian Administration (6th ed.). New Delhi: Orient Longman Private Limited. ISBN 812501988X), there are two principal criteria in appointing an OSD in the civil services. –

  1. When an officer by his appointment brings far greater economic benefit to the government than that spent in his appointment
  1. When there is an obligation on the government to take a certain action for the benefit of the larger good..

In the above “economic” perspective, I thought – attaching the OSD to the so called Economic Cell will be a good idea.

The Professor continued

“Let me list a few functions of the Economic Cell”

  • All matters having bearing on internal and external economic management in the Ministry and reform in the environment and forest sectors.
  • Providing material for Economic Survey of M/o Finance, Finance Minister’s Budget Speech, etc.
  • Nodal Division for handling and coordinating all matters referred by the Ministry of Finance.
  • Secretariat for the Sectoral Committee to Review the Release and Utilization of the Grants-in-Aid for State Specific Needs recommended by the Thirteenth Finance Commission.
  • Compliance under the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, 2003.
  • Parliament Questions on policy matters

He ended reading out this list and quipped. “Do you think we should waste career of a bright OSD on such terribly and ambiguously worded functions?”

I couldn’t disagree.

We discussed several other possible special duties for the next hour with the Minister but each suggestion made was ruled out by the Professor saying that it was hardly any special duty. All duties seemed either routine or inconsequential. Nothing seemed special.

After such a frustrating discussion, Professor got up from his chair and said “Minister Sir, let us work other way round “. I knew that Professor had a different thought.

“Sir, do you have anyone particular in mind?” Professor put this rather probing question.

An OSD is chosen by the Minister based on personal preference or based on the recommendation of the people well known to the Minister. OSD is among the personal staff of the Minister and his term is co-terminus with the tenure of Minister. There is no notification for the selection of OSD.

“I was thinking of one Mr Hardik Shah –  present Member Secretary of Gujarat Pollution Control Board” The Minister said sheepishly

Well, then Professor said. “I have now two questions to ask. Firstly, are you aware that you are choosing a Gujarati – you are perhaps a Gujarati and the Prime Minister is also Gujarati. So, this nexus should not be looked at as a conspiracy. Secondly, I do hope Mr Shah is not related to you in any way as there have been cases filed if Minister choses even a distant relative as OSD”

The Environment Minister said no.

“Oh, are you talking about Mr Hardik Shah who was Member Secretary of the High-Level Committee under the chairmanship of T.S.R. Subramanian?” I exclaimed.

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Mr Hardik Shah

The Environment Minister nodded.

(Many of you know that the TSR Committee made reformistic recommendations to beef up India’s environmental governance. But some of the recommendations were radical. The TSR Committee report was not accepted)

“Sir, then the problem is solved. Mr Hardik Shah is the right person as the OSD to you. His special duty will be to implement the T.S.R. Subramanian committee report. This will keep him (and you) sufficiently busy till the next election” Professor said this in a firm voice

But I had another suggestion.

“How about appointing Mr Shah as your Personal Secretary (PS) instead of an OSD”. I said “In this capacity and under your support, Mr Shah will be able to help you in bringing the desired change in the Ministry”.

The Environment Minister liked my idea.

And this is how I was told that Mr Hardik Shah got appointed as a PS to the Environment Minister. I guess the Ministry had to follow the appropriate procedures.  Apparently, his appointment took place just in the last week.

I now hope to see some action at the Ministry of Environment especially on the T.S.R. Subramanian Committee report.

My best wishes to you Mr Shah and count all my support.


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Not Just Walk in the Park

joggers2

I live right next to the famous Shivaji-Park in Mumbai. I go for a walk to the Park every day in the early morning.  I take two rounds that takes a good 45 minutes. I walk at my own pace.

Generally, most people simply walk, they don’t seem to look around or listen. To most it’s a “ritual” to be performed as asked by the doctors or by the wife.

I walk with music in my ears. I have a good collection of albums on my iPhone. I generally listen to the oldies of the period between 70s and 80s. Dire Straits, Beatles, Kenny Rodgers, Elton John, Eagles and the like. This reminds me of my Hostel 7 days at IIT Bombay and I feel nostalgic.  Sometimes I put on the option of “shuffle”. This gives pleasant surprises like suddenly encountering your “old flame”.

I see almost the same people who walk like me every day. Some are friends and some total “strangers” but yet “familiar”. When I see someone familiar, we smile and wave hands – probably just to acknowledge.  This kind of “acknowledgement” makes you feel good. You feel “connected” to the world as somebody not known notices you!

I see some folks walking vigorously. These are serious walkers who wear straps on their wrists to monitor the steps taken, time elapsed, calories burnt and record the blood pressure. Some run in a group at the outer periphery of the Park. Generally, the “instructor” leads the “convoy” with a strap on the forehead. Watching them run, makes me feel energetic.

People who walk with my pace are not many.  I guess they must be having couple of stents like me and so not racing their heart beats. We are the cautious walkers.

Some walkers wear fancy or expensive Tee Shirts with funny slogans or punch lines. Some wear University Tee Shirts to flout. Like University of California Berkeley, Columbia University etc. You can make out that these folks have come for 2 weeks’ holiday in India mainly to meet their aging parents. They wear high quality shoes that I feel jealous about.

Shivaji Park has two well-known temples – one of Lord Ganesha (known as Udyan Ganesha) and other of Goddess Kali. These two temples are next to each other. Most walkers take a detour and stop to pray and receive the “blessings”. I too stop at the temples every day. Sometimes I hit the timing of the “Aarati” (chanting of prayers with lights) and you feel nice.

Then there are folks who sell freshly prepared herbal juices and sometimes healthy snacks (like sprouts and hot idlies). I see many of the walkers flocking there on a routine basis. For the comfort and confidence to the customers, they use mineral water in preparing the Juices.

If you want to learn about news that does not appear in the morning newspaper, then it is a good idea to sit on the “katta” next to the primary school of Balmohan Vidyamandir. A rather special crowd sits there. Here you get to listen to all the “secret” news, rumors that you could trust and some bold and independent opinions. Most of these folks who speak are ex-Government (generally the Head clerks), Bankers (mostly cashiers) or people whose kids are settled in the United States and have left them all alone in Mumbai.

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Shivaji Park Katta

I admire walkers who have disability due to a paralytic stroke or a polio from birth. These people despite all the difficulties take rounds every day. They almost crawl sometimes but continue to walk with a determination. Watching them makes me feel strong that nothing is impossible.

There are young couples who walk together every day. They talk when they walk. They look like the Double Income Category. I feel that this is the only time they must be getting to chat and in privacy especially if they live in a joint family.

Few walkers come with their dogs. Some dogs go wild when they come across each other (as if one belongs to the BJP and other Congress). They  put their “masters” in great difficulty to control, tame or convince and stop barking (fighting).

Then there are walkers who are on their mobile phones all the time. Every 100 steps they complete, they receive a phone call that they cannot resist. I see them stop under a tree and get into animated conversations. I pity such people.

At some locations around the Park, we see the “malishwalas” (people offering oil massage). Many walkers with big bellies sit on a wooden bench enjoying the oil massage on their calves and knees. I see them siting in a trans or a bliss.

Each walker has a unique style of walking and I try to “read” them to identify the “bird” or “animal” behind them. If I forget carrying my iPhone, then such experiments with the science of “phrenology” keep me entertained during my two rounds.

There is a small garden in the Park called as “Aji-Ajoba” (means park for the grandparents). I see there people above the age of 60 years sitting inside. They read newspapers and have a hot cup of masala tea courtesy a sponsor. I now fit in this category but I haven’t yet ventured getting inside the Park. I don’t want others to know that I have now crossed the age of sixty. But one day sure I will.

Just last month, I came across a girl in the late twenties wearing a smart sports attire – a hood Tee shirt and three fourths shorts.  She looked athletic and walked or ran at a pace three times of mine. Watching her move in a rhythm with hair bouncing made me feel healthy.

jogginggirl

While crossing me over in one of the rounds one day, I saw that her handkerchief fell  down from her pocket. She didn’t even realize that this had happened. I picked up the handkerchief as I was trailing behind.

When I saw her in the next round, I waived and stopped her. “Your handkerchief” I said while handlng over.

“Oh” She said “Thank you Uncle” (When she called me an Uncle it simply “bled” my heart). I said “my pleasure” (or I muttered something to this effect)

After that “encounter”, she started acknowledging me whenever we crossed each other during my  walk. Sometimes she would only smile or sometimes she would wave. I used to look forward to seeing her (like in the movie the Joggers Park) and feel terrible if I missed her due to wrong timing…

One day, I saw her sit on a wooden bench under a tree tying lace of her shoes. She waived and stopped me. “How are you Uncle today?” she asked. We got into a brief conversation.

She told me that she works as a System Analyst for Tata Consulting Services. “Such a drab job” she said.

I told her about the work I do. She looked very excited when she learnt that I work in the field of environment.   “Wow, Uncle, this must be really a fantastic field to work. I wish I could” She sighed. I thought she was pretty serious.

As she was ready to get up and resume her jogging, she looked at the tree above and asked me “Uncle, what tree is this by the way?” I had never expected this question.

I  realized I knew nothing about that tree although I crossed over every day.  But I didn’t want to show my ignorance. “It’s an uncommon variety of a mango like tree” I said this in a casual tone and in ambiguity like a politician. “Oh, I didn’t know that there were Mango trees in the Shivaji Park” The girl said this to me with all the innocence but a face – rather mischievous ”. She got back to her jogging.

I felt miserable. I was sure that the girl was sharp enough to see how “hollow” I was when it came to understanding the “basics”.

I decided to get a friend who knew how to recognize the trees and walk with him for a good round in the Shivaji-Park.

A thought came to my mind – how many walkers and environmentalists know enough about the ecosystem around the Park they walk every day? Do we ever bother?

I guess we shouldn’t be just taking a walk in the Park. We should be looking around, and observing the trees- and sometimes even stopping to listen to the chirping of the birds.


I conceived a program captioned “Not Just a Walk in the Park” (NJWIP) in 2006 to give people a new perspective on the urban parks they  visit and teach them more about the natural environment by conducting sessions packed with fun, interactive activities. The first such program was conducted at the Kamla Nehru Park in Pune, India

NJWIP is designed in a manner where the participants get introduced to each component of the park ecosystem including the soil, plants, trees, flowers, birds, insects, butterflies and so on. The hope is that they understand their role as individuals as also the role of the community to act in terms of conservation of this precious yet undervalued resource.

Objectives of NJWIP are

  • Bring citizens out of their technological world closer to Nature: specifically, Trees & Urban Biodiversity.
  • Help participants learn about different species of trees, their importance and the significant role trees play in our lives.
  • Help citizens understand their individual role as well as the role of community action for conservation of this precious and undervalued resource.

My not for profit organization Ekonnect has conducted five such events in three different parks of Pune city in which more than 100 children from various schools and institutions of Pune have participated. We trained Teachers from 22 schools and provided them NJWIP kits.

With an aim of bringing people closer to nature in Mumbai, NJWIP was held at Pramod Mahajan Park, Dadar on 13th March 2016 from 7:00 am to 9:30 am. Click here to read the Mumbai report of NJWIP

Would you like us to guide you or help conduct NJWIP in a Park nearby to where you live? Contact my colleagues Disha Mahajan and Sonal Alvares and we will be most happy to connect with you.

Do get involved in  NJWIP and you won’t get embarrassed like me when questioned by a girl you admire!

 


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‘Blue, Green and Everything in Between’, Now Available

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Dear Readers,

Enthused by your response to ‘Sixty Shades of Green: Musings on Sustainability‘, I have now brought out it’s companion edition,  ‘Blue, Green and Everything in Between: Musings on Life, Love and Sustainability’ which pulls together another 50 of my blog posts.

‘Blue, Green and Everything in Between’ has a different sort of flavor – In these posts, I have related anecdotes from my personal experience with people, places and life. However, just like ‘Sixty Shades of Green’, I have adopted a semi-fictional and satirical style. In most of the posts, sustainability has been the focus. As before, the book  comes with rich and attractive illustrations (doodles) but in a new design format.

Take a look at the Table of Contents – TOC.

You can find the book on the websites of Amazon, Amazon India, Flipkart and Pothi. Avail the Print on Demand Service.  Kindle version will be available soon. 

Few hard copies of the first book “Sixty Shades of Green” are still available with me. Click here to purchase. This book is also available on Amazon, FlipKart and Pothi.

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What do readers have to say about the articles in the New Book? 

BLOG POST WHAT READERS SAID
Whether to Drive Electric? It’s all about Location, Location and Location! Awsome Dr.Modak and I am purchasing a bicycle now…

–       Mahesh Dalvi

Eye opening sir.

–       Dr. Vijai Singhal

Environmental Emissions Market in India –Are We Prepared Enough? Very Informative and thought provoking article as always

–       Manoj Karmarkar

Teaching Environmental Modeling with Hooke’s Law This piece is simply superb!! Modelling otherwise sounds so abstract for the learners. Pedagogy like this is much needed for the teaching of environmental science so as to get professionals who understand modelling, not the application of the modeling software. And this is true for so many other concepts of environmental science. It’s so frustrating when even the practitioners in field get confused on such basic things like organic pollutants and COD, using the terms interchangeably.

–          Shantanu Roy

A Competition So Funny! Humor at its best- alas! with subtle reality.

–          Akhilendra Gupta

Journey of Environmental Assessment towards Sustainability Appraisal Well written article and very informative in the way you have linked the progression of the practice of assessment. I fully agree that the practice in this country is weak and has been further diluted by unethical short term bottom fishing approach

–       Zarasp Irani

Awesome article Sir. Thanks

–  Sunita Purushottam

 Prasad – Very good summary on evolution of EA …..

–       L. Panneerselvam

Wastewater Treatment Plants that Speak Wow, ETPs / STPs personified!!

–       Kshaumesh Antani

Great reading. Fantastic style of narration to explain a complex issue of maintenance in an ETP.

–       Pradeep

The World of the Banks Thanks for this brutally honest sharing

–       Loy Rego

Good one Dr. Modak. Pretty realistic picture!

–       Mythili

Let us Work in Full Circle

Very thought provoking article.

I hope everyone realizes the urgency and we start on the path chalked out by you.

It could be in the smallest possible way.

I think we all owe that much to our future generations.

–       Nayan Khambati

Those Magical Days of GMDH It is very good article and I learnt many things. Well-crafted and informative.

–       Nitin Sonawane

On reading the blog, I wished to iterate that you have an amazing array of knowledge, interest and experience in doing interesting things. Though I have no knowledge about GMDH but was definitely interested to read about it. Each and every blog of yours is so interesting to read as offers a new understanding about your experience and knowledge. We are enriched just be reading them. Thanks for sharing your old and new experiences.

–       Aparna (Nahar) Sethi

Indian Weddings now require Environmental Clearance Another hilarious “episode”. Good that the post marriage blues were not included as a compulsory “post audit”. Look forward to the next one.
Regards

–       Akhilendra Gupta

Indeed hilarious. However it must be recognised that waste management is a very serious challenge to the service provider and menace to the neighborhood due to scavenger animals, flies…

–       M.C.Badarinarayana

Dear Dr Modak. Good idea! Generation of new business avenues! May be getting EC report would eventually become a status symbol and a fashion to gossip about in high class clubs and social events! Depending upon the propaganda, there may be a prize announced for the family which spends highest amount and/or best EIA report for wedding-events. Wow! ECO WEDDING!

–       Pravina Parikh

Absolutely hilarious!! Prof Modak, I didn’t know that you write literary masterpieces as well. Thought you are an expert basically on the drab EIA!!

–       Mythili

Silence of the Lambs You are at it once again. The level of satire used is at a different level altogether. I hope all personnel and organization’s mentioned find a way to read this.

–       Pranay Krishnan

Good analysis. I need not read so many books to understand the status of EIA and ESP in India, thanks Modak Sir…

–       V S Balasubramanian

Dear Dr Modak – excellent capture of current situation of Indian stakeholders in field of environment thru “silenced” sarcasm!!

–       Anand Palkar

Good observations and excellent interpretation of current happenings in the present Indian environmental scenario. I do not see in near future any of our professional associations rising above their petty squabbles and contributing positively to the future policies. But, obviously blame ourselves for not participating and showing spine at the right time on subjects concerning issues beyond our daily routine. Inaction by good people at the right time, is more damaging than destructive action of “not -so -good ” people. Lets wake up , try and make a difference in the future.

–       Nayan Khambati

Extremely informative as usual.

–       Manoj Karmarkar

Professor’s Unique Beauty Salon Great piece of writing. Delightful blend of fantasy science reality politics with your softly biting comments. Enjoyed thoroughly Prasad! !!

–       Pradeep

Taking a simple example of visiting saloon, so many Enviro terms are interwoven creating an awareness even for a ‘non-connected person’. Keep it up!

–       sudhirvj

Professor writes January 26 Speech for Prime Minister Narendra Modi

modispeach

My Professor Friend called me on Sunday morning to his house for a breakfast. “Dr Modak, I have something very important to share. I need your feedback”

I was more interested to have the Appam that his wife was famous for. Appam is a type of pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk. Hot and fresh Appams with a mild Sambhar and a thick green Coconut Chutney was to me a great beginning of a lazy Sunday.

As soon as I arrived, Professor ushered me to his study. He looked tense as well as excited.

“PM has asked me to write his speech for January 26, India’s Republic Day”

He said this and paused

I knew that Professor was PM’s “ghost writer” for the past 2 years. Many of the national initiatives that PM recently launched including the recent jolt on “De-Monetization” were essentially conceived by the Professor. Only few know this well-known secret.

“So, what’s the plan for January 26?” I asked Professor. I told him that PM’s new year speech wasn’t that exciting.

“Oh, this time, I suggested the PM that we shake up the national environmental governance” said the Professor lighting his cigar. Few understand that country’s environmental governance influences our resource economy (e.g. GDP, Investor flows), competitiveness of the business and the livelihoods (including employment, health). Most look at environment as a silo.

“We will follow the style we introduced in De-Monetization of 500 and 1000 Rs notes i.e. phase out and replace and get rid of the “sins” Professor said this while taking a deep puff from the cigar.

“Wow and how do you propose to do so” I was all curious

Well, this is what I propose that PM should speak while addressing the Nation on January 26

Mere Pyare Baheno aur Bhaio” (my beloved ladies and gentlemen)

India’s environmental governance is today largely controlled by the National Environmental Policy of 2006 and the Environmental Protection Act of 1986. The Environmental Impact Assessment Notification majorly amended in 2004 in specific, rules the national development by examining the environmental and social impacts of the projects a priori. The environmental and social (E&S) management plans are stipulated as conditions for impact mitigation. An Environmental Clearance (EC) is accordingly issued at the Center or State level.

I have come to know that these EC’s are hardly any effective on the ground. EC has just remained a paper of license to pollute. And unfortunately, there is a nexus between project proponents, consultants and the “regulatory system”.

I therefore wish to derecognize the ECs granted or applicable so far. From mid-night of January 26, all ECs held will just be worth of a paper with no legal standing. All the EC’s will essentially be in-valid or terminated. “

Professor took a pause as he saw my shocked face.

He continued

“All the concerned project proponents / institutions will have to reapply for obtaining a new EC. This can be now be done on-line from MoEFCC’s website or using a Mobile application. The new Mobile Application is called DHARMA (Dharma was the eldest brother of Pandava’s and senior to BHIM)

Well, Dr Modak, please come up with a good expansion of the word DHARMA – Professor said

(Dharma is the moral law combined with spiritual discipline that guides one’s life. Some of you may know that two weeks ago, PM announced a new digital payments app named BHIM — Bharat Interface for Money — after Babasaheb Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar – a clever captioning of the App wooing a large section of the society. I decided to help Professor to come up with expansion of the acronym DHARMA on similar lines that can get rid of the “ADHARMA” of EC and give a political advantage to the PM)

“When the new applications for EC will be received, these will be scrutinized by the Income Tax Department apart from the Environmental and Social Specialists, NGOs and Government Representatives. Based on the splendid performance of the Income Tax officers in De-Monetization, I am very keen to involve Income Tax Officers (ITOs). All senior ITO officers will be trained in Reviewing Environmental Impact Assessments. Its not a difficult subject and I am confident that anyone with little training can master it”

“Interesting” I exclaimed. These ITOs I am sure will be better than the scientists and engineers at the Pollution Control Boards who are expected to follow compliance with the conditions stated in the EC. Besides, the ITOs are well versed in conducting surprise raids.

The Professor smiled and continued

“There is one option however to retain the EC. All those project proponents who demonstrate that they have implemented and complied with the EC conditions will only be permitted to retain the EC. A time limit of 50 days will be given for this purpose”

“This is so kind of the PM” I could see the consistency of 50 days grace period PM wants to maintain between the EC Phase out and the “rules” earlier followed under De-Monetization “But thats going to be quite a task Professor!”

“Well, only those proponents who are serious will succeed. India’s environment and economy will improve in the next 50 days. These serious proponents will deserve the concession of retaining the ECs and all those who fail in implementing the agreed E & S management conditions will have to reapply” Professor said this in a tone of matter of fact.

(I knew however that this is going to be a cake walk for the Indian project proponents as most of the conditions stated in the EC are “broad” and “ambiguous” and hence very difficult to audit or subject to verification. During De-monetization folks in India could come up with “alternate” methods of monetizing wads of 500 and 1000 Rs notes with the help of Chartered Accountants. Similarly, the smart project developers could easily show that the EC conditions are well implemented with the help of “environmental consultants”. But I did not want to say this to the Professor as he was all charged with enthusiasm and optimism)

Professor continued.

“We have undertaken a nation-wide exercise of examining the conditions stated in all the ECs granted so far. We expect to see a considerable commonality given our “boiler plate” approach across the ECs. Conditions like plant more trees, don’t generate too much dust and noise during construction, don’t employ child labor etc. are the kind of conditions we often see.

I am asking the Union Minister of MoEFCC to come up with a standard package of such basic conditions or good practices distilled out of the past ECs. This package will be imposed automatically on any proponent who will make an application for EC under the DHARMA system. It’s the DHARMA that every proponent must follow and the project design must integrate or mainstream these consideration – irrespective of project type, size and location”

“Well Professor, this is really going to be so reformative! All the “black or dark operations” happening in India’s Environmental Governance today will get addressed and eliminated – amd before the next election”. I said this in all praise and sincerity to the Professor (and of course the PM)

So, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech on January 26 was certainly going to be earth shattering.

I thought of meeting my friend on the 101th floor in Mumbai. Some of you probably know about him. This friend is the richest person in the world with all the clout and the might – but prefers to live rather discretely.

When I reached his pent house, he was speaking to Donald Trump on the phone. He was discussing with him future global strategies that will help generate more confusion or chaos while making good money.

He put the phone down and looked at me “Yes Dr Modak, you look so tensed”

I leaked out to him the details of the January 26 speech by the PM

My friend wasn’t perturbed at all

“I don’t know much about the Environmental Clearance requirements in India. In my multi-billion-dollar business across the world, I have not taken any such ECs – and so also by my friend Donald Trump!” He said this while eating a Chicken Caesar’s salad with walnuts.

I asked him to get me a stiff single malt whisky on ice.


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Circle of Life with Touch Points of Tangents

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Our life often moves in a circle. The journey along the circle gives us a 3600 experience and different perspectives enriching our lives.

For some, the shape of the circle is not perfect and there are broken lines, double lines and distortions. The diameters of the circle are different for different people. The color and thickness of the line of the circle may also vary. So, each circle is unique.

On our circular life, we keep moving forward on a curve, changing the course of our life without realizing that we are returning to the same point where we had started.

During this journey, our circle is touched by “tangents”. These tangents come as a surprise, appear without much notice, create “touch points” on the curve and leave us or “diverge” from our circle never to come back again.  The touch points are the golden or sometimes sad moments of our lives.

In this post, I am narrating three interesting touch points in my circular life. I begin with my encounter with a top Hindi singer of India, then with a Professor of an International repute in Vienna Airport and ending with meeting an interesting woman in Washington DC. All these touch points are diverse and different but collectively communicate lessons I learnt in my life.

This is my New Year Post. All my best wishes my blog readers. Hope to continue with you sharing of my thoughts and experiences.


I was the Music Secretary while studying at IIT Bombay. It was 1974. Mood Indigo, the famous cultural festival, was just launched. We wanted to invite Talat Mahmood, one of India’s best Ghazal singers for one of the nights. Talat Saab was renowned for his quivering and silky voice. He reached on time with his “crew” at the IIT Student Gymkhana.

As expected, his rendering of songs was intoxicating and heavenly. He chose some of the best but forgotten Ghazals. The accompaniment on the accordion was simply superb. The program that was originally estimated to end by 1 30 am ended at 2 30 am because of the demanding audience. And Talat Saab was gallantly honoring the requests of all being a good soul.

The crew started packing. Talat Saab was to take first flight to Delhi at 6 30 am. He was in a fix whether to leave for the airport from the campus at IIT. Originally, he was planning to get dropped at Bandra (West) and take a small nap for couple of hours.

He asked my advice. “Prasad, going directly to the airport from IIT makes a sense. No point to go to Bandra as it is already 3 am” – he said.

“But Sir, it will take only 20 minutes to reach the airport at this nightly hour from IIT.  If you leave now, then you will be at the airport by 3 30 max – some 3 hours early. One and a half hour is generally sufficient and you will be wasting your time and probably get more fatigued because you will chased by your fans once they find you at the airport” I told Talat Saab.

“You are right, well then, what do you suggest?” asked Talat Saab.

Suddenly, I thought of an idea. Except for the accordion player (I don’t remember now whether he was the great Enock Daniels), other members of the crew had left as they were not going to Delhi. I suggested Talat Saab that can he consider singing a few special Ghazals with the accompaniment of the accordion. He could sing the Ghazals that he does not normally render in public.

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Talat Mahmood Saab surrounded by the natural beauty of Jog Falls

“Oh, that’s a great suggestion, I often miss doing odd pieces – many of them so quaint and so dear to my heart”. Said the Maestro.

For the next hour, Talat Saab took us to another world – something so private. He sang Ghazals of Ustad Barkat Ali Khan, K.L. Saigal and M.A. Rauf. When he sang Ghazals of these stalwarts, he would bow down, say humbly “gustakhi maaf” (means pardon me Sirs for venturing to imitate you). That was so touching. He ended with Tasveer teri dil mera behela nah sake gi one of his greatest and most remembered non-filmy songs.

I dropped him and the accordion player at the airport. I learnt how to be warm and humble from this great singer. I never met Talat Saab again but this encounter made a touch point in my life.


I was always fascinated by the research published by Professor Daniel Peter Loucks of Cornel University. Many of you belonging to faculty of civil engineering might have followed his text books.

One of his books that I greatly admire is “Water Resources Systems Planning and Management An Introduction to Methods, Models”. Professor Loucks wrote this 600+ page book with Eelco van Beek of Netherlands. You can download the entire book from here

Apart from his research, publications and numerous awards that he received, Professor Loucks is known as a Teacher Par Excellence. He states on his website

“In the course, I teach in public systems modeling. I attempt to make it both challenging and enjoyable.   If we are not having fun, then I have failed.   I encourage questions and arguments.  That way we all learn more about how to analyze and identify and evaluate possible solutions to public sector issues and problems”

In 1987, International Association of Water Pollution Research & Control set up an international group of experts on Systems Analyses in Water Quality Management. I was included as a member of this prestigious group. Prof Loucks was obviously listed and my name appeared right next to him (alphabetically L (loucks) to M (Modak). I was so thrilled and felt honored to be cited “next to him”. I was wondering when will I get a chance to meet the Professor.

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Professor D P Loucks

I was returning from Vienna to Mumbai after an assignment from UNIDO. Vienna was under heavy snow and the flights were delayed. I was flying Swiss Air. The check-in counter was reconfirming the passenger names by a call out as some passengers were opting to shift from Swiss Air to other airlines. During these announcements, I heard a call out “Professor Loucks Please”. My head turned around and I saw a “Professorial person” in early fifty’s walking to the counter with a long overcoat. I was astonished with this coincidence.

After Professor Loucks dealt with the lady at the counter, I approached him and introduced myself. Meeting him by chance at Vienna Airport was simply amazing. Professor Loucks was in International Institute of Applied Systems Analyses in Vienna and was returning to the United States.

We grabbed two tall stools with a round table in a coffee shop. The flights were delayed by 2 hours at least.  Professor Loucks was very kind to a youngster (and nobody) like me. He listened to me attentively. I discussed with him about precipitation hydrology and ideated that the same “theory” could perhaps be used for simulating air pollutants at multiple sites in an “air shed”. I remember, when he heard me, he smiled and said “Dr Modak, you are in the right path, innovation happens when you read work done in other fields without any walls or silos. That’s what I call as “interdisciplinary thinking”.

The two hours of discussion I had with Professor Loucks became a touch point in my circular life. I gained confidence in my convictions, picked up new messages and got inspired. Professors sharp interjections in the conversations with politeness taught me the art of being open, friendly and yet critical.


I was in Washington for projects with the World Bank. I always stayed at Fairmont hotel. I love the place.

One of my colleagues from the World Bank was to see me in the lounge for a discussion. We decided to meet at 4 30 pm. I was in the lounge at 4 25 pm waiting for him.

There was a woman sitting in the chair in front of me – probably waiting for someone. She was wearing a grey colored suit. She was looking at her watch and was busy texting on her mobile.

My friend from the word bank was getting delayed. I got a call from him – “Prasad, I am stuck as boss wants me to I see him – Gimmie another 15 min please”. I said “granted”. Life in most corporates like the World Bank is often driven by the “bosses”. But after 5 min I received a SMS, “Delayed to 6 pm, but please don’t go away”. “Typical World Bank”, I muttered a bit loudly (not realizing). The woman in the front chair smiled probably understanding my irritation.

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Lounge at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington DC

Just then she received a phone call. I sensed her anger and frustration as she was responding “Look Bill, I have been waiting for you at the Fairmont Lounge for quite a while now.  Let me know whether you will be coming at all. You and your folks at the World Bank have never been on time”. Her voice was raised.

She looked at me and said in an apologetic tone “Sorry, I got a bit worked up. I was expecting someone from the World Bank. I have been waiting for quite a while already and it looks like that the guy won’t show up before 6 pm”

We decided to go to the coffee shop to while away the time. The woman turned out to be a very talkative person. “What do you to Jean?” I asked “Well, I work in the field of Cleaner Production in Small and Medium Enterprises (SME). I am working as a Short Term Consultant for the World Bank in Kenya”. I introduced myself and passed Jean my name card. “Oh, that’s you then Prasad… “Jean exclaimed. I have read your work. I have been looking for you – and what a chance to meet!”

We chatted then about my experiences of working with SME clusters and debated on strategies that work and which don’t. I told her about my work in countries such as Vietnam, Egypt, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines etc.

Jean was quite a meticulous person and was taking notes as I was making some “profound statements”. I got some sharp questions from her and really enjoyed intelligent conversation with this wonderful woman. I wished that the Bank folks come late or don’t even turn up.

We had two rounds of Colombian coffee. It was nearly 6 pm. And alas, I saw my friend from the World Bank walking across to us. I thought of asking Jean to join our conversations.

Just then Jean got a call from her World Bank contact. She had another animated conversation.

“OK Prasad, so venue has changed to Four Seasons. I have to go. Pity that I am not carrying my name card right now – but sure I will be chasing you” She said with a warm smile with dimples.

Her eyes while parting showed how interested she was to keep in touch and how much she had enjoyed our conversations.

Unfortunately, we never met afterwards – but we did exchange emails for a while.

But I thought that this time, the “situation” was different.  I was perhaps her touch point and I knew she would tell story of our conversations to someone.


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