“Global Carbon Footprint”

An infographic is a popular form of content communication that can simplify a complicated subject or turn an otherwise boring subject into a captivating, learning and inspirational experience. Ideally, an infographic should be visually engaging and contain a subject matter with organized or processed data that is appealing to your target audience.

Today, we prefer to make reports and presentations using infographics. The infographic speaks thousands of words and provides an insight more than just the data. In creating infographics, we often “crunch” the data and present associations between various data elements. This analyses  with right visualization leads to astonishing interpretations. Unfortunately, not many are skilled or experienced in creating meaningful and captivating infographics.

I asked my Professor Friend for an example. He was completing a report on water quality data analyses on river Godavari in Maharashtra, India.

“Well, Dr Modak. The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board gave me water quality data on 18 stations over 10 parameters sampled every month over 8 years. The interest was to know whether the water quality in Godavari was improving between 2012 and 2013. So, I thought of creating an infographic. The first step I had to do was to crunch the 10 parameter water quality data into a single parameter. I selected  for this purpose a Water Quality Index (WQI). I looked at many options and chose a structure recommended by the Central Pollution Control Board. I generated a time series of WQI at all the 18 stations for 2012-2013”. Professor showed me an MS Excel sheet where all the required number crunching was done.

He then lit his cigar.

“The main interest was to know whether the water quality was improving or worsening. So, I realized that I had to do some quantitative trend analyses. I applied Kendal-Tau test to assess for each station the trend in WQI which gave me the direction of the trend (upward or downward) and its significance. So, the time series data on WQI was converted into a single number at each station viz. trend”

“Clever – Professor. So, you essentially reduced 24 x 10 data points into just one number for each station” I exclaimed

“Well, that was not enough. I had to bring in visualization now to help understand the changes” Professor projected a slide that depicted river Godavari with locations of monitoring stations and the results of the trend. So, this was the infographic. It not only communicated the trend but opened discussions on why the trend reversed in the adjoining stations and possible field investigations that were needed. Showing on the map the key points of wastewater discharges would be have been very useful but MPCB did not have such data”


The example of infographics for water quality in Godavari showed how techniques of data crunching and spatial visualization were used for effective communication and actioning.

Let us now look at the power of data association in creating infographics.

Figure below shows a construct of time series of data collected at two automatic air quality monitoring stations (BT4 and HR1) for parameters PM10 and NOx .  The time series can be viewed to see the outliers (values crossing four times of standard deviation per Dixon’s test) as well as spot values crossing the applicable ambient air quality standard. But it is perhaps more interesting to find instances when both PM10 and NOx   are simultaneously exceeding over the standard.   These instances (red dots) tell us more about the associativity of PM10 and NOx emissions for better source diagnosis.

Similar extensions could be made. The time series of stack emission data can be plotted and “associated” with time series of ambient air quality data. Hourly observations on wind directions could be then used to estimate the “stack influence” and a time series plot of stack influence could be generated by setting an “influence function”. A time series of stack influences can be used to assess the relevance of ambient air quality monitoring station (i.e. siting) and importantly take actions for controlling the stack emissions. See Figure below.

The data association approach can be effectively used to communicate “causation”, especially to the non-scientific community by preparing striking visualizations. I remember Professor showing me a map where concentrations of PM10 were plotted along with information on sale of inhalers at the shops of chemists. We could see here interesting association between PM10 concentrations and the sale of inhalers – wherever PM10 was found to be high, there was high sale of the inhalers. See Figure below.


Sometimes we run into a situation where the management is interested to get a top view of the “situation” and then go into the details for actioning. In a typical Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) audit, the Team after the plant visit writes a report, generally in the form of table that states the Non-Compliances (NC). While such tables are needed, an infographic that presents a quick snap shot in the form of a summary is always useful as the first slide of the presentation. Figure below shows application of a Fish-bone diagram where NCs are shown in perspectives, in a manner easy to grasp and importantly help prioritize and take actions.  The strategy in creating such infographic is to capture the key perspectives of the “problem” (or the eye of the fish) and then overlay on the fish-bones the “highs or lows” or “good or bad” performance against the benchmark or standard.



Sometimes, we need to prepare “popular” and easy to understand infographics, especially when conducting awareness events in schools and for citizens. These infographics follow the principle of cascading information where issues are flagged in a step-wise manner, material/energy flows are shown and outcomes or impacts on health for example are stated with damage in economic terms. Here icons, colors and data points in large fonts are used to get the needed focus or attention of the eye. Two examples of such infographic are shown below.


Finally, there are challenges when we create infographics for concept communication. Such infographic is generally hard to make. Couple of years ago, I created an infographic to communicate the concepts of Project EIA, Regional EIA and Strategic EIA. See Figure below

The crux of this infographic are the three baloons shown for each category of project, Category A for most sensitive, B – moderately sensitive and C – Not sensitive. The infographic communicates EIA at project level, for plans and for policies using the impact typology of direct, indirect, cumulative and induced impacts. The most important communication was to bring out limitations of project EIAs for area wide projects and need to use Environmental & Social Management Framework (ESMF)

“Dr Modak, creating infographic is more of an art or creativity than just data and science. It is a stimulating exercise. Our environmental students should learn this art of science” Professor was ordering some coffee.  “Data crunching, data association, structuring infographic based on perspectives and cascading information in the form of cause-effect or input-outcome are some illustrations. But there are numerous other possibilities, especially in the complex and multidisciplinary subject of environment”

I couldn’t disagree with Professor.  I wish we did with students, group sessions on how to create the infographics from seemingly drab data into something exciting and innovative– These teaching sessions will certainly lead to some out of the box thinking – I thought

“Should we  run a competition on infographics in environmental management Professor” I suggested

“Oh, clever idea. But call the competition as Enfographics” Professor said while finishing his coffee. I realized that he just coined a new term!!

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The Meisterklasse

Staying in a hotel is a drab idea when option of living in a Pension is available. The term pension is typically used in Continental European countries. Pensions are generally cheaper than other lodgings, such as hotels, although they offer limited services. Pensions are often located in historic buildings and are mostly family-run.

I used to work as a consultant to UNIDO and visit Vienna frequently. I was recommended Pension Chistina on Hafnersteig 7. The location was near Schwedenplatz with excellent transport links and proximity to tourist areas. The Pension boasted of a dignified ambience where the old Viennese style of furniture was blended with the modern convenience. The Pension was run by a family.

Pension Christina

“Bitte sehr” Mrs Becker said when I was checking in for the first time in Pension Christina. It was early morning of November and the weather was rather windy and cold.

I finished the checking in formalities. Mrs Becker ushered me to the breakfast area that was warmly lit. “I call you Prasad?” she beamed “I know you badly need a hot black coffee now. And while you warm up, let me get you some sausages with a tinge of mustard and couple of croissants. You must be tired and hungry”. She said this in a kind and friendly tone.

Mrs Becker was a plump lady in fifties I guess. She had a great smile and wrinkles on the face. She was the caretaker at Pension Christina.

As I was finishing my breakfast, I heard someone coming down running from the staircase. “Hey, Nora” Mrs Becker yelled “We have a guest here from India – show him his room please?”

Nora must be in early twenties. She had a beautiful face with long hair and an athletic body. Nora carried my bag to the tiny lift where we barely squeezed in. “Give me a shout if you need anything” she said as she reached me to my room. Then she winked and said, “or Press 9 – make your choice!”.

I took the Metro and reached UNIDO office at the Vienna International Centre. In the evening, when I got back, I did not see Mrs Becker at the reception. Nora was in charge. “Oh, my mother has stepped out for some shopping” She explained. “She is getting some Kopfsalat, Brokkoli and Spargel from the market to make you something vegetarian”. I really appreciated Mrs Becker’s concern and the kind gesture. I felt at home.

I stayed for a week at the Pension. I became friendly and close to the Becker family. Nora used to ask me hundreds of questions on India while Mrs Becker used to tell me stories about the history of the city of Vienna.  Mr Fischer who used to drop by every day for a beer also became a good friend. We used to have couple of glasses of Hefe Weissbier (a popular beer) after the dinner service was closed and watch Mrs Becker and Nora cleaning up the kitchen. Mr Fischer was a teacher who retired from a school where Nora used to study.

During my assignments with UNIDO over three years, I made frequent visits to Vienna. I always stayed at the Pension Christina. Mrs Becker, Nora as well as Mr Fischer used to look forward to my arrivals and the gifts I used to carry, especially the Indian handicrafts.

“Hey Prasad, have you visited the green wine places in the Alps?  Nora asked. She was peddling a bicycle, accompanying me as I was returning from a short walk on the Stephansplatz.  It was a bright Sunday morning with light breeze rustling around on the cobbled street of the Hafnersteig. “Today there will be a viola recital – Interested?”. I readily agreed.

At 5 pm we were all set to go. Nora took out her Beetle car and I hopped in with sandwiches packed by Mrs Becker. As we were taking a turn on the A1 motorway (West Autobahn), Nora pulled the Beetle aside. There was a handsome man waiting for us. “Come on in Berk” Nora said.

Berk is a Turkish name. I could see that the handsome man had a Turkish accent and a Turkish face. He was Nora’s best friend. I asked Berk to take the front seat next to Nora and moved back.

Berk was an amazing person. He was a musician par excellence and played keyboards as well as Harmonica.  At the green wine place, he explained to me about the Austrian folk music and deciphered some of the viola pieces that were being played. He used to perform at the famous Louisiana Blues Pub (LBP) located at Britta Schönstein KG.


Louisiana Blues Pub in Vienna

“Prasad, we must go to the LBP someday to listen to Berk” Nora said. I could see her admiration about Berk and an awe in her eyes. Certainly, the girl was in love.

I told Mrs Becker about meeting Berk and the LBP. “I don’t like this Berk character” Mrs Becker was very clear. “He is no Austrian you know. He is Turkish”.  She did not mince the words. I could see Mrs Becker’s dislike towards Berk. I dont think she had ever bothered to know more about him.

On Monday night, Nora took me to the LGP. Berk was performing on the harmonica. He was simply superb and I could see the audience mesmerized by his renditions. The final piece he played was Beethoven Sonata No. 8 ‘Pathetique’ Mov. 2 following the “style” of the great Wilhelm Kempff.

A look alike of Berk

At this point, I saw Nora getting up and taking on the microphone. She started humming as if to complete the 360 degrees of the Pathetique – Her accompaniment was so gentle and so spontaneous. I could sense the deep emotions between Berk and Nora – so much was unspoken – and I felt rather envious. The Beethoven piece ended with a great applause. “I want to be a regular performer here Prasad – this is the place to play music in this city” Berk sounded a bit emotional.

A look alike of Nora

When we sat down with a glass of wine, Berk showed me the harmonica. It was a Hohner Meisterklasse that is played by professional players. This harmonica could master any score written for the violin. Its construction utilized a narrow mouthpiece with rounded channel openings. More importantly, it had 56 Classic chromonica reeds and apparently, it is the only Hohner chromatic with a range of 31/2 octaves from g – c. The case of Meisterklasse had letter B (i.e. Berk)

The Meisterklasse with a Case

I have been an amateur harmonica player myself and play reasonably well. I always had a dream to buy a Hohner harmonica but never got the guidance. Hohner is the world’s largest manufacturer of quality harmonicas. Berk said that the best place to buy a Meisterklasse in Vienna was the City Music Wien located at Taborstraße 14. “We will go there one day with Berk and get you  Meisterklasse” Nora said

But we could not – as I had late work sessions at the UNIDO practically every day.

The night before I was leaving for Mumbai, Mrs Becker “hosted” a dinner for me. “This dinner is not going to be invoiced Prasad. Its for you from the family”.  I was really touched by her gesture.

“Prasad, Nora has invited Berk for the dinner. I really don’t like his coming. He is not the kind of person Nora should be involved with. He doesn’t have a regular job. He is only a musician and plays in a Pub. And besides, he is not an Austrian” Mrs Becker was clearly disturbed

I told Mrs Becker that Berk is a nice guy. He may take some time but sure he will do well. He has the talent and the confidence. And more than anything – he will take good care of Nora as they love each other. Doesn’t this matter the most? I said.

Mrs Becker listened to me patiently and then said “Prasad, let us see. I really don’t know much about Berk. But if I like the boy, I will open a bottle of Grüner Veltliner (great Austrian white wine) during the deserts and if I don’t like him then it will be something ordinary”. I liked this deal.

The dinner was lively. Berk impressed Mrs Becker with his wit and insights. He spoke about the historical places in Vienna – a subject that was close to Mrs Beckers heart. Mrs Becker told stories about the Stephansdom, Vienna’s cathedral and one of the tallest churches in the world. Nora was more of a listener but she ensured that all of us were well looked after. During the dinner conversations, she held Berk’s hands a number of times and he held her hand firmly with affection. Mrs Becker was watching. Both of us noticed Nora’s eyes – the warmth and happiness she was expressing. When we finished the dinner, Nora went to the kitchen to get some deserts.

“Mrs Becker, can we have a glass of wine with the deserts” I asked

Mrs Becker said “sure” and walked down the stairs to the cellar.

I was real tense.

She returned to the table with a bottle of Grüner Veltliner.

I was so delighted that I did thumps up.

Nora didn’t know about our deal – but it was clear to her that Mrs Becker was now very comfortable with Berk and probably I had a small role to play.  She drove to drop Berk at the metro station.

After she was back, she knocked on my door and offered help to pack my bags. I let her do a bit as I didn’t want to disappoint her.

I was at the security of the Vienna airport in the morning to take my flight to Zurich. The inspector at the security asked me to show my handbag – “Sir, are you carrying any metal device?” When I said no and showed my surprise – he asked me to open the handbag and spotted a case. I was surprised as I did not recollect that I had one. “May I request you to open the case please” The Inspector asked politely.

I opened the case and noticed that it carried letter “B”. There was a small note – with complements Berk and Nora

“Excellent choice Sir” The Inspector said while closing the case that had “my Meisterklasse”

Today, Christina Pension is not there anymore. The management has changed. The pension is now renovated to a hotel called Alma Boutique. The old charm has gone.

Hotel Alma Boutique 

I have stopped working for UNIDO and no longer travel to Vienna.  I don’t know where Mrs Becker, Nora and Berk are today as I don’t have their contacts. I really miss them.

I play Hohner Meisterklasse occasionally. But the magnificent piece of ‘Pathetique’ Mov. 2 that Berk played, still haunts me – and not to forget the spontaneous voice over from Nora.

I plan to visit the Louisiana Blues Pub once again.

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Ahuja, me and the CSR

After the incorporation in the Company’s Act as a requirement, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become a large business in India. There have been several CSR Summits, Conferences & Seminars and Roundtables over past three years, held practically every month in the metro cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai.

Organizations like the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) have been busy in organizing these events with Indian Institute of Corporate Affairs (IICA) taking a lead. IICA has been canvasing training programs of 3 months and 9 months’ durations for CSR managers and implementing NGOs with certification. This “training business” hasn’t been very successful because of the high fees and poor delivery capacities. Finally, there has been a surge of newsletters and magazines as well and launch of CSR dedicated websites with a lot of content that is recycled. Thankfully the momentum seems to be damping down a bit and most involved are in a kind of “CSR fatigue”.

But honestly, CSR has opened a big canvas of new business to several. These include consultants who know how to write and present well (specially to convert something basic into a form that has a halo), report designers and video-graphers (i.e. the “communications people”), researchers who are fond of conducting surveys and of course the, environmental and social NGOs who help organizations to implement their CSR mandates with “community engagements” and conduct “independent assessments” of impacts. We also see consultants who help in management of funds to get the best “tax advantage” and provide IT based solutions.

A friend of mine walked in my office and asked “Dr Modak, does your company work in the CSR domain?”. When I said I really don’t work “exactly” in this arena, he was surprised. “Well, every environmental and social consulting organization in India is into CSR game tapping the business. You are already late”. I offered him a well brewed coffee. He left.

Another well-wisher friend dropped in. “You have a section 8 not for profit company as well and so a combination of” for profit” and “not for profit” is perfect to meet the “business requirements” and sponge the monies. You must use your network now and talk to the Heads of the CSR of some of the large corporations and make offerings. In some companies, the Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) look at the CSRs and in some companies CSR is handled by the Corporate Responsibility Units (CRUs)”.

I decided to venture in the CSR business. A friend advised me to prepare an attractive brochure and hire a team – one from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, someone from Miranda House in Delhi and a third person from a family of ex-IAS bureaucrat, retired recently from Ministry of Corporate Affairs. I decided to follow his advice.

I contacted few conference organizers of CSR events, and got hold of contacts of the participants and speakers. When I put together the list, I realized that more than 50% of these attendees were common and seem to be attending and speaking at every other event!

I couldn’t really find however any familiar faces from the environmental fraternity. When asked in the “market”, I was told that CSR head is altogether a new breed. The “conventional” environmental experts are asked to manage Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) and do “liasoning” with the State Pollution Control Boards to ensure compliance. The new breed that runs the CSR show in companies are essentially those who are shunted or promoted from the Public Relations (PR) or Human Resources (HR) departments. Position of CSR head is sometimes more for a temporary transfer before the person is moved to more important or more relevant position in the organization. But their biggest qualification is that they don’t know much about the subject of environmental management and sustainability. They are however smart enough to hide their ignorance and a complete lack of the perspective by throwing jargon that they pick up from the CII/FICCI conferences.

I approached one of the large corporates and sought an appointment of the CSR Head. “Idea is to give you presentation and let you know our interest, commitment and capability in CSR” My colleague from Miranda House explained to the secretary of the CSR head – in the right voice and the pitch. The secretary was rather experienced and unmoved. She said “Mr. Ahuja gets at least 3 such requests every day and is really tired of such presentations. He is travelling to the United States this week for a 2-week mission. On his way back, he will attend a CSR roundtable in Amsterdam organized by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)”.

We were given an appointment after 3 weeks for a half hour slot in the afternoon. ” Check with me once again’ the Secretary said “Mr. Ahuja’s schedule is always packed and unpredictable”

I told my Professor Friend about meeting with Ahuja. He laughed. “You are wasting your time Dr Modak. I know Ahuja. A pretty drab person. He was brought as Head, CSR because of his poor performance in the company. Idea was to limit him to messing only 2% of the profits”. Professor lit his cigar.

“Ahuja’s wife is a friend of MD’s wife in a book reading club and that connection seems to have worked for him”

“Wow you seem to know everything Professor” I said

We went to Ahuja’s office in time. The TISS girl had prepared a dossier for me using all the right words – like 360 degrees’ approach, smart sustainability, social rate of return and pictures like “before” and “after”.

We were asked to wait. The secretary told us that Ahuja is swarmed with meetings after his international tour and may possibly give only 20 minutes. “Keep to only 5 slides”, the secretary said in a rather terse tone.

We were taken to a conference room after a wait for an hour. In this period, my colleague, daughter of ex-bureaucrat of MCA, told me about her dad’s transfers and how in this process she travelled and studied across India “Oh, this is like a 360-degree exposure -we should talk about this” I said. She smiled.

Mr. Ahuja entered the conference room.

“Who is Modak here?” He beamed. I raised my hand as done by a kid in the school when asked by the Teacher.

“Modak, I don’t know much about you and your organizations – but let me be clear”

“I get at least 2 such presentations every day and every presenter tells me a story that they are the best in CSR”

“I am not here to write a cheque. To us CSR is a culture. And we are very selective and sensitive when it comes to associating with CSR implementers

(I remembered this as a bi-line in Ahuja’s sustainability report)

These opening remarks were said in an icy tone. Ahuja was wearing half rimmed spectacles with thinnest lenses – that made his face look critical and intelligent.

I started my 5-slide presentation. As I was on 3rd slide, Ahuja stopped me

“Please come to the point, I really don’t like beating around the bush”

I was not comfortable with this snappy interception. I wanted to introduce the concept of Strategic CSR, weave in “business and sustainability”, highlight the process, illustrate case studies of relevance to Ahuja’s company and come up with an action plan.

I felt like a mouse sitting in front of lion Ahuja

At this very moment, the telephone rang. Ahuja picked up the phone “Rita (secretary’s name), I told you not to disturb me”. He cleared looked aggravated.

But there must be someone important or higher up on the phone as Ahuja said “Yes Sir” and he said this four times before ending the conversation.

“Modak, why didn’t you tell me that you are a friend of Professor who is an adviser to the PMO. Can you please stay a bit longer and explain your plan for us? I have all the time and interest to listen to new ideas. We are always open to innovation. And I am sure we will find a way to work together” He sounded now friendly. He removed his spectacles. Rita got us some coffee.

I met Professor in the evening in our usual Coffee shop.

“Professor, why did you intervene? I could see a transformation in Ahuja. He was simply shattered after the phone call”

“Well Dr Modak, knowing how you work, I knew that your meeting with Ahuja was going to be a waste of time.  So, when I met the MD at the Chembur golf club in the morning, I briefed him about you and stressed that your involvement in the CSR will be very useful for the company. And so, the MD called Ahuja” He said this with a smile. “That is how the CSR business works, my friend”

“All your proposals will be accepted now” He winked.

I returned home thinking whether it was worth to get associated with companies of “Ahuja kind”

I decided to write to Ahuja stating that I will not submit a proposal. I thought I will also say that I am very selective and sensitive when it comes to associating with CSR implementers” (essentially giving him back his own words!)

I had learnt my lesson.

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Something Fishy About 500


I was on the campus of IIT Bombay last week. I saw my Professor Friend rushing out of the Central Library.

“What are you researching on Professor?” I asked

“Well Dr. Modak, I have been quite intrigued with the use of number 500.  Many seem to have taken quite a fancy for this number” Professor lit his cigar as we started walking to the IIT Canteen.

“Oh, I don’t think anything deep in the number 500 Professor. Number 500 is an HTTP status code for Internal Server Error. Number 500 also shows up as an SMTP status code meaning a syntax error has occurred due to unrecognized command. There is no other significance”

“Oh, don’t trivialize the importance and mystery of 500”. I could sense that Professor did not like my simple explanation.

So I thought of a better explanation. I said

“Number 500 is a blend of the vibrations of number 5 and the energies of the powerful number 0, appearing twice. Number 5 resonates with making major life changes, spontaneity, life lessons learned through experience, making important choices, personal freedom, auspicious opportunities and being true to yourself” I reeled out this explanation like you read in the Wikipedia.

“Oh Dr. Modak, what kind of world are you living in? Think in the environmental context” Professor said this in a rather disappointed tone while descending down the staircase leading to the Canteen.

We took our seats on the metal chairs around a table with uneven legs. We purchased coupons for two plates of bread and omelet (You may not know but IIT Bombay staff canteen boasts to serve one of the thinnest omelets in the world). We also got some chai.

Professor then explained to me the real implication of Number 500 from an environmental perspective.

“Dr. Modak, you are aware that 500 meters are specified in India’s Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) notification. It states that the land area from High Tide Line to 500mts on the landward side along the sea front is in the CRZ. There are development restrictions stipulated accordingly. The number 500 therefore matters to all the builders, developers, government officials. To some Chief Ministers, relaxation in 500 m can mean a land bank that can make money more than Putin and Trump put together ”

I added “Yes, I know, but don’t forget the fishermen”. Professor did not seem to be much bothered about my reminder.

Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests passed the CRZ related regulation in 1991 and defined various zones such as CRZ-I, CRZ-II, CRZ-III and CRZ-IV. Each zone lists what is permissible and what is not with opportunities for interpretation.

The CRZ regulation has become contentious because of growing conflicts between the fishermen and those who want to develop hotels and projects near the coast. Balancing these interests has always been a tough call. The 1991 regulation was amended 25 times before it got comprehensively revised in 2011.

“So how was this 500-m number arrived at?” I asked

“Nobody knows Dr. Modak and nobody questions whether this number ever had any scientific basis” Professor sounded rather exasperated. “Rationally, the distance should be arrived at based the impact potential of the shoreline activities. Ideally the distance should be site specific as vulnerabilities in coastal areas will be different at different locations. Putting a blanket “buffer” of 500 m is like trying to fit one size for all”

“Well, you are right Professor” I couldn’t disagree. I thought it will be worth to develop a Vulnerability Index (VI), using information on our biodiversity hotspots, considering currents and depths, likely sea level rise and satellite imageries with thermal band. This VI may help in setting guidelines for the distance on a more objective and rational basis. I thought of offering this as a Masters dissertation to students at IIT Bombay.

Professor continued

“Dr Modak, the supremacy of number 500 does not stop there. Its now creeping into other spheres intruding our lives”

Last December, the Supreme Court of India ordered closure of all liquor shops along national and state highways if they were within a range of 500m from the edge of such highways, and directed governments to “cease and desist” from issuing excise licenses after March 31, 2017. A bench led by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar reduced the limit from 500m to 200m for “municipal corporation, city, town or local authority” provided the population was 20,000 or less after noting that the entire township might fall within the 500m-range. States of Sikkim and Meghalaya have been exempted from this directive where almost 90 per cent of liquor shops were to be closed because their relocation was not possible due to topographical constraints. These shops have been completely exempt from this directive by the court.

“Oh, number 200m also seems familiar – its stipulated in CRZ-III” I recalled

“Well Dr. Modak, The CRZ notification is so much discussed in the Indian courts that I was expecting schema of DRZs I, II and III on lines of CRZ-I, II and III” Professor said.

“What is DRZ? “I could not resist to ask

“Oh, its Drinking Regulatory Zone” Professor winked.

“This is terrible – why this restriction Professor” – After a long drive, stopping by a dhaba for a glass of chilled beer with egg bhurji was always so heavenly – that I was surely going to miss.

The Supreme court has noted that nearly 150,000 people die due to road accidents resulting from drunk driving. This is a matter of great concern and hence a basis for this ban.

I kept shut. You may know that millions of people in India die due to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) especially due to the rampantly growing diabetes. I was worried that that one day the Supreme Court will simply ban shops selling sweats within 500 meters’ distance from the schools and hospitals.

“The Honorable Judge should have thought of other options. Like limiting to sale of only low alcohol drinks (e.g. less than 2% alcohol content)”. I suggested.

“Well, enforcement of such recommendations is impossible. You are talking like a typical IIT intellectual who makes impractical suggestions” Professor pooh poohed my idea.

“Note that there is an ambiguity in the definition of 500 m distance as well. It is not clear whether 500 m refers to the direct distance (on the map) or distance travelled by road. Some hoteliers are asking for the latter definition based on road or travel distance”

This ambiguity in the DRZ sounded to me similar to the controversies in the calculation of distances in the CRZ.

Professor continued

“I expect that this imposition is going to Increase the national fuel consumption and hence the GHG emissions making tough for us to meet our pledge in the INDC released in COP21. People will now drive more than 500 m, circle around and search for a liquor bar now. They will eventually drink and so the death toll may not actually reduce”

“You have a point Professor”. I said this while walking towards the car outside the Main Building.

As I was getting into my car, Professor looked at me and spoke in a deep voice – “Dr. Modak – On number 500 again. Remember PM demonetized Rs 500 notes and not 100 Rs”

He was right once again. Indeed, there was something mystic about the number 500 – both to the politicians and judiciary.

Professor turned back and said “Let me get back to the Central Library therefore to research on why 500?

I drove back home wishing him all the best.

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