Parivartan through Parivesh (A New Transformation in India’s Environmental Clearance System)

India’s PM launched PARIVESH (Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive, Virtuous and Environmental Single-window Hub) on the occasion of World Biofuel Day. PARIVESH is a Single-Window Integrated Environmental Management System, developed in pursuance of the spirit of ‘Digital India’ initiated by the Prime Minister and capturing the essence of Minimum Government and Maximum Governance and Ease of Doing Responsible Business.

With PARIVESH, Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has become more of a facilitator than a regulator.  “PARIVESH” is a workflow-based application and has been rolled out for online submission, monitoring and management of proposals submitted by Project Proponents. It will help to seek various types of clearances (e.g. Environment, Forest, Wildlife and Coastal Regulation Zone Clearances) from Central, State and district-level authorities.  It has been designed, developed and hosted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, with technical support from National Informatics Centre, (NIC), New Delhi.

Highlighting that PARIVESH offers a framework to generate economic growth and strengthens Sustainable Development through E Governance, Union Environment Minister stated that with automatic highlighting of non-compliance by the system, PARIVESH will help in improving the overall performance and efficiency of the whole appraisal process.

PARIVESH accepts online submission and monitoring of compliance reports including geo-tagged images of the site by regulatory body / inspecting officers through website as well as  Mobile App for enhanced compliance monitoring.  Further a Geographic Information System (GIS) interface is available for the Appraisal Committee to help them in analyzing the proposal efficiently, automatic alerts (via SMS and emails) at important stages to the concerned officers, committee members and higher authorities to check the delays, if any.  “PARIVESH” enables project proponents, citizens to view, track and interact with scrutiny officers, generates online clearance letters, online mailers and alerts to state functionaries in case of delays beyond stipulated time for processing of applications.

Immediately after the release of the PARIVESH website, an emergency meeting was held in Diwane I Khas of Taj Mahal at Mansingh Road in Delhi. Several “stakeholders” were present at this secret get-together. Even Times Now and Republic TV channels did not know that such a meeting was being held. Rumor was that team NDTV was however present there disguised as the waiters.

 

Diwane I Khas at Taj Mahal Hotel

The stakeholders included consultants offering services of Environmental Clearance (EC) and those involved in accelerating the work flow of EC by greasing the officials. The former looked like foxes and the latter looked like hyenas.  Then there were Ex-EC committee members and the Ex-chairmen of the EC committees who do the business of giving “strategic advice” to the project proponents. They occupied separate roundtables to show their different stature and position.  And there were many representatives of environmental monitoring agencies who “generate” the base line data (mostly unreal) but for helping a speedy EC. They looked more like a herd of sheep.

My Professor friend found about this “secret” meeting and asked me to accompany.

“How will we introduce ourselves Professor” I asked this question.

“Oh, don’t worry Dr Modak”, Professor said while lighting his cigar “We will say that we are from the headquarters of International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA). We will need to dress up a bit, wear a suit and a tie and sport a lapel of IAIA. I am a Member but have a spare one that I will give to you”

Very clever I thought. I knew that IAIA has no India chapter and hardly anything is known about their work. Some had told me that  the only thing known is that IAIA holds annual conferences in exotic places across the world striving to make money. This may not be true of course.

When we entered the room, we saw that one roundtable was occupied by representative of the World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank. These representatives were the “safeguard” people and had constipated faces as they were doing nothing except keep finding faults in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) documents submitted by the clients (actually by consultants). They used Microsoft Word only in track change mode. On the same table, I saw some familiar faces from the BIG 4. These folks were sitting like proud cocks and hens, distinguishing from the “normal” ESIA consultants, sporting a “buddha” face that indicated “we know the truth”.

The last to enter the room were a few corporate honchos. They had ensured that media was not present and that there presence wont get “recorded”. I heard them whispering that this level of transparency in EC was a bit too much! Now we will not have any “play” to influence and tweak the workflow any more – especially  when most needed. They said.

One Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) said that “well today the e-governance is set for EC, but I wont be surprised if this gets extended to the Business Responsibility Reporting (BRR) and CSR Reporting. This will make rather difficult to bluff – that we usually do – while making tall claims about the social development and environmental improvements that we are supposed to do. I could understand their fear and discomfort.

Finally, we saw a table of “corporate” environmental NGOs. They looked a bit skeptical about PARIVESH as the present system allowed them to make allegations and write stories.  But they looked a bit supportive to the idea of PARIVESH  – as they were interested to find out how to “exploit” the new system to their advantage. That’s most of the NGOs of this kind do. Don’t they?

The main point of discussion was to assess the impact of PARIVESH on the “ecosystem” of stakeholders to EC. Everybody wanted a solution and a counter-strategy. After some initial chaos, several observations and suggestions were made.

The consultants engaged in the EC facilitation felt that PARIVESH will lead to a big loss to their income. The strategic advisers said that they would soon lose their clout and may become redundant. As PARIVESH will pool national environmental data across 135+ “layers” on a GIS platform, the business of generating (fake) baseline data will suffer. The environmental NGOs felt that now that citizens will get information on the entire work-flow of the EC online, their function of “representing the people” and “feeding breaking news”  may get a bit compromised.

When one of the Corporate NGOs saw lapel of IAIA on Professors coat asked why can’t IAIA undertake a study on the Impact Assessment of PARIVESH. Professor behaved as if he was hard of hearing, but I thought it was a great idea.

As expected, the meeting ended with no clear direction on the next steps. Perhaps, the fact that PARIVESH became actually operational was a shock to many. Not many knew  that this “typhoon” was coming. PARIVESH looked like a secret operation carried out as in  nuclear blast at Pokharan!

While exiting Diwane I Khas, I overheard the conversation at the table of the World Bank et al and the BIG 4.

One of the BIG 4 was asking the World Bank safeguards specialist “Will PARIVESH make your work in the World Bank redundant? Given the “equivalence” between your safeguard system and India’s EC procedure, you may not now need to conduct ESIA in your style and do all the supervision”

The man from the World Bank answered “In a way, you are right. But after listening to the discussions of today, we are thinking of supporting a program on Rehabilitation of PARIVESH affected stakeholders (PAPs in Bank parlance) and come up with an alternate Income Generation Scheme (IGS)”

“Oh, very clever!” l I said to myself

I then realized how smart the World Bank is.


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You may like to read some of my related posts

How to get Speedy Environmental Clearance?

https://prasadmodakblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/how-to-get-speedy-environmental-clearance/

Indian Weddings now require Environmental Clearance

https://prasadmodakblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/23/indian-weddings-now-require-environmental-clearance/

Impact Assessment of Environmental Impact Assessment

https://prasadmodakblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/impact-assessment-of-environmental-impact-assessment/

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Photos in Blue Halo

Most people hate the occasion of saying a good bye. Saying good-bye can be heart-wrecking – whether your separation is temporary or over a long time. We as people are so wired to each other –– that any separation from someone you love or adore is painful.

While saying good-bye, people often hug, kiss and resist parting. Some are formal and do a handshake but the palms – moist or firm as they can be – communicate their feelings.

There is also a feeling whether you will see your friend once again – concerns on safety in travel and health risks due to our lifestyles have been some of the reasons. So we return from the airports, railway stations and bus stands with a heavy heart. We feel relieved when we receive the message that “all is well” or “reached alright” from your friend or the beloved after reaching the destination.

Some people carry gifts as a surprise when saying good bye. This makes the event of departure memorable. Some present flowers and take a photo as a memory to post on the Facebook.

Many suggest that instead of saying good bye say, “so long”. This expression hints a “promise sentence” such as “So long, I’ll see you later or we’ll meet again…”, indicating that this is only a temporary separation. You feel a bit positive when someone says “So long pal” to you. And I prefer this expression.

I often do a trick when I see off my children at the airport. Both my kids live in the United States. While saying “So long”, I tell them that it is very likely there could be a visit from me in the next three months.  My  fib just comforts them, calms down and takes away the pain of separation. But its strange that sometimes my travel to the US actually does happen!

But saying goodbye happens not just when you see someone off. You also say a goodbye when you leave school, university or your job. We call this event as farewell. Farewell is a fancy or a grand way to say goodbye. A farewell is also an expression of good wishes at the parting. Farewell is more for a longer separation like going overseas or leaving an institution. Generally, people give speeches during the farewell. I have attended farewells where I had an opportunity and the honor to listen to some of the memorable speeches.

Some speeches made at farewell make you think differently and understand hidden dimensions of the personality not earlier known. Farewell speeches are also opportunities to express the gratitude. Speech by Steve Jobs is one such example.

I went to meet my Professor on Sunday for coffee and conversations. His wife ushered me to his study where he was flipping an album of photographs and smoking a cigar.

He handed over the album to me – “Take a look Dr Modak, I will just do a quick shave and come back in five minutes”.

I browsed the photo album. It had photographs taken at the departure area of the Mumbai International Airport. Some of the photos were featuring Professors colleagues and friends. Oddly, he was not in any of the pictures. I wondered why the Professor maintained a separate album just for the occasions of good bye! Could there be any special reason? I was a bit puzzled.

As Professor was taking more time than expected, I decided to spend more time on the photos as I browsed the Album.

And I noticed a strange thing. In almost each photo, there was someone in a “blue halo”. The halo was not very explicit around the person in spot, but a closer look at the photo showed its presence. I decided to ask Professor about the halo as I saw him stepping in.

“Good question Dr Modak, And you being a man of detail,  I was expecting this question”

Professor continued and spoke to me in a rather low voice

“I don’t know whether you realized that all persons you see in Blue Halo are no more today. The photographer I use for these Goodbye occasions has a mystic camera that brings a blue halo to the person who will be the first one to die after the shot is taken”

I just couldn’t believe this! Now I understood why Professor didn’t want to be in these photos!

I looked at the photos once again where I knew some people.

Oh – This is Professor Raghavan in the photo taken on April 5, 2002. I remembered that Prof Raghavan expired on June 27 in the same year due to a heart disease that was not earlier detected. And this is Ms. Jose Felicia, Head of UN convention on biodiversity for Africa waving a good bye to Professor. She visited Mumbai in October 2004; I remembered that she met with a fatal accident in the outskirts of Nairobi during Christmas in the same year. This was really an unfortunate event and was shocking to all of us.

I couldn’t resist but ask “Very strange and simply unbelievable Professor. Who is this Photographer? And is he still around?

Professor smiled and said “I generally don’t show this Album to people. Many would then ask me about the Photographer and his mystic camera. But Dr Modak, he is still around. He is pretty old now. I am sorry I cannot share with you his details”

I understood that this information was going to remain as a secret. Professor appeared rather firm.

Next week, I was hosting a delegation from EU on Business and Sustainability that was headed by my good friend Olivia from Spain. We had conferences and field visits over a week. Professor joined us for the farewell dinner that I hosted at Bungalow No 9 in Bandra. There were scintillating speeches by the participants, all appreciating the visit and opportunities for experience sharing. Olivia was exceptional, and her farewell speech expressed her passion on the subject of sustainability. She articulated her future plans of cooperation. I presented her a silk scarf as a token of appreciation that she gladly accepted.

As I escorted Olivia to Uber, she paused before entering the taxi. In a soft voice she said “Prasad, I am not too sure whether I will see you again. Just a month ago, I was diagnosed for a throat cancer. It’s in an advanced stage. The doctors have told me that I have a little time left to live – may be another 3 months”

I was shocked to hear these parting words. Olivia hugged and kissed on my cheeks “Thanks for the scarf Prasad. I will cherish these memories”. She said while closing the door. She had wrapped the scarf around her neck – like ring-fencing her throat cancer.

She then lowered the glass window of the car and said “Nobody knows. Not even Professor”. Uber drove out of the Bungalow No 9.

I didn’t know what to say. My heart was heavy. And I was in tears.

On the day of departure, Professor volunteered to come to the airport to see everybody off. I was delighted.

We all met at the airport and assembled outside the departure gates. It was a Sunday and 9 pm at night. Flight to London was at 1 am and so we decided to take couple of photographs as a memory. But Professor was  not around although he had promised. Shortly I received a call that he cannot make it due to an urgent call from PMO. Typical of Professor I said to myself.

As we were taking group photographs, we decided to request someone to handle one of our smartphones and take a good quality picture – we didn’t want to rely on the clumsy Selfies!

One oldish man was standing around. He volunteered to help us. He said he will use his own camera and not charge us for taking picture as it was his hobby. We agreed.

He had a pretty old styled conventional looking camera. He took good many pictures of the group. He then walked to me and said “Your Professor friend asked me to attend today”

I was surprised that he recognized us. Oh, so this was that mysterious photographer then.

I asked for his visiting card.

The man said he does not keep any visiting cards.

“Don’t worry. I will send the pictures to the Professor. Please collect from him – all my complements Sir”. He seemed to be in a hurry and disappeared in the crowd.

Two days later, I called Professor and told him how I met “his” photographer at the airport and asked when can I pick up the photographs.

I knew that the photos will show a blue halo around Olivia. Oh, I will miss her I said to myself.

Professor wasn’t very enthusiastic. “I am a bit busy Dr Modak” he said, “Let me check – I probably misplaced the photos”.

“Well Professor, please don’t lose these precious photos.  I won’t be surprised if I see a blue halo across Olivia’s face” I told him.

I didn’t want to tell the reason as it was a secret not shared by Olivia with anybody.

There was however a stoned silence.

“I don’t think so” Professor said – “As far as I recall, there is no halo around Olivia’s face”

He sounded a bit stiff and abrupt.

I started wondering. Who could it be then? I thought about others and ruled out almost everyone.

And then a strange thought occurred in my mind.

Was it me? and was that the reason why Professor did not want to share with me the photos?


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