Remembering Guru Das Agarwal

Professor G D Agarwal

I came across Professor G D Agarwal’s name when I was in the final year of BTech in Civil Engg at IIT Bombay. This was year 1978. I was researching on where to do a Masters in Environmental Engineering. My batch-mate Renu Gera who had moved from IIT Kanpur to IIT Bombay, recommended IIT Kanpur and mentioned Professor G D Agarwal. “He is a very senior Professor and a rather strict and a strong personality. But he is the right person to write to” she said.

I wrote a letter to Prof Agarwal on a post card asking about the Master’s program in Environmental Engineering at IIT Kanpur. I asked how this program compares with some of the international graduate programs, especially in the United States. Honestly, I did not expect a response.

In the next two weeks, I received a letter from Professor Agarwal, typed on the letterhead of Civil Engineering Department of IIT Kanpur. The letter was very considerate to my questions and elaborated the curriculum and ended stating that Master’s program at IIT Kanpur was comparable to most of the top masters programs in the United States. Professor Agarwal encouraged me to apply to IIT Kanpur.

Eventually, I joined the Masters Program at IIT Bombay. By then Professor P Khanna had joined IIT Bombay from Roorkee University and I thought that I will be at good hands by working under his guidance.

One day, while sitting in Professor Khanna’s office, a person walked in, wearing a simple dress. I saw Professor Khanna rising from his chair and touching his feet with respect. “Oh, stop this Purushottam” said the stranger. He was clearly embarrassed.

Professor Khanna then introduced me and said “Prasad, meet Professor G D Agarwal of IIT Kanpur”. That is how we met for the first time. It was July, 1979.

In January 1980, Professor Khanna called me to his room. “Prasad, I need you to support Professor G D Agarwal for a one week training program on Wastewater treatment. He needs an assistant to help him to handle the logistics like reproduction of course materials and ensure that the participants are well looked after. This will be good opportunity for you to be with Professor and learn”. At that time, I was completing my Masters dissertation.

I readily agreed to Professor Khanna’s proposition. I later came to know that Professor Agarwal had resigned from IIT Kanpur due to his differences with the Administration. A bit expected I said to myself.

My job started with a task to receive Professor Agarwal at the Mumbai Central Station and reach him to the IIT Guest house. He was arriving by Rajdhani express from New Delhi. I went half hour before the arrival of the train.

Some of you may be aware that many times, there are touts moving on the Railway platforms who do all kinds of tricks to whisk away young boys by administrating an anaesthetic. As these touts noticed me lingering alone on the platform, they circled around. Indeed, I was in trouble. Just then Rajdhani express came thundering in and the passengers started alighting. I was already a bit dosed with the anaesthetic and feeling giddy.

I had someone gripping my hand firmly “Prasad Modak, here I am. You seem to be in some trouble”. This was a strong voice and the person was Professor G D Agarwal. He was just in time for me. As we traveled to the Guest House of IIT Bombay, Professor Agarwal explained to me the chemicals used in anaesthetic, cleaned my palms with his handkerchief and summed up saying that I was just lucky to escape abduction. Indeed, I was lucky,

In the next five days, I was an obedient assistant to Professor G D Agarwal. He gave me his set of notes that I got neatly typed on the cyclostyling paper (a duplicating technique only known now to the “old generation”!). I used to get cyclostyling done at a place called Datye Copiers and Ammonia Prints near to the Dadar (Western) railway station.

Lectures by Professor Agarwal were so amazing that I still cherish. His style of teaching was “minimal theory”, just to introduce the “basic science” but focus more on infusing the practice. Clearly he was more of a hands on person, “action oriented” (unlike most of us!), very precise and rational, and rather explicit and opiniated in drawing conclusions or making summary statements.   He was the sole speaker for all the 5 days – and the participants loved his style of course management. There were not just lectures but also exercises. I understood his personality and convictions in those 5 days. Professor took a good liking for me and spent time advising me on my career post the day long lecture sessions.

Right after this encounter, I went to New Delhi to present a paper at the annual convention of the Indian Water Works Association (IWWA). I met Professor Agarwal in one of the technical sessions. He presented a paper on the true residence time at the clarifiers in water treatment plants using simple tracers. I liked his work as it blended theory and practice and opened up a discussion on the inlet-outlet arrangements and shape of the clarifiers and strategies on how to improve on the hydraulic efficiency and sedimentation rates. (Today, I call this as a “consequential” research)

Looking back, this was the progeny from the Berkley school. Professor Agarwal graduated in civil engineering from the University of Roorkee (now IIT Roorkee) and later obtained a PhD in environmental engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in a record time of 2 years. His PhD thesis was on  “Electrokinetic Phenomena in Water Filtration,” with Professor E A Pearson. Those were the golden days at Berkeley with presence of Professors like David Jenkins and several others. When I asked Professor Agarwal, how did he complete his Ph D research in a short time, he said that it was sheer difficulty of managing vegetarian food in those days that made him work hard and harder!

During the IWWA convention in Delhi, Professor G D asked me whether I could accompany him to Kandhla, his farm in Muzaffarnagar district. I said “Well Sir, I will have re-book my railway ticket to Mumbai, but I will do it.” I remember I placed a STD trunk call home from IIT Delhi Guesthouse and spoke to my father. I stood in a long queue at New Delhi Railway station to re-book my seat.

When we reached the farm in Kandhla, Professor G D took me to a garage or outhouse like structure. He asked me to open the locks and raise the rolling metal shutter. Inside the room, all I saw was books. They were stacked all over and there were two stools right at the entrance. “Prasad, you will sit here” said the Professor pointing to one of the stools. And over the next three days, Professor G D introduced to me some of great books in environmental engineering, his notes and assignments while at the University of Berkeley. It was an opportunity I got that I will never forget – listening to his wise words. In this collection of books, I came across signatures of Harvey Ludwig, another great environmental engineer, who also studied at the University of Berkeley. (Subsequently I met Harvey in Bangkok and we spoke about Guru Das Agarwal, as he knew him).

Professor Agarwal interacted with me during my doctoral research at Asian Institute of Technology I Bangkok. He was the member secretary of the Central Pollution Control Board then. He invited me to work with him on River Ganga after returning to India. And I did.

Professor G D resigned however due to difference of opinion with Chairman Niloy Choudhuri.  Professor Niloy Choudhuri was more of a policy & strategy person while Prof Agarwal was a person of action.

Later, I had opportunity to work with him on an assignment in Dhaka for the Government of Bangladesh in framing the national regulations on environment. There were occasions where we were together as speakers in training programmes, seminars and conferences. I vividly remember sessions we did at the Administrative Staff College of India.

Professor Agrawal’s students remember him with admiration, awe and affection. In 2002, his former students at IIT-Kanpur conferred on him the Best Teacher Award. He has guided many Masters and Doctoral students who are now leaders in the field of environmental engineering and science. Among his prominent students was the late Anil Agarwal, the pioneering founder of the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi. He helped mentor well-known development activists including: Dunu Roy (IIT Bombay,’67) of Hazards Centre, New Delhi, Ravi Chopra (IIT-Bombay,’68) of People’s Science Institute, Dehra Doon and Rajendra Singh, a Magsaysay awardee and founder of Tarun Bharat Sangh.

Professor Agrawal embraced ‘sanyas’ at Sri Vidya Mutt in the 79th year of his age. After ‘diksha’, he became Swami Gyanswaroop Sanand.

In his sanyas phase, I was not in regular touch with him and used to see him occasionally – mostly by accident. When he once addressed me as Dr Modak, I remember telling him to call me Prasad as before. He smiled then and said “Well Sir, I will call you Prasadji. Do stay in touch – will you?

Unfortunately, I could not remain in touch with Professor G D. We never met after this last and brief encounter.


GD was notable for a number of fasts undertaken to stop many projects on River Ganga. His fast in 2009 led to the damming of the Bhagirathi River being stopped.

GD lived a Gandhian lifestyle in his spartan, two-room cottage in Chitrakoot, Madhya Pradesh. He swept his own floors, washed his own clothes and cooked his own meals. He retained only a few possessions and dresses in handspun handwoven khadi cloth. These are the deliberate choices of a devout Hindu with respect for simplicity in living and reverence for nature.

GD died on 11 October 2018, after being on an indefinite fast since 22 June 2018, demanding the government act on its promises to clean and save river Ganga.

 


If you like this post then Follow me or forward to your colleagues

Text in italics is sourced from http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/dr-g-d-agrawal-scientist-environmentalist-and-rishi authored by Pavitra Singh

Advertisements

Mind Mapping Industrial Pollution Control

This post is about how to prepare engaging presentations using mind mapping to bring forth inherent complexity of a topic. It is meant for professors, research scholars and students. I have taken topic of industrial pollution control as an illustration.

A bit longish deliberation, but I do hope you will find this post interesting and that it will serve the purpose.


Professor was busy in his study on Sunday morning. I saw him sitting on a drawing board with a A2 size paper and color pencils. He seemed so engrossed as he didn’t even notice me.

He was writing on the paper some “keywords” and then connecting them and making some side notes. Sometimes he would pause and do some google search and print few documents or note the URLs.

I did not want to disturb him. In the next fifteen minutes this is what appeared on the paper

Industry – good and services

Pollution – unwanted constituent – adverse change

Control – power to influence, regulate to achieve certain goals

Why are you doing this basic stuff Professor?  I asked when I saw him picking up a cup of coffee.

He noticed me.

“Well Dr Modak, I am preparing a “general” presentation on the subject of “industrial pollution control”.

It is good to begin with dissection of each term in the topic. This is often a good start.”

I realized that Professor had used the following definitions. See Box 1

Box -1 Some Key Definitions on the subject of Industrial Pollution Control
What is an industry?

Industry is the production of goods or related services within an economy

What is pollution?

Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that cause adverse change. Contamination is the presence of an unwanted constituent, contaminant or impurity in a material, physical body, natural environment, workplace, etc.

What is control?

Control is largely associated with power and having the power to influence people, decisions or processes. It is an important function because it helps to check the errors and to take the corrective action so that deviation from standards are minimized and stated goals of the organization are achieved in a desired manner.

“Now what Professor?” I could not resist to ask.

“Well, Dr Modak, we now continue asking more questions to ourselves on the subject” said the Professor.

“But we need to describe little bit more about the industry itself i.e. Its classification by size, type and pollution potential. The priorities and strategies change as we deal with different classes of industry. We need a better understanding and so I have prepared a handout”

Oh, so Professor was essentially mapping his thinking. I realized.

“It may be interesting Professor to ask about how can we reduce pollution in the first place. This could be an effective strategy to control pollution. No point to let the pollution happen first and then worry for solution”. I suggested.

“Yes indeed”, Professor agreed. “In early days we did not think “upstream” i.e. production stage itself for minimizing pollution. In fact, pollution prevention was not considered as a strategy for pollution control. Professor pulled out a nice infographics explaining the “evolution” that he had researched from the web – of course improving the figure based on his experience.

“Looks great” I exclaimed. “I am sure you will “plug in” this figure in your presentation slides”

Professor nodded while lighting his cigar. “Yes, I will. But let us continue building this diagram further. By the way, this diagram is called a Mind Map.

“What is a Mind Map Professor?” I asked


A Mind Map is an easy way to brainstorm thoughts that occur naturally without worrying about order and structure. It allows you to visually structure your ideas to help with analysis. A Mind Map is thus an intuitive framework around a central concept. A Mind Map can turn a long list of monotonous information into a colorful and highly organized diagram that works in line with your brain’s natural way of thinking.


Professor invited me to make contribution to the mind map he had started drawing.

I wanted to go further “upstream”

“Professor – what about rethinking about the product itself?  And the raw materials used?” I put a question.

“Oh Yes”, said the Professor. “We must bring in both upstream and downstream elements when discussing industrial pollution control. Immediate thinking downstream will be recycling and recovery that the industry must do – extreme thinking being the so called Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD).  But further down, we must account for pollution caused beyond the factory gate covering transportation of products including packaging, pollution during product use and pollution after use i.e. during disposal. We call this as a life cycle approach to understand the problem of pollution – on a holistic basis”

I expanded the mind map further capturing the life cycle consideration with a question in my mind that why should such downstream thinking be discussed in the topic of pollution control.

Professor lit his cigar and took a deep puff. “Well Dr Modak, considering both upstream and downstream perspectives in industrial pollution control is a great idea – but this is something hard to “control” isn’t it? The stakeholders are different in each stage of the life cycle and industry may not have enough information, opportunity to participate and control”.

Hmm – I said and added “Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)” in the mind map.


The EPR concept was formally introduced in Sweden by my good friend Thomas Lindhqvist in a 1990 report to the Swedish Ministry of the Environment. In subsequent reports prepared for the Ministry, the following definition emerged: “[EPR] is an environmental protection strategy to reach an environmental objective of a decreased total environmental impact of a product, by making the manufacturer of the product responsible for the entire life-cycle of the product and especially for the take-back, recycling and final disposal.

Initially EPR was encouraged but now it is getting legislated in many countries – including in India.


So we were looking at pollution control not just of controlling emissions through stacks or managing effluents draining out of the premises. That itself could be a good point of discussion in Professors presentation – I thought. We were perhaps heading towards the new avatara of industrial pollution control as “responsible manufacturing”.

I thought we should introduce two terms now – 1) benchmarks and good practices and 2) standards

“You are right Dr Modak in pointing out these two terms”, Professor had a lot to say and he elaborated citing some extracts from literature and shared with me a print of key URLs.

Benchmarks tell you where you stand so that you move towards increased resource efficiency and resource recycling to achieve pollution prevention. Standards on emissions bring in the need to come up with technologies that help meet the requirements of compliance to achieve environmental protection. As standards become stricter, costs of compliance increase if you don’t bring in pollution prevention. Best practices provide a guide on how to achieve benchmarks and standards so that the industry is both competitive and compliant. Pollution control is then a logical outcome and not something done solely just because it is mandatory. “Integrated Pollution Control” becomes an opportunity for ecological modernization.

Wow, I said to myself.

We expanded our Mind Map further.

“Remember Dr Modak that we must keep in mind the concept of total overburden and build ecological rucksack in terms of consumption of resources and generation residues across all the media and across all stages of life cycle” Professor spoke slowly but had a lot of emphasis.

I understood that this statement was pretty loaded and deep. Perhaps another Mind Map will be required to capture what Professor was arguing. It introduced the need for circularity that each industry should think about and together with the government and communities. Partnership was important.

The concept of total overburden also highlighted the need to consider not just technology based solutions but hinted the role played by policies e.g. banning, planning measures (like eco-industrial parks), use of economic instruments like taxes and market mechanisms like pollution trading, influencing consumption patterns and promoting  innovative business models with appropriate financing. Role of common environmental infrastructure in achieving pollution control may also be discussed especially for small and medium industries.

We were perhaps talking about the industrial pollution control now as a sector and not a case of an individual polluting industry.

I attempted to add all these important keywords in the Mind Map. Now the map looked pretty complex. I wasnt fully satisfied though.

“Don’t tell me Professor that you are going to prepare slides to cover everything we have expressed in this Mind Map” I was now worried about the audience.

“Well, Dr Modak, this is my “general” Mind Map on industrial pollution control; I will decide which parts of this Mind Map need to be focused and emphasized to make my slides depending on the context and the audience. The presentation will be thus customized. Not everything will need to be said” Professor explained as he was probably expecting my question. “I will use less text, more infographics and provide handouts of key materials” Professor added.

“This is great, Professor. No wonder why I find your presentations always stimulating and so different from others. You must have prepared several such Mind Map-based presentations by now.” I asked

“No Dr Modak, this is my first time that I will use the technique of Mind Mapping” Professor said this while extinguishing his cigar.

And I was simply puzzled with his candid confession. Perhaps, the technique of Mind Mapping was simply “built in” Professors mind.


Mind mapping is simply a great fun with lots of learning.

The mind map that we created was indeed a “raw” representation. There are several mind mapping freewares that can be used to construct much better visualization, show connections and plugging in the details.

If you are interested, then do attempt creating a mind map on industrial pollution control by using some of these tools and build further on the raw map we prepared. I will publish your maps on this post.

Do send me a copy at prasad.modak@emcentre.com if you wish to receive any comments or guidance. Will be happy to work with you.


Cover image sourced from https://www.scirra.com/tutorials/188/6-steps-to-play-with-players-mind


If you like this post then follow me or share with your colleagues