Why Did Mr Trump Reject the Paris Accord?

Many of my readers know about my friend who lives on the 104th floor in a Tower in Mumbai. He is the richest person in the world today. He is undoubtedly one of the most influential personalities and yet not known due to his sheer humility and discreteness.

Me and my Professor Friend went to see him for a breakfast – a courtesy he extends to us once in a month which we never miss. We saw that he was having a breakfast with Donald Trump.

“Come in friends. Mr Trump just arrived here after making a statement on climate change at the Rose Garden. After such a simple and honest statement of pulling out from the Paris Accord he got so much hounded by the Ministers and Media that he got fed up. So, I invited him for a breakfast to eat in peace and he kindly obliged” My friend said this while sampling some almonds and Arabian dates neatly stacked in a silver dish.

He continued

“Well Dr Modak, I see such a short-sightedness in the senior politicians, thought leaders and the businessmen of the world today to understand Mr Trump’s point of view.  Only few in the White House understand the deep secret and strategy that Mr Trump is playing. Its strange – but the so called dumb middle class of the United States who voted for Mr Trump is actually understanding. They love and support Mr Trump for such a historical decision”

Mr Trump acknowledged my friends support and appreciation. He put a layer of chicken salami on a well buttered toast.

Mr Trump said “Coal is certainly going to be the source of principal energy at least for the next decade. India for example has only 33% of its population connected to the electricity today. That’s a target so hard to achieve without phasing out/modernizing the coal based thermal power plants. Resorting to renewable energy alone is not going to be sufficient. India must follow Clean Coal Technology (CCT)”

He then paused, took a good byte of the salami sandwich and continued

“Use of CCT is perhaps going to be the answer. United States today is undoubtedly the world leader in this segment. We have invested heavily on the R&D and commercialization on CCT that we must now unfurl and leverage on by grabbing this business. Our markets will be India and China. To achieve this, the coal industry in the United States must stay vibrant and become competitive.  This will lead to a trillion dollars business overseas and restore employment in the coal sector within the United States. To facilitate, I have already ordered EPA to relax the norms on emissions from power plants”

“That’s real deep strategy Mr Trump – only few will understand” I said.

Professor now butted in

“Granted Mr. Trump, I also understand that you are contemplating relaxation in the emission norms of the automobiles as well. This will essentially reverse Obama’s long-term mileage-economy standards. This strategy will certainly boost sales of light trucks and SUVs, that is highly profitable but the automobile industry will face tougher mileage restrictions in most European and Asian markets. Even within the US, automobile sales in the States like California will be affected. Don’t forget that some of these principled States represent about one-third of American vehicle sales”

I added

“We also know that the average COemissions from new passenger cars have continued to decrease, falling to 120 g/km in 2015. These emission are significantly lower than the 130 g/km target set by the EU CO regulation for 2015. The automobile industry in the EU is ahead of the targets”

Mr Trump smiled and asked, “Do you know something about Laboratory to Road reports”.

We kept shut as we were not aware.

Mr Trump gulped a fresh orange juice made from oranges grown in Australia. He said “2016 update of this report analysed 13 data sources covering 15 years, six countries, and approximately 1 million cars. The analysis showed that, in the EU, the gap between official and real-world CO2 emission values continues to grow—from 9% in 2001 to 42% in 2015. Essentially, the reports indicate that “real-world” performance is much worse than suggested by the official values. So, pledging tighter emission norms to combat global warming is all hogwash. I am therefore relaxing the automobile emission norms in the US and do not wish to join the herd. I am going to publish the Laboratory to Road reports widely and make them accessible to the consumers to expose the reality – the inconvenient truth

I thought Mr. Trump was right. The international lobby working on reduction of emissions from vehicles was really a crap – a more of lip talk rather than the reality.

I think Mr. Trump read by thoughts. He got up from the teak chair, walked towards the window, peeped outside and turned to me

“The climate adaptation funds and bilateral aid is another glaring example. Here, American money gets used by polluters like China and India. China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal mines and India will be allowed to double its coal production; and we the financiers are supposed to get rid of our coal industry. Isn’t this ironical and irrational?”.

“The United States had pledged $3 billion into a Green Climate Fund to assist smaller counties on their climate change initiatives – and I have already cancelled $2 billion. I am no Santa Clause. It seems China may contribute financially – such as contributing $20 million to its South-South Cooperation Fund to help smaller countries. India led the International Solar Alliance in 2015 with a contribution of 27 million USD. These amounts are like a mouse to the United States. India needs around $ 2.5 trillion to fulfill all its targets. Where is this kind of money?”

I thought Mr Trump was right again

Professor lighted his cigar and interrupted Mr Trump.

“Mr Trump, don’t underestimate India on its technology capability and political commitment. India has set a target of increasing its renewable power capacity to 175 gigawatts by 2022 – and has exceeded its targets for wind power this fiscal year and has made some strides in increasing its solar capacity. In May 2017, India’s solar power generation price for the first time dipped below that of traditional thermal, which should make the use of sun power more widespread in rural areas. Under the Goods and Service Tax to be enforced from July 1, electric cars will get a tax rate of only 12% while other cars will be taxed at 28%.”

(I wondered however how will we be powering our electric vehicles – using coal based electricity? – I didn’t want to ask this embarrassing question to the Professor)

Now it was my friends turn to speak. He picked up few manicured pieces of cut apple from the bowl and spoke slowly as if sharing a secret

“Well Professor, Mr Trump is aware of the rapid pick up of solar PVs in India. But remember that this global solar boom will be contributing a whole new form of electronic waste to the planet. Unfortunately, little has been done to recover and recycle the precious metals and other goodies that go into manufacturing solar panels. Of course, one could blame the usual suspects, such as lack of international standards and inadequate end-of-life infrastructure. This is a $15 billion market by 2050 dangling in the air, and it’s a safe bet that the solar panel recycling industry will take off sooner rather than later. Here US can take a lead. Mr Trump is here with me not just for breakfast. He has come to ask me for investments in cash to seize this opportunity. He is really not against the renewables – he is simply looking beyond!”

I now saw the business face of Mr Trump. His ridiculous tweets on climate change were perhaps just a diversion – for the media and for the so called global intellectuals.

The Cover Image Image sourced from https://www.thegef.org/blog/when-it-comes-fighting-climate-change-citizen-action-matters

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UN Meetings of the Usual Kind



I was to attend a UN conference in Prague. The organizers as a part the “deal” had asked some of the us to draft the outcomes of the meeting so that the summary could be presented in the concluding session and “ratified”.

We were told to stay late in the evening and continue to work in the meeting rooms. The work was divided and each one of us was asked to capture the key messages of the allotted session, based on the speeches made and comments from the participants.

I was not happy with this expectation. I knew that these kinds of meetings really do not lead to outcomes worth discussing and be agreed upon. I am saying this out of the experience I have in attending several UN meetings as a resource person. The summaries are drab, wordy and sometimes even meaningless.

In our resource person group, there were however few younger colleagues in the mid-forties, who did not know this truth. Some of them in fact felt elated to be called as the resource persons so that they could sport this title in their CVs.

I had planned that after the days long, routine and ritualistic presentations to get out on the streets of Prague. You need to have a good drink after the dose of terms like sustainability, striking partnerships, promote harmonization etc. You are often siting in a poorly ventilated room.

In Prague, my favorite place has been the Reduta Jazz Club. It is situated on Národní street in the centre of the city, close to the National Theatre. Redutta is a legendary jazz spot where stars like Ray Charles and Louie Armstrong have played including Bill Clinton. It’s a small, old and traditional (a little shabby) club located in the basement floor. My idea was to give some excuse to Carlo, the organizer and escape the so called working session of the evening.

During the lunch break at the meeting, Carlo introduced to me to Tamara, a Japanese-American girl. “Tamara is a professional writer” Carlo said. “I use her in most of the UN meetings as she is quite familiar with the protocol (especially in citing the country names etc.). She will take over the draft summary you guys will do and polish to come up with a final draft that we could present in the last concluding session.” Tamara was a pleasant personality, with chinky eyes and an American accent and had a smiling face. She must be in her mid thirty.  “Nice to meet you Dr Modak, I look forward to drafts from you and your colleagues”.

I told Carlo about my unhappiness of spending time in the evening to work on the draft summary.  I told him that I plan to go to Redutta. I assured him that when I will return, I will work in my room and email the draft each night to him and Tamara. The meeting was for two days and each day one session was allotted to me.

Carlo wasn’t happy with my proposition as he wanted that the resource persons discuss as they write the draft and thought that I could provide the overall direction. But when I pleaded, he gave up “But Dr Modak, please ensure that your drafts reach me, Tamara and other resources persons in time”. I assured him. I realized that my seniority, age and long connection with the UN system worked.

After Carlo left, Tamara continued conversation with me. “Tell me about Redutta Jazz Club” She asked “Must be an interesting place since you don’t want to miss. Can I join you too? This is my first visit to Prague and I love Jazz”

Well, you are most welcome to join, we will leave the hotel by 7 pm so that we get the seats.  I said

“But Tamara, how would you manage?” I said this with great concern “You are in charge of the final summary and perhaps this would require your continued presence in the meeting room. There are 7 sessions over 2 days with 20 speakers and 80 participants – that’s going to lead to a large cloud of words that will need to be burst to get some drizzle” I said in a lighter vein.

Tamara smiled – “Yes, Dr Modak, there will be lots of words of wisdom that will need to be managed and massaged”

I continued “And don’t forget that the drafts you will receive from the resource persons will need to edited from language and protocol point of view. That will be some challenging work. I expect you to work whole night tonight as well as tomorrow to come up with a summary that can be presented”

Tamara said “I am aware Dr Modak and honestly I am quite used to. I will manage. See you at 7 pm in the lobby”

I was surprised with Tamara’s confidence

We reached Redutta in time and grabbed good seats next to the stage. We got craft beer to start with. The jazz band was fantastic. After the first break, Tamara and I started talking. She told me about her life. Her father was American and mother a Japanese. She grew up in Washington DC, did mass communication in the bachelors with MBA from Wharton. She worked for a News magazine in New York and in the past five years started freelancing. UN was one of her major clients.

“Wow, exciting Tamara, so do you work for many UN meetings of this kind in the year” I asked

Well, on an average at least 4. I also do post production of the event apart from the summary. I have a team of photographers/videographers who do for me photoshoots and video bites.

The second session of the Band was getting even better. Both of us were enjoying another round of craft beer. After the second session got over it was already 10 pm and I realized that were getting late.

I told Tamara that let us return now return to the hotel considering that I have to do my draft as promised to Carlo and she will need to work on the drafts of the resource persons.

Tamara held my hand and spoke to me in a hush hush tone as if she is revealing a big secret.

Well Dr Modak, I write the summary of the event BEFORE coming. Based on my experience of several UN meetings, I know the outcomes already. This meeting “designed” by Carlos has an internal agenda that he wants to be “ratified” in the group of 80 who have been carefully invited to ensure representation of countries – not forgetting the presence of LDCs and SIDS. He has already given me a brief and copies of PowerPoint presentations of the speakers. On this basis, I have done my job and prepared a working draft. Generally, the draft will not change and there will be a bit of tweaking required if someone does make an out of the box point. But given the kind of participants UN invites, I have rarely come across such a situation. So don’t worry, there isn’t any original work to do”

I always suspected this cheeky UN strategy but didn’t realize that there was the case in reality. So Tamara was a highly-specialized writer and hence a valuable resource for person like Carlo. The outcomes of the event were already decided and me, other resource persons and even the participants were just the pawns of the “game”.

“So, let us stay more for the third round Prasad. Its the famous Alice Springs Blues Band who would play” Tamara held my hand and kissed on my cheek.  And I stayed.


Cover photo taken from http://www.prague-guide.co.uk/reduta-jazz-club/

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I decide to attend the World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki


The World Conference on Circular Economy will be held between June 5 and 6 at Helsinki. Nearly 1500 participants are expected as the registration is free. This ground-breaking event will present the world’s best circular economy solutions and will gather together the most recognized experts and decision makers in the field.

I spoke about this event and in general on the concept of circular economy to my Professor Friend.

“Are you attending this event?” He asked.

I said I have received an invite with sponsorship but I am not attending because there are just too many people. “It will be a huge mela (fair). There will be long queues for lunch and tough times for preferred vegetarians like me.  Besides the program is too tight. I won’t be able to visit my favorite jazz bar Laiska Karhu

Don’t miss Laiska Karhu

Professor agreed, especially on the point on Laiska Karhu. “You have a good reason not to go Dr Modak”.

The next day, early morning, the bell rang and Govind, my newspaper boy, was standing outside the door.

I did not understand why he was waiting for me

“I already paid your bill Govind and the used papers will be ready for you to pick up on next Sunday”.

I have a good deal with Govind. I buy from him newspapers every month for Rs 560 (US$ 8) and he buys from me the used newspapers for Rs 100 (USD 1.5) based on the weight. This makes the newspaper go circular.

“Sir, I want to speak to you about circular economy.” Govind said. “I heard that you will attending the World Conference in Helsinki”

Oh, how did you come to know? Hope this was  not in the news! But I have decided not to attend this conference. What is your question anyways?

“I came across AAGRUTI™ Waste Paper Recycling Services based in Delhi”. Govind said. “This social enterprise started in December 2011. Today, it extends its services in the field of Waste Paper Recycling to over 200+ institutions across various platforms in the Delhi NCR region. I want to start similar initiative in Mumbai with couple of my friends. Please help me”

I knew that Govind was an educated and smart person. I told him that recycling Waste paper is today big business in the world. A Chennai-based company, Global Waste Recyclers Ltd ( GWRL)  started this business some 50 years ago. It is the largest and the only organized player in this line of business in the country.

Today, GWRL collects waste from the region within a 75-km-radius with Chennai as the center. “Collection is the problem. Not selling.” Pujara, the Managing Director of GWRL says. Despite constraints, the company has seen good growth in the last five years ending up with a turnover of Rs 430 million last year. It hopes to reach Rs 2000 million in a couple of years.” says Pujara

Govind was really impressed the success story of GWRL. “You must go the World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki and talk about this story.” He said in a serious tone. “But Govind, I am not going to Helsinki” I told him. I saw him rather disappointed.

As I stepped out, I remembered that I had to go to the Ambience Mall for a few errands for my office. I bumped into Raj Singh Gehlot, the Chairman of the Ambience Group. “Oh, Dr Modak, how come here? I can ask someone to accompany you and help” He then paused and said “I was told that you will be attending the World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki – on your return, let us meet over a drink. Give me some ideas on how to turn the Ambience mall towards circular economy”

“Mr. Gehlot, you don’t have to attend World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki to know that. The Place to visit is ReTuna Återbruksgalleria in Sweden” I saw Raj rather confused. So, I told him the story.

ReTuna Återbruksgalleria is a shopping mall that sells only repaired or upcycled products and has gone beyond the local drop-off centers. Here, the dropped off goods are sorted into various workshops where they are refurbished or repaired. There are 14 workshops  that include furniture, computers, audio equipment, clothes, toys, bikes, gardening and building materials; all garnered from second-hand products. Several of these shops function as “do-it-yourself” showrooms, where customers can learn how to repair or refurbish. The products then reach the mall that includes a café and restaurant with a heavy focus on organic products. There is a conference and exhibition facility complete with a specialty school for studying recycling. Visitors can enrol in a one-year Design-Recycle-Reuse program. In addition, ReTuna  offers study visits during which attendees can learn about the inner workings of the mall. These visits cost about $136 and are held once a week.


The Mall is operated by the local municipality and has benefited the local economy by creating 50 new repair and retail jobs, and providing space for private start-ups and local artisans. The biggest bonus for the Swedish community is relief from the tremendous burden and expense of disposing of unwanted goods.

ReTuna Återbruksgalleria is about 75 miles west of Stockholm. It opened in August 2015 in the city of Eskilstuna. ReTuna is not only the first shopping center to sell recycled and reclaimed goods in Sweden, but also in the world. Eskilstuna’s 67,000 residents seem more and more open to the idea of buying repurposed and refurbished goods, which is inspiring ReTuna to set an even bigger goal: to position this town as a global destination that will showcase what sustainable living and the circular economy are all about. ReTuna Återbruksgalleria is a living demonstration of the circular economy.

Raj Gehlot was really inspired with my story on ReTuna. “Let me work on this and make one mall of Ambience like ReTuna” he said. “But please do visit the World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki to get more such stories”. I said “But Mr. Gehlot, I have decided not to attend this event”. I saw that Raj was not happy about my decision.

In the afternoon, I met Professor over a lunch and told him about Govind and Paper recycling and my encounter with Raj Gehlot in the Ambience mall and the story of ReTuna.

“Oh, these are all good stories, but I have even a better one” Professor said this while relishing the chicken salad with garlic bread. “Have you read about the Give Back Box program?”

He lit his cigar.

“Amazon and Give Back Box® are working together to bring in circular economy. The scheme goes like this

  1. Open Your Box:Unpack your merchandise from your Amazon shipping box.
  2. Pack Your Box:Fill the box with usable clothing, accessories and household goods you no longer need and print your free shipping label from amazon.
  3. Send Your Box: Contact UPS or the U.S. Postal Service to deliver your box of donations

Donations go directly to your nearest participating charitable organization using a free shipping label and empty Amazon packaging box. Your donation helps support employment placement, job training and other community-based services. So, the packaging box gets recycled, old clothes get used and funds are created for increasing employment.

“This is amazing Professor” I exclaimed. “I see great environmental, social and economic benefits”

Professor smiled and said. “We need to convince Amazon to do this bit in India as well. Talk to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon when you are at the World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki”.

“But Professor, I already told you that I am not attending the event”. I was rather irritated now.

Professor asked me to reconsider. “Don’t make a fuss. Stay a day longer to visit Laiska Karhu” He said this while extinguishing his cigar.

In the evening, I met with Hardik Shah, earlier Member Secretary of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board and Dr K. Rao of ACC Ltd.  Both talked about examples of Circular Economy in Practice in India. Examples included co-processing of hazardous waste in cement kilns, potential recycling of resources (metals and plastic) from abandoned vehicles, manufacturing of recycled construction aggregates and pavement blocks from construction and demolition waste and plastic to fuel plants.

Hardik Shah mentioned about the on-line waste trader created in the State of Gujarat that is used by thousands of industries to recycle waste as a resource. Both Hardik and Rao offered me their collection of PowerPoints as they thought that these slides will be useful tat the World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki.

I told them that I am not attending World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki. Both Hardik and Rao were disappointed. “You need to tell the world about India’s circular economy”. They  said. “The recent India report by Ellen MacArthur Foundation does not capture the circularity of material flows in India. So please reconsider”. I presented to them the 2013 book by Adam Minter titled Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion-Dollar Trash Trade. “Read this book in the context of circular economy” I said. “There are stories of recycling in the State of Gujarat and of course from China”.

“Well, I am certainly going to attend this conference” Professor called me at night. ” The PMO has asked me to integrate the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan  (Clean India Mission) and the Make in India program. This will be India’s model for Circular Economy unlike in EU and in China. And we will take strategic inputs from the Indian Resource Panel where you are already a member! In fact, I told the PMO that I will be taking you along”

I thought Professor made good point. Integration of Swatch Bharat Abhiyan and the Make in India was an innovative idea. But I disagreed to his optimism on the Indian Resource Panel.

Considering everything, I thought I should not miss attending this event. May be I should slip out earlier before closing of the sessions to avoid long queues for the lunch.

I told my travel agent to book flights between June 4 and 8.

5th and 6th were the conference days.

I reserved the evening of 7th for my favorite jazz bar Laiska Karhu.

I booked a table for two. Not for the Professor – but for someone whom I knew and was keen to see again.

Was it the real reason for attending the World Conference on Circular Economy in Helsinki?

Cover photo sourced from https://www.sitra.fi/en/projects/world-circular-economy-forum-2017/

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Sustainability Considerations while Making Technology Choices


Technologies are always evolving and present several options while making decisions. Generally, costs are given prime consideration as a selection criterion while meeting the required target of efficiency and yields. Costs include the capital and operating costs on a life time basis.  We calculate the Present Worth of the two options by amortizing the operating costs and help us to make a comparison to select the technology of the least life cycle cost.

It has been now realized that costs alone may not be the sole criteria. While cost could be one of the critical and deciding factor, there could be other considerations as well, especially on the environmental and social frontiers.

One of the important environmental factors is the generation of wastes and emissions. We consider this perspective by adding the costs of pollution control and monitoring to the base costs of the technology. These costs include installation as well as operating costs. A technology may not be preferred when costs of pollution control are added to the base costs. We see this situation when comparing biological processes with those following the thermal or chemical routes.

Use of technologies that have low Material Intensities or MI (including embodied energy as well as factoring virtual forms of water) is sometimes preferred. These decisions are taken by performing Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to helps to arrive at the estimates of MI. You may like to visit “databases” created by Wuppertal Institute in Germany. A paper on Assessment of wastewater treatment technologies: life cycle approach by Pradeep Kalbar, Subhankar Karmarkar and Sham Asolekar will be an interesting read.

Another criterion is the emissions of Greenhouse gases (GHG). While there are no emission limits legally prescribed, most would like to choose technology option that has minimum emissions of GHG. Such technologies are often called as low carbon technologies. Technologies that use more of renewable energy get preferred as compared to those which may use of fossil fuels. You may find Buyers Guide to Renewable and Low Carbon Technologies as an interesting read published in the UK.

is another environmental criterion that could decide the choice of technology. For example, we may not like to prefer technologies that use mercury or chlorine in any form. On the other hand, there could be preferences. We may prefer technologies that can make maximum use of the locally sourced materials to avoid transportation and boost local entrepreneurs.

We also need to factor the costs of disposal of the end of life of the equipment. In some cases, because of the use of non-biodegradable or potentially hazardous materials –costs of disposal of the used or abandoned equipment could be substantial. This aspect could influence the final decision between technology options.

Environmental risk
is another perspective. Some technologies may be compliant to the waste/emission standards that are legally prescribed but may pose risks of process upsets even leading to disaster during operations. These risks may arise due to process abnormalities that may occasionally arise – albeit rarely, posing certain restrictions on continuous operations or requiring on-line monitoring with process control or investments on the back-up systems. These considerations could add to the total costs.

Social considerations could also play an important role in the selection of technologies. These considerations include local employment. When one of the objectives of investment is to improve livelihoods of people, then technology options that generate local jobs may be preferred. Here low to moderate scale of technology and associated investments, especially in offering decentralized solutions get preferred. These technologies should be easy to understand and operate.

Generation of odor and noise and safety become additional considerations in the interest of workers and the neighborhood. Technologies that lead to nuisance during operations, shut down and startup operations are not preferred

When we address all the above considerations, we generally come up with design of a “system” that incorporates a “mix or combination of technologies”. In this system design, we ensure that technologies are in place for pre-treatment (that may include separation), main processing, with add on pollution control and recovery units and process control instrumentation (monitoring and interlocks) for ensuring safety during operations.  This entire system then needs to be assessed based on economic, environmental and social parameters.  For this purpose, quantitative or qualitative schema are used such as weighted scoring and Analytical Hierarchical Process (AHP). You may like to read paper by Tung  Nguyen Nhu on Application of Analytical Hierarchical Process Method to Select a Technology Option for Water Treatment in Rural Settings. 

When investments are sourced from public funds, a transparent process of technology assessment needs to be followed. I developed for the International Environment Technology Center (IETC) at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), a methodology called Sustainability Assessment of Technologies (SAT). Figure below shows the steps followed.


Methodology for Sustainability Assessment of Technologies


SAT methodology operates in tiers such as screening, scoping and detailed assessment. It follows a PDCA cycle as implemented in the most management systems to ensure that feedbacks on the use of technology is factored. Importantly it involves expert and if appropriate a public consultation. Lastly, the methodology could be used to select options at both strategic and operational level e.g. whether decentralized solutions are better suited than the centralized option.  More details on SAT can be accessed from the manual available online.

Applications of SAT methodology have been carried out for making choice of technologies across sectors such as water treatment, wastewater recycling, waste recovery etc. The SAT manual cited above includes a solved example that could be perused for better understanding.

I spoke to my Professor Friend about how sustainability could be factored in the technology selection. I told him that the “costs” incurred due to wrong selection of technology could be more than the apparent savings! Professor let me speak while enjoying his cigar. After I finished, he extinguished his cigar and said “Dr Modak, what you said is worth in a conference. The world would have been different or the research would have changed its course – if sustainability considerations were actually considered while making the right choice on technologies.

He then paused, smiled and said while patting my back

“Don’t forget Dr Modak, today it is the L1 that counts!

I realized that there are hardly any choices to make!!

Image sourced from http://creativeeducator.tech4learning.com/2015/connections/give-students-choices

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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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The Noisy Indian

Sound is what we hear. Noise is a sound that we don’t want to hear. The difference between sound and noise depends upon the listener and the circumstances. Rock music can be a pleasurable sound to one person and an annoying “noise” to another.

We are all subjected to some form of loud noises for a considerable amount of time, during the day and night. We bear with the noise created by blowing of horns on the roads, noise created by the loudspeakers, tolerate noise during festive-times and during processions carried through the street. It seems like people consider noise as an expression of happiness, especially the Indians.

Noise pollution is one of the major environmental concerns in India today. Sadly, many are unaware of the hazards it can cause.

Noise pollution is linked to many ailments – from irreversible hearing loss to anxiety attacks to hypertension and heart disease. The situation is so bad in Indian cities that ENT specialists now say a 20 dB loss in hearing among urbanites is “normal”. Changes in the immune system and birth defects have been also attributed to noise exposure

To measure noise, the average pressure level of the sound is used over time by a weighting scale. The noise level is generally expressed in decibels.

Indian Ministry of Environment & Forests issued Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules in 2000. These rules were last amended in January 2010.  The rules prescribe noise standards in decibels based on area and time.  For residential areas, the standard is 55 dB (Leq) in the day time and 45 dB (Leq) at night.

Day time means time from 6.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m and night time means time from 10.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m. dB(A) Leq denotes the time weighted average of the level of sound in decibels on “scale A” which relates  to human hearing.

The Noise rules are meant for the following:

  • Implementation of noise standards in different zones or areas.
  • Restrict the use of loud-speakers.
  • Restrict the over-usage of horns, sound creating equipments for construction and fire-crackers.
  • Allott responsibility to State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) or Committees and the Central Pollution Control Board, for collecting, processing and providing the statistical data about the noise pollution, so that adequate measures may be taken to prevent and control.

On violation of these rules, the person is liable for penalty. The government is now working on devising new noise pollution standards.

In March 2011, the central government set up the National Ambient Noise Monitoring Network (NANMN) of 70 stations, through Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the SPCBs, to monitor noise on a 24×7 basis in India’s seven largest cities. These cities include Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Mumbai (and Navi Mumbai). It is expected that the number of locations to be monitored will be increased to 160 cities in two phases.

A four-year study (2011-2014) on Noise pollution based on NANMN showed that Mumbai is the noisiest city, just ahead of Lucknow and Hyderabad while Delhi stood fourth and Chennai fifth. The busy ITO junction in Delhi registers around 74 decibel (dB) of sound on a typical day, almost 10 db over the limit for the commercial areas. The level near Acworth Hospital in Mumbai’s Wadala is usually 70 dB, almost 20 dB more than what’s permitted in such a zone. Even the “silence zones” – (areas within 100 metres around hospitals, educational institutions and courts) -do not meet the noise standard.

Several studies have been conducted to learn about the noise levels during Diwali festival. As per the study conducted on noise levels due to Diwali firecrackers by Awaaz Foundation along with the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board  the noise pollution reached to over 125dB between 2008 and 2013.

CPCB released a report in 2016 “Status of Ambient Noise Level in India” that provides access to the noise data. It’s an excellent report to read and understand the problem of noise pollution in Indian cities.

I was speaking to my Professor Friend after reading this report. We met in a bar where the audio system was under renovation and hence we could have a conversation. We asked for some draught beer and took seats next to the bar.

“Well, I am just returning from Delhi after a meeting with the High Command” Professor said.

“Now that the State elections are over, we have decided to take the issue of noise pollution very seriously”. He lit his cigar.

“With effect from April 1, 2017, we will enforce that all sports events held in India will observe complete silence. You will now watch cricket matches where no one will be allowed to shout or even speak. People will only observe and watch the game as that is what they are supposed to do”

“Are you crazy?” I (almost) screamed. “Game like Cricket works only on  screaming and shouting – it’s the noise that creates the pressure and the push and hence the unpredictable”.

“Well, we will now focus on the health impact of the audience in the stadium as well as impact on the neighborhood” – Professor said this rather solemnly.

He continued.

“There will not be any announcements made at the Railway Stations as well as Airports on arrivals and departures. Everybody will look at the signboards that will provide latest information – right or wrong.”

“But wont people miss the flights and trains creating a chaos? Everybody is used to the announcements (although we know that most announcements are difficult to comprehend and create only noise!).  Besides what will happen to the jobs of the announcers. I am sure this will lead to a huge unemployment. Railway Minister Prabhu will know”

But, Professor did not seem to listen.

“The noise standards for fire crackers, loud speakers and horns in the car will be tightened. Manufactures will have to meet these new standards. The permissible noise levels will be mentioned on the packaging of these products and people will be told that these numbers are decibel levels and not the prices”

“But wont it affect the power of the political rallies and the fun (or sadistic pleasure) of annoying the neighborhood during festivals? We are used to honking loudly to vent out our frustrations when car is stuck in a traffic”. I protested.

“Regarding honking, we have asked Music Composer A Rahman to come up with a powerful audio clip on meditation that will be made available to download free. When played in the car, people will remain calm, will not honk and take traffic jam as their fate or way of new life.

“Oh, Rahman will sure do a good job”. I liked the idea of free meditation music in the car for calming down (and may be to fall asleep)

I thought of making a point

“Professor, you need to raise funds however to expand the NANMN and put more 24×7 monitoring stations, especially in States like Uttar Pradesh. Include large display boards as no one knows about them. Why don’t you increase the fines and the enforcement to generate required funds? In Delhi, the traffic police, challaned just 35 people for honking in 2015! They were fined Rs 1000 each. That’s no impact and no income”

“You made a good point” Professor said. “I will speak about this to Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. He is looking right now for new ideas”.

He continued

“There will not be any night time construction now in the 7 cities where noise monitoring has been done”

“I guess this does not happen anymore today – at least on paper” I said

“but if you insist on this imposition then the construction projects will get delayed that will lead to much more inconvenience to the citizens. A little bit of noise at the night time should be alright to meet the deadlines and get handsomely paid as a bonus”

Professor ignored what I said.

“We are revising the building standard too – We will insist installation of double or triple pane windows in the buildings falling in silence zones. These costs will be met by the Government from the election funds”

“Oh, that’s very kind of you Professor”. I said.

“But we are going even a step beyond”. Professor continued.

All major roads in the 7 cities will have noise barriers on both sides.

“That’s terrible Professor – these barriers will be sour spots of visual intrusion, blocking perhaps not noise but the flow of wind and affect the pedestrians” I was very concerned with this proposition.

Just as we were planning to have a last glass of beer for the road, we saw Nirajnan Hiranandani, a reputed builder of Mumbai, taking a stool next to us with few of his friends.

Niranjan said “Have you heard about a rumor that the Government is linking real estate price to the noise levels. The noise contours generated in cities will be used and data will be shared with public with information on the health impacts. “Reality data” in Europe and United States shows that real estate prices drop by 10 to 15% if the noise levels are high or exceed the standards. Apparently, some Professor is advising to the High Command in Delhi to set the framework. Crazy Professor he is. This is really worrisome to us. I am thinking of appointing a Noise Manager in the company or ensure that the noise monitoring instruments show lower results”

I thought linking real estate price with noise levels was a great idea – something more powerful than the mere enforcement of regulations.  I saw the Professor was smiling mischievously while extinguishing his cigar.

In Niranjan’s group there was “India CEO” of Sennheiser – one of the largest makers of headphones. The CEO said “if noise pollution is curbed, then I see impact on the sale of our flagship product –  the noise cancelling headphones. There will be only little to “cancel” if the noise stays in limits!”.

I thought he was right. But his fear looked much exaggerated.

And then there was someone in the group (who looked like a mix of Bhappi Lahiri and  R D Burman). He said.

“Well most people in India are accustomed to ambient noise over time. They cannot tolerate silence. They cannot sleep unless they hear the rumbling and rhythmic sound from the trains moving on the rail track at night. I plan to record this rail noise, make interesting audio clips and sell as a download on mobile phones. I am sure this clip will be downloaded and used by the millions living in Mumbai for a good night sleep “

I thought he was right too.

Indians indeed are happy and feel comfortable when there is noise.

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image courtesy rediff.com