Fighting for the Blue Sky

Last week I was in Beijing to speak at a two-day workshop on Air Quality Improvement in the Beijing-Tianjin and Hebei (BTH) region. The workshop was supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

After I returned, I called my Professor Friend and we decided to meet at our usual coffee place. I was excited to share my experience.

I narrated to Professor about the major air pollution reduction achieved in the BTH under PRCs Blue Sky War program. Since its launch in March 2017, the PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations in the region have been remarkably reduced.

In addition to the reduction in average PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations, there has been a significant decrease in the number of heavily polluted days, especially in the winter period.

“Oh, big deal, Dr Modak” said the Professor. “We are already on the job. Don’t you know that we have now formulated a National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) and more recently come up with a Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) for the National Capital Region (NCR). We have automated air quality monitoring networks operating in cities across the country that provide air quality data on 24×7 basis and this data is transmitted to the servers at Central and State Pollution Control Boards. Prediction models are also in place that forecast likely pollutant concentrations and issue warnings. Air Quality Indices (AQI) are regularly reported and broadcasted on TV channels. Everybody who watches NDTV understands what is AQI and the magnitude of air pollution”

“But Professor, we have lots of air quality related action plans e.g. in Maharashtra – but only to talk about. And we have been collecting huge air quality data but that is hardly analyzed and is lying currently in the coffins. On the other hand, the levels of air pollution have been rising all the time like the prices of the petrol and diesel” I protested.

I learnt in the Chinese workshop that there are 3 As of Air Quality Improvement – Ambition, Awareness and Action. I thought that all we have achieved is some improvement in awareness, but we are in poor shape when it comes to ambition and action.

I continued. “Do you know Professor that the President Xi of PRC said that “air quality is direct indicator of happiness” and “air pollution is one the top three national priorities”. I don’t remember whether our PM has made any such statement on India’s plight on air pollution. We lack the political will and push towards a committed and concerted action on reducing air pollution unless it becomes part of the election manifest and I hope it does”

In PRC, the NDRC (equivalent to India’s Niti Aayog) and Ministry of Finance are also involved  apart from Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE). In India, Ministry in charge is MoEFCC that is a weak ministry in terms of clout, budget, expertise and experience”

“But we have the Supreme Court of India that promptly takes action” Professor said this while tapping his cigar on the ash tray. I looked at this face. He looked serious, but I could not figure out whether he was serious or sarcastic.

Professor continued.

“Don’t compare situation in India and that in PRC. Much of the emission reduction in BTH region has been achieved by shutting down and relocating highly polluting and economically weak industries, closing obsolete industrial boilers and moving from coal-based heating & cooking to natural gas. In September and October 2017, over 130,000 polluting industries in the BTH were closed. This kind of bulldozing approach is possible only in the regime like in PRC. Just the political will would not work, and a supreme power of enforcement is necessary to bring in the desired change.

In India, do you think such a kind of enforcement is possible? Take the case of the challenge of relocation of polluting industries in Delhi. In 1996, the Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC) had, under the relocation scheme for industrial establishments, allotted plots to factory owners running their units from residential areas. And as far back as 2003, the Supreme Court, in its judgment in MC Mehta v Union of India, had directed that all industrial units that had come up in non-conforming areas on or after August 1, 1990 should be closed within a given timeframe. But, even in 2018, as the DSIIDC listing proves, these industrial units continue operations from residential areas.” I thought Professor made an interesting point.

But I did not give up.

I said “Do you know Professor that the problem of air pollution in the cities like BTH is a result of emissions not just from the cities, but due to emissions transported from the neighboring region. The source apportionment studies carried out indicate around 50% of regional contribution. This led to formulation of a regional action plan for BTH with a special department set up in MEE with a mandate, funds and authority. Inter-agency coordination, cooperation and harmonization were the principal pillars. One of the reasons behind the success of BTH region is such an “out of the box” approach”

Professor smiled. “ Dr Modak, We are fully aware of the need to take a regional perspective. In the NCR for example, we know that emissions are also contributed due to burning of stubble in the agricultural fields of the neighboring States of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Our Supreme Court has already given directions and the State Governments are monitoring and enforcing a ban on stubble burning and providing finance to the farmers to do in-situ management of agricultural residue.”.

I had my doubts on the effectiveness of such a so called “coordinated carrot and stick approach” –but I decided not to question the Professor.

“Talking about agriculture” I said, “Chinese scientists have estimated contribution to the PM2.5 due to release of ammonia from agricultural fields, piggeries and animal husbandries surrounding the cities. The air quality action plan for the BTH therefore includes measures to reduce consumption of fertilizers, make the animal husbandries “green” through environmentally sound operations; restructuring them through closure, agglomeration, modernization and exposing them to better waste segregation and utilization practices”

“I am aware of this work” said the Professor. “The relative contribution of this strategy to PM2.5 reduction is only 10% – so we are going to look at this perspective later and not on priority. As such our farmers are already agitated on the issue of MSP”

I thought of “elevating” our discussions to global issues like climate change. One of the important features of the air quality action plan for BTH region is the inclusion of actions on GHG mitigation. The idea of these integrated action plans was to simultaneously address the objectives of air pollution reduction while achieving climate protection goals.

Researchers in the BTH are already doing economic assessment of air quality improvement actions using a carbon price in the range of USD 3-5/ton (Simulations in the EU use carbon price of USD 20 and ADB uses 37 USD, figures much higher. In India we simply don’t factor GHG mitigation in the formulation of urban air quality action plans nor include carbon pricing)


The action plans in the BTH are in the form of packages of policies and policy driven actions. A policy package consists of several policies and strategies, carefully selected such that  they synergize and avoid conflicts between pollution reduction and GHGs. A cost benefit analyses of various policy packages is then done through simulation to identify  least cost solutions while aligning with the long term goals. Special plans are developed to deal with episodic conditions in the winter period. The bottom line is that all action plans or policy packages should make an economic sense.

In contrast, we follow a checklist approach. Many times we look at actions without supporting policies, institutional framework and financing. We look at actions in isolation and not in packages.

PRC is using air quality improvement as a driver or proxy to “ecological modernization” of its industries. Grants to the region are given based on air pollution reduction achieved and not on the severity of pollution. So, performance on the ground matters.

As regards coal, technologies that reduce coal consumption are innovated, piloted and promoted through “green financing” for higher penetration. Green financing platforms such as BTH Air Quality Improvement Fund are created to lend industries for needed investments. Projects are assessed based on quantification of economic, environmental and social benefits.

ADB provided a loan of 458 million Euro and this line of credit was used to leverage 3.6 billion Euros domestically through commercial financing. This led to mitigation of  8.5 million tons of CO2 apart from benefit of air quality improvement. To accelerate the investments, market mechanisms such as Green Power Trading System were set up apart from emission reduction related regulatory directives.

Most interesting is the establishment of a leap frogging fund (with assistance of ADB), to promote “high end technologies” and innovations. Focus has been the high air polluting industrial sectors like steel, cement, chemicals by doing pilots, followed by commercialization.

The idea is to achieve “deep industry transformation” and apply the directives under the law on circular economy to improve the energy mix through clean fuels and promotion of renewable energy. This transformation gives a competitive advantage to the industries while curbing air emissions. In Delhi NCR for instance, we could build further on the work done on “zig-zag technology for brick making, and topping with technical assistance and financing.

During the workshop, a detailed presentation was made on the application of Tapio Decoupling Model. The results  indicated that there were economic benefits in terms of rise in the GDP over long run after an initial phase of 3 to 4 years of economic disadvantage. This result was comforting to justify investments to curb air emissions.


I could clearly see a much wider perception of air quality improvement infrastructure and investments in PRC. In India, we lack such an approach where innovation, modernization and financing are linked to conventional regulatory control. Our approach is limited or narrow, reactive, rather negative and not opportunistic.

No wonder that the Chinese proverb says that every crisis is an opportunity! In India all we are doing is recommend people to stay indoors, install indoor air purifiers and wear masks when outside. We install dust sucking systems at the traffic junctions to make a noise and show proof of “action”!

As we were about to leave the coffee house, we heard bursting of fire crackers outside. I looked at the Professor quizzically. “Well, Dr Modak, initially the idea was to completely ban the fire crackers; but given the sentiments of the people, our Supreme Court has lifted the ban asking the cops to be more vigilant and examine the results of air pollution monitoring post Diwali.” He said

I told Professor that fire crackers are banned in China and now even during the festive seasons. Idea is to curb emissions of PM2.5 and stop release of toxic and hazardous chemicals.

Fighting for the Blue Sky is the national priority.

“Oh, then what happens to the economic loss of the fire cracker manufacturers in China?” Professor exclaimed.

“I guess the Chinese fire crackers will now get increasingly exported to India” I said this sheepishly while settling the bill.

In response, Professor did not  speak and instead pointed his finger to the grey sky above.


Do view the video clip below on Beijing’s air quality.

You may like to read UNEP’s most recent report on Air Pollution in the Asia and Pacific – Science based Solutions 


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Rise of the Demons from Beneath

 

We often discuss in the environmental circles the problem of indiscriminate pollution, our dwindling resources and global impacts like climate change.

We have framed regulations and standards to control various sources of pollution with monitoring and enforcement bestowed to agencies like the Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). Despite all these efforts, non-compliance is still an issue; judiciary has now stepped in and staff from PCBs and ULBs spends more time in the courts. I don’t know to what extent we feel safe to live in the environment.

We often miss the issue of soil pollution and land contamination. While we do track the status of our ground water, only recently we have started building our understanding on the extent and severity of groundwater contamination. The findings have been alarming, and many studies have linked the contaminated ground water to the occurrence of cancers.

In December 2015, a report was submitted to the Ministry of Environment & Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC) captioned Inventory and Mapping of Probably Contaminated Sites in India. This report identified 320 contaminated sites.

Researchers from IIT Delhi published status on more than 60 dump sites contaminated by disposal of municipal solid waste, outlined remediation efforts needed and articulated challenges such as financial support  and lack of standards and guidelines for remediation.

Government of India started a program CBIMP (Capacity Building for Industrial Pollution Management) focusing on contaminated sites management. The program attempted remediation of few contaminated sites as pilot and produced a report on Options and standards for remediation of polluted sites Key output Report Task 3 Development of Methodologies for National Programme for Rehabilitation of Polluted Sites in India

Unfortunately, the CBIMP did not produce results that were expected especially to facilitate the formulation of national standards for remediation of contaminated soils. The funds for remediation that were allocated got swapped to address concerns by State Governments on GST!  Clearly the Government did not have remediation of contaminated lands as a priority. Today, our soil, agriculture and food continue to remain at utmost risks. Uptake of pollutants (especially heavy metals) in the crops that are cultivated on these lands or on lands nearby results into contaminated food.

But the problem of contamination is not just due to industrial wastes and municipal dump sites. It is also due to high consumption of questionable and spurious insecticides and fertilizers in the agriculture. Use of contaminated water for irrigation is yet another contributor.

Pesticides have been linked to a range of health problems, including cancer, developmental problems and lower IQ in children. Organophosphates pesticides – which are potent neurotoxins – can damage children’s intelligence, brain development and nervous systems even in low doses.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit advocacy agency in the United States releases their list of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables – and apples have been ranked as the most contaminated – fifth year in a row. The Dirty Dozen list includes the top 12 fruits and veggies with the highest amount of pesticide residues. It was found that pesticides persisted on fruits and vegetables even when they were washed or peeled.

The FAO report titled ‘Soil Pollution: A Hidden Reality’ was released in 2018 at a two-day global symposium in Rome. This report, which is a synthesis of existing scientific research, identifies six soil-related human health risks and three of them are linked to soil pollution. These are soil contaminated with dangerous elements (for example, arsenic, lead and cadmium), organic chemicals like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) or pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics or endocrine disruptors.

At present 67 pesticides that have been banned in the US, the EU and other nations are still in use in India. Consequently, the concentration of toxic metals in grains and vegetables grown in contaminated soils have increased at alarming rates. This poses a serious threat to humans and the environment because of its toxicity, non-biodegradability and bioaccumulation.

Refer to a comprehensive work reported in Heavy metal polluted Soils in India: status and countermeasures S. Rajindiran, M.L. Dotaniya, M. Vassanda Coumar, N.R. Panwar and  J.K. Saha Division of Environmental Soil Science ICAR-Indian Institute of Soil Science Bhopal 462 038, India

Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) published thresholds for  Crop contaminants in 2011.  Field investigations have shown that there are several instances where these thresholds are violated posing a great risk to the consumers.

But then these “demons lying beneath” do not stop there. There are economic impacts too. India’s exports of grains, fruits and vegetables are now  under international scanner and rejections of wheat and rice consignment due to contamination reasons are increasingly seen.  Examples are cases of pesticides such as carbosulfan, chlorpyriphos, endosulfan, and quinalphos. If the farmers use these pesticides, their produce in fresh or processed form will have traces of such chemicals and will face rejection in countries such as the US, the EU and Japan.

Just to illustrate, the European Commission has recently brought down in basmati rice the maximum residue limit (MRL) level for Tricyclazole, a fungicide used by farmers against a disease, to 0.01 mg per kg from the next year. This was done for all countries. India exports two major aromatic basmati rice varieties — PB1 and 1401 – to the EU. The shipments of these varieties with Tricyclazole MRL at 0.03 mg per kg were accepted so far from India but now a new threshold of  0.01 mg per kg  will have to be met. This can certainly hit the export market with Pakistan getting an advantage as it does not use Tricyclazole.

Decades of intense agricultural production have left China’s soil seriously polluted and its water depleted. Overuse of fertilizers, together with dumping of industrial waste, is a major factor behind soil contamination. About 3.33 million hectares of China’s farmland is too polluted to grow crops. The contaminated area is roughly the size of Belgium. Given this alarming situation on contaminated lands and food, China is set to become more dependent on imported grains, oilseeds and meat, according to a recent report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the OECD. This is a huge economic impact unless corrective efforts are orchestrated on priority.

Clearly, the circles of understanding pollution are widening. The environmental risks  (a term that we seldom discuss) –  we are facing today and will continue to face – are beyond our fragmented and limited environmental governance.

We need to connect the dots between pollution, water, agriculture and food for a better understanding and towards developing a strategic approach.  Of course we still need to worry about BOD, COD, PM10 and the like, but we must think beyond – to understand the pathways of pesticide residues and heavy metals.

Remember – what goes to the soil and percolates down, gives only an illusion that the problem is out of sight.

The problem however hides only for a while, metamorphoses and rises from beneath like demons in disguise.

This is rather worrisome.

Are we prepared enough?

 


Cover image sourced from https://crypticrock.com/what-lies-beneath-creeping-to-the-surface-15-years-later/


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Reconnecting with CPCB

 

My first visit to office of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in India was in 1980, nearly 40 years ago. The office was on the Shahjahan Road in a kind of barrack. I was then a student doing master’s at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay. I went to see Chairman Dr Niloy Chaudhuri. Dr Chaudhuri was earlier a Professor of Civil Engineering at Jadavpur University in Kolkata. I wondered how he gave me an appointment to meet. Perhaps because I was a student of Professor Purushottam Khanna.

I spoke to Dr Choudhury about need for setting “probabilistic effluent standards” in India. I had read a very thought provoking article by Paul Mac Berthouex  titled “Some Historical Statistics Related to Future Standards” that was published in the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1974 .

I built on the basis my argument stating that compliance to effluent standards cannot be on 24×7 basis and the CPCB should be more pragmatic and practical while developing the “future standards”. I argued that a probabilistic standard will demand more collection of data and in the formative years of legislation and enforcement, building such data will matter.

We spent two hours on this subject and Dr Choudhury didn’t refute what I was saying. He listened to me very patiently as he usually did. As he got up to leave office wearing his coat, he said “Mr. Modak, your ideas are good but a bit too early. You have to give me some more time to think”.

In 1983, we met at Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok. Dr Chaudhuri was there for a meeting organized by the World Health Organization. He was accompanied by several senior officials from the Government, e.g. Dr Dilip Biswas (who later became Chairman of CPCB), Dr K R Ranganathan (who was later appointed as the Member Secretary of CPCB), Dr Subramaniam (who became Advisor at the MoEFCC).

“Mr. Modak, Good to see you again. I know you always want to say something different and exciting. Can you give a talk to all of us after the dinner? Find a nice room where we all can fit in” Dr Choudhury said this in a warm tone and with a smile.

I was 27-year-old kid then and so was extremely happy to get this audience. I spoke on the subject of river water quality management. At that time, Ganga Action Plan was under discussion at the CPCB and so my “discourse” on this subject to this august body generated a lot of discussion. To my every theoretical or analytical bit, Dr Chaudhuri volleyed questions, few questions raising practicalities and few related to the “science” itself and some related to policies. I remember we started discussions at 8 pm and spent 2 hours  – mindful that we must close by 10 to ensure that we get the last round of coffee at the restaurant at the AIT Center.

Within a month, I received a letter from Dr Niloy Chaudhuri. The letter was typed on a butter paper using an electric typewriter (which I later Iearnt was only available for the Chairman). Amongst many nice things (like thanking me for the “discourse”) the letter said “Mr. Modak, on your return to India you are at liberty to associate in any manner you wish as appropriate with the Central Pollution Control Board of India”.  I have still preserved this letter from Dr Chaudhuri.

In May 1984, CPCB appointed me as a Retainer Consultant. I was to spend 4 days every month over 4 years. There were no Terms of Reference. Dr Chaudhari and Dr G D Agarwal, Member Secretary (a legend in the field of Environmental Pollution Control in India) told me that CPCB will decide what to do with me as I land New Delhi. A fund of 1 lakh was transferred in advance to Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay to meet costs of my air travel. Dr Chaudhari said that he did not want me to waste time in filling the forms claiming the expenditures. “Please visit all the offices of CPCB except the office of accounts” he said smilingly.  He was such a gallant personality.

With this arrangement, I worked on practically all the functions of the CPCB. I was a part of the team that was appointed by MoEF on the Ganga Action Plan that was steered by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Mr. T N Seshan was the Secretary. MoEF and K C Sivaramakrishnan was the Project Director of the Ganga Project Directorate (GPD). My retainership was expanded by these two stalwarts to GPD as well, on a special project of Water Quality Modelling.

At CPCB, I started working on establishing a Management Information System (MIS) for the data and created systems for storing, retrieving and analyzing water, air and industrial pollution data. I remember I was present at the Nehru Place office of CPCB when the first computer (It was an IBM PC/AT) was installed. This PC/AT was “inaugurated” by P R Gharekhan, then Member Secretary. For the MIS I worked with Usha Ghosh and Mita Bhattacharya extensively over 3 years and by 1990 we could establish MIS at several State Pollution Control Boards and impart training.

During my travel to Delhi, I used to stay at the Guest House of CPCB at Alaknanda Apartments near Chittaranjan Park. Staying at the Guest house was a great fun as I used to meet several senior staff of CPCB and SPCBs, experts visiting CPCB for meetings etc. This helped me to make new friends, build a huge network and understand the work going on in environmental management across India. Most of the staff of CPCB used to stay at the Alaknanda and hence there used to be dinner invitations and “gupshups” with the families. These dinners will never be forgotten; especially with Ghosh, Chakraborty and Baruah families.

In the early 2000, CPCB shifted to East Arjun Nagar that was quite distant from the city. My retainership moved to the World Bank as Short-Term Consultant. I started visiting CPCB more as a Consultant to the World Bank and worked on several major projects. These included Industrial Pollution Control, Industrial Pollution Prevention, Environmental Management Capacity Building, Capacity Building in Industrial Pollution Management, National Hydrology Project and Water Quality Monitoring. Apart from CPCB, I had to visit several SPCBs, formulate projects with them, guide as well as do an oversight on behalf of the World Bank. My visits to CPCB office thus reduced. I guess the only person I remained in touch, and feel greatly honored to have worked with, is Mr. Paritosh Tyagi, Ex Chairman of CPCB. I just saw him two weeks ago at his residence.

Last month, Dr Prashant Gargava took over as the Member Secretary of CPCB and I paid a visit to CPCB to congratulate him. I took his appointment. The security guard asked me to go to the reception. The lady at the reception asked for my details for preparing a gate pass. “Do you have appointment with MS?” she asked. When I nodded, she said “He is generally very busy and many times he has to be at the Court all of a sudden. So, let me check if he will still be free to see you”. I thought she was kind and considerate, especially to a stranger like me.

When I was with Dr Gargava I realized that I hardly knew anyone at the CPCB. The world seemed so different. Chairman CPCB was busy with other pressing matters and rightly so as I was there just to have a cup of tea for old times sake. I did not have any “business” to look for.

I left CPCB as if I had been to an Income Tax office.

Dr Ajit Vidyarthi of CPCB called me last week and asked if I could become a Retainer Consultant to CPCB. I knew Ajit in my past interactions with CPCB. We met at the Claridges hotel and Ajit told me that CPCB would like to take my advice on water quality data, water quality modelling and pollution management for Ganga.

Ajit’s request and subsequent conversations took me back in time some forty years.

I recalled my sessions with giants like Dr Niloy Chaudhari and Dr G D Agarwal, as a young kid and for a while my eyes were moist with memories.

Indeed, those were the magical days with CPCB  in its golden era –

Moments you just cannot ever forget!

 


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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/

Global Leadership Program on Circular Economy in South Australia  

India faces many environmental problems today. Our limited resources are under threat due to intensive depletion and serious degradation. Further, we realize that risks to our resource security are compounded due to looming threats of climate change. Policies and strategies to respond to these challenges need mainstreaming of sustainability across all developmental sectors.

Circular Economy offers a platform for all stakeholders to get involved for sustainable and inclusive development. In addition to addressing environmental sustainability, Circular Economy improves the businesses competitiveness, generates employment, increases green investment flows, builds on partnerships and helps in establishing a transparent and inclusive governance.

While there is no debate on the benefits of Circular Economy, one of the major challenges faced not just in India, but globally, is lack of leadership who can accelerate transition or transformation to circularity.  In addition to the leadership, we need to build knowledge networking platforms on circular economy across government, business, investors, academia and communities and offer experiential learning.

With this objective in mind Green Industries South Australia (GISA) , Ekonnect Knowledge Foundation and Circular Economy Alliance Australia (CEAA)  signed a 5 year MoU in December, 2017.

GISA took a lead and with support of Ekonnect and CEAA organized the first pilot course on Global Leadership Program on the Circular Economy between June 17 to 23 in Adelaide in Australia.  The program was developed in partnership with the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD). Besides me, Hemant Chaudhari of CEAA, Rudra Mohanty of UNCRD and Prof Brajesh Dubey of IIT Kharagpur contributed as resource persons.

South Australia has a global reputation for leadership across a wide range of circular economy issues. These include container deposit legislation, the plastic bag ban, high-performing kerbside systems, investment in resource recovery infrastructure, wastewater and stormwater recycling and reuse, renewable energy (in specific solar), innovation districts with incubators.

The program attracted leaders from the government, industry and not‑for‑profit sectors in India, Japan and Australia. Program participants had a hands-on experience to see Australian circular practices through visits to different industries and operations relating to water, waste, energy and materials management. A unique point of difference was that the program was developed for practitioners. At each facility, short presentations were made leading to discussions and better understanding. Several handouts were shared during the visit.

The companies that participants visited included Peats Soils and Garden Supplies; ResourceCo; Jefferies Group; Advanced Plastic Recycling; Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority and South Australia (SA) Water.There was also a presentation from Salisbury city on the massive program they have on harvesting and reusing stormwater.

Highlights of some of these companies are described below.


Peats Soils and Garden Mulches 

Peats Soils and Garden Supplies produces and sells as much as 150,000 tonnes of compost, soil and mulch products in South Australia each year. Peats has developed its own proprietary process to manufacture compost products which improve crop yield and quality for viticulture, broad-acre and horticulture. BiobiN®is an on-site, capture and containment system used for organic material processing (starting the composting process) in an odour-free, easily accessible vessel. Peats has begun producing biodiesel from grease trap waste – the mixture of cooking oil and wash down waters that cafes, restaurants and takeaway outlets funnel into underground waste tanks.

Biobins at Peats

ResourceCo 

ResourceCo is South Australia’s largest specialist processor of construction and demolition, and commercial and industrial waste. It recovers and processes over two million tonnes of mixed construction and demolition waste materials per annum, producing recycled concrete/aggregates/ asphalt products for use in construction and road base, and grinds combustible materials for use as an alternative fuel to fossil fuels.

Advanced Plastic Recycling

Advanced Plastic Recycling manufactures wood plastic composite (WPC) products which are used in many parts of Australia and internationally. Its products can be found in parks, gardens and schools, by the side of the nation’s roads and throughout the transport, mining and agricultural industries. One of the major recent innovations has been creation of composites of plastic and saw dust to make railway sleepers. A great way to gobble up the plastic waste!

Railway sleepers made out of plastic waste and saw dust 

Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority 

The Northern Adelaide Waste Management Authority (NAWMA) is run by the Playford and Salisbury Councils in metropolitan Adelaide and the nearby Town of Gawler, NAWMA co-ordinates a comprehensive waste collection service that focuses on encouraging and supporting households to separate recyclable and green materials from other waste. In addition, its Waste Recovery Centre includes a drive-through Waste Transfer Station for people to deliver other waste products, a recycling service for bottles and cans and a retail outlet. As result, more than half of the waste collected in its core region is diverted from landfill.

SA Water 

The Virginia Pipeline Scheme is a successful wastewater reuse project in South Australia. The scheme involves an innovative public private partnership approach to providing sustainable recycled water infrastructure for the Virginia area, North of Adelaide.  It provides recycled water from the Bolivar Wastewater Treatment Plant for horticultural irrigation to approximately 400 customers in Virginia and surrounding area,

Aeration Tanks at SA Water 


The program gave ample opportunities to discuss experience of policies in practice such as South Australia’s Container Deposit Legislation. The participants attended an actual session of teachers coaching the students on waste segregation and recycling. They got exposed to the iconic non-government organization Keep Australia Beautiful (KESAB).

Finally, the high point was visit to the Tonsley Innovation District. This innovation district is one the first in Australia. It was fascinating to meet with eco-entrepreneurs who set up and scaled up their businesses with mentoring support from Innovyz

Tonsely was developed by rehabilitating old infrastructure

The pilot global leadership program gave us a valuable insight to further refine the program design. Feedback received from participants was extremely positive.

We will be launching a 3 weeks e-learning program on Circular Economy before end of the year. The modules will include glimpse of the companies in the form of video clips.

The next leadership program may take place between November-December over 4.5 days duration in Adelaide. We may do a two days precursor program in India to cover essentials on circular economy as a primer to the participants. The participation will be on a competitive basis following an application and selection procedure. We are exploring part sponsorship to deserving candidates.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Adelaide as a speaker and as a coach. For subjects like Circular Economy, a blend of theory and experiential learning is certainly the way. The program should not only confine to “learning” but on “how to lead and transform the organization” and make “connections” leading to partnerships, innovations and investments.

I congratulate GISA for developing such an innovative apparatus and running a truly inspirational Global Leadership program. My sincere appreciation for partnering with Ekonnect.

I am sure you will be interested to know more. Do write to me at prasad.modak@ekonnect.net copying Marcia  Kreinhold of GISA at  Marcia.Kreinhold@sa.gov.auand. We will be happy to respond.


The program wasn’t drab or only technical. Here are few photographs during the lighter moments


Dinner at an Indian restaurant

Lunching at Sarah’s Sisters Sustainability Cafe

Presentation at Jacobs Creek that followed by wine testing

The Non Resident Indian

[This post is by no means a criticism on the NRI community. Like you see in life, you meet all kinds of people and one cannot just generalize.

There are NRIs who are positively engaged with situation in India and do a considerable work to help the country while living outside. Kudos to them. But then such individuals are not really many and most NRIs behave in a way that I have narrated in this “story”.

So here it goes… ]


The NRI was in anguish when I met him at an International Conference on Waste Management. We met in the coffee break.

“Are you from India?” he asked me – taking a good look.

“Yes, I am” I answered. I was aware that sometimes its hard to distinguish between an Indian, a Sri Lankan and a Pakistani.

“Why are you attending this conference my friend?” The NRI quipped. “There is simply no use attending. It is a sheer waste of time and resources”

I was stunned with his remarks as he was a participant himself.

He continued.

“Indians have to first learn how to segregate the household waste. Segregation is something so basic. Unfortunately, despite all promotions and levying of penalties, people in India don’t segregate.  They throw away the waste without understanding the impact on health and environment.

While they keep their houses clean, they shamelessly litter around. I would like to see a responsible behavior first – and until this is done nobody should be given an opportunity to attend waste related international conferences.

I want to see the action, a real change and less of talk. In the country I live, we follow the three-bin segregation system meticulously – and this system is followed by everybody in the city. We are basically responsible citizens and not like Indians. I feel really bad for India”

NRI’s voice was raised with anger. He seemed rather weary.

“Are you a speaker here by any chance?” He asked.

I didn’t know what to say. So, I kept shut.

The NRI bent down and looked at my delegate batch.

“So indeed, you are one – and that too a plenary speaker!” he had a smirk in his voice.

“I am sure you will speak about some good stories or successes on waste management in India to impress the participants. But look, I don’t want to offend you, most of these stories you will tell won’t be true – at the most half-truths. The reality on the ground would be quite different.

I have seen this myself. People post pictures of beach clean-up activities – before and after. And when I follow up a week later, the beach is once again with all the filth and plastic.  So, the hype lasts just about a week and somehow makes a breaking news! Someone like you portrays this beach cleaning as a great citizen initiative and talk about it in international conferences. Shit.

Whom are we fooling?

In the country I live, this does not happen. All the citizen initiatives are well supported and recognized by the Government and the Private sector to ensure sustainability.

Indians are never serious enough or consistent about what they do. And that’s the problem”

The NRI sounded quite cynical about India.

“Do you work for the Government?” He asked

I said “No”

“Oh, thank God you are not. The real problem in India is its awful Governance. We have all the policies and regulations in place and these are seemingly well written – but when it comes to enforcement, there is so much corruption!

I was told that if you want to be an authorized waste recycler then you have to cough up a bribe of 100,000 Rs. That’s simply disgusting!

For a waste management contract, contractors operate a “ring fence” and bid with an “understanding”. There is no room for a company that has merit if it is not a part of the “ring”. In the country I live, there is so much transparency that such lobbying will never happen. Only meritorious companies get selected and so the waste management solutions are delivered as promised”

The NRI then said in a hushed tone

“Do you know that out of 24 Waste to Energy (W2E) plants in India, only one or two plants work! Many W2E companies in the country I live, are interested to do business in India – but I discourage them. I don’t want them to cut a sorry face”

I realized that my NRI friend was rather bitter about the situation in India.

I asked him when did he last visit India.

“Oh, I visit every year to see my old parents. Each time I go, I see the situation worsening. I would blame the politicians and the bureaucrats for this mess.

Waste management is just not on Government’s agenda. The landfills are like dump sites, slums have poor sanitation infrastructure and the sewerage system is inadequate with open nallahs (drains) crisscrossing over the city”. The NRI said this while picking up a coffee.

I thought of defending. I said

“You must be aware of the massive “Swatch Bharat Abhiyaan” (Clean India Mission) launched by our PM Modi.  This national mission is the largest in the world.

India hosted this year’s World Environment Day on banning of the plastic. Plastic is now banned in 18 of the Indian States. More than 11,000 kms of Indian roads are built with plastic waste.

This April, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs hosted 8th 3R Forum of the United Nations at Indore. Indore city won cleanest city award consecutively over last two years. You should visit Indore next time when you will be India”

The NRI did not show much interest. He seemed rather indifferent. So, I continued

“Under the ‘forum of cities that segregate,’ started by Center for Science and Environment, 26 cities from 14 States have come together to ensure that they adopt 100 per cent source segregation and become the pioneers of waste management in the country. I am sure that in the course of next 2 years we will achieve nearly 90% segregation in these cities”

“Well, to me all these are again stories –  Reporting on the progress of Swatch Bharat Abhiyan is more of marketing and a political gimmick. And conferences like 3Rs don’t help. All they produce are wastes (e.g. food wastage in the lavish lunch breaks) and GHG emissions (during international travel). Such events do not lead to any concrete actions although they do make impressive declarations” The NRI sounded very critical.

I still didn’t want to give up.

“Waste management and economics in India are quite different from many of the developed countries. You cannot apply the same yardstick” I protested.

“Waste-pickers play an important role in the Indian circular economy. This informal sector provides livelihood to millions of people. 3Rs like Repair, Refurbish, Remanufacture are practiced and there is so much innovation out there.”

But the NRI wasn’t impressed. He pointed about that health and safety of the informal waste pickers has been a serious issue with unsafe reuse and recycling of biomedical and electronic wastes. Children work on the mountains of garbage. There are no regulations on the standards for the recycled goods so many of the upcycled goods can pose risk to the consumer. Who checks?

“India’s response to the challenges in waste management has been rather knee-jerk, reactive and not addressing the root cause”. He summed up.

“Oh, in that case why don’t you return to India and help our country” I ventured to ask this simple question

The NRI kept shut and put the coffee mug on the table.

He then said “Let us get inside the auditorium now. Else people will think that Indians have no sense of time”. He was perhaps right.

I ensured that I got a seat far away from the NRI and decided to skip the next coffee break.


Cover image sourced from

http://www.panjabilok.net/mudda/2017/08/11/nris-and-india/


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Ban the Bans: Instead, Innovate

Professor was in anguish when we met at his office. He was taking a flight to New Delhi for a day long meeting with the PMO. The subject of the meeting was “introduction of various bans”. The PMO wanted to know what should be banned for the interest of environment and at the same time give a green millage to the PM in the forthcoming elections.   Professor was asked to come with innovative ideas.  And as usual, there wasn’t much time to think.

“Professor, we just banned all kinds of plastic in the State of Maharashtra. Plastic is now banned in 18 States of India. Why don’t you announce now a National Ban on Plastic on June 5 – the World Environment Day (WED). That announcement will look bold and impressive, sporting a spirit of coalition between the political parties. It will be as powerful as the demonetization where we banned the 500 Rs currency notes. By the way, you may know that Plastic pollution is the theme of this year’s WED.” I suggested.

“Good point Dr Modak, time has now come to announce a nation-wide ban on plastic”. Professor said – “But I am looking for new ideas.  These ideas must be practical as well as robust – not like banning of the beef for instance or banning of alcohol sale in shops within 500 meters of the highways”

“OK, let me think” I said

“Remember, Dr Modak” Professor continued “Bans do provide some immediate benefits to their proponents over a short term. Although bans communicate the “right intentions”, they divide the general public into those who support and those who oppose the ban. This can lead to a political issue in addition to the fragmentation that both ruling party and opposition parties are trying to achieve on the basis of caste and religion. It can spoil the so-called number game”

Professor was right. In the short term, some of the bans do show positive results. In the initial months of prohibition in the US for instance, there was a 30% drop in alcohol consumption and decline in arrests for drunkenness. But later, the liquor trade moved underground. The underworld took over the “business” and got more and more organized. The liquor consumption levels went back to original score and new problems like spurious liquor, gang wars and sale of other narcotic substances emerged. So, on the long term, the liquor ban led to a worse situation.

I was surprised that Professor cited an example of US and not of the State of Gujarat.

Most bans generate psychological reactance. According to psychologist Jack Brehm, humans hate to lose any freedom. When people believe that their freedom has been threatened, they enter into a reactance motivational state and revolt against throttling of their freedom. In fact, the individuals get an increased motivation to indulge in the very behavior that is restricted. (Read article by  Biju Dominic).  A movie that is banned by the Board of Sensors is perhaps most watched. So, does banning really help?


Impact Assessment on the Ban on Importation of Used Computers

During the reading of the 2009/2010 financial budget, Government of Uganda imposed a ban on importation of used computers with a view of combating the accumulation of electronic waste in the country. Whilst this was for good intention, there was a general outcry that this ban stifled economic activities. As a result, traders and other stakeholders vehemently resisted the ban and petitioned against it. There was need to review the ban on used computers because it lacked clear specifications of old, used, new, assembled, and refurbished computers. For example, a computer used for only two weeks was considered as used computer hence banned. Based on their petitions and other considerations Cabinet on 2nd November 2011 directed the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development in consultation with the Ministry of ICT to review the importation of used computers. Need  to spread the use of computers through provision of affordable computers was recognized. The study assessed the impact of the ban on importation of used computers in Uganda and used the outcomes and recommendations of the assignment to form a basis for reviewing and lifting of the ban.

A Study on the Socio-Economic Impact of Mining Ban on the Households in Goa’s Mining Belt

Mining is one of the economic activities practiced in the small state of Goa apart from agriculture, tourism and fishing. Mining industry brought lucrative incomes, but it also comes with a lot of environmental hazards. The protests and agitation that took place against rampant mining operations owing to the Chinese boom in the last decade compelled the Supreme Court to order ban in September 2012. A study was carried out to assess the impact of this ban on the socio-economic characteristics of the households in the mining belt of Goa. The study revealed a change in the occupational structure and suggested the need to educate people about the nature of mining industry and thus a need to invest into alternate income avenues instead of entirely relying on the mining industry


Considering the alarming fall of groundwater levels in India, I told Professor to consider banning of pumps in the water stressed areas.

“Well, Dr Modak, this is a good suggestion but implementation of the “pump ban” is extremely difficult. The farmers In India are already agitated due to so many other issues. So, let the groundwater deplete for another 2 years till we are done with the forthcoming election– and in any case this is a problem that is mostly underground and not easily seen”

“Oh, you are quite right Professor, So it you are looking for some visibility. Then why don’t we ban vehicles in certain areas of our mega cities where air pollution is a serious issue?”

Germany’s highest administrative court recently ruled that vehicles can be banned from some city streets as part of efforts to improve air quality in urban areas, a decision that could have far-reaching consequences for the country’s automakers and the diesel technology developers.

“This is a good suggestion Dr Modak, Professor said “But deciding no-vehicle zones in a city is not going to be easy, How would you handle the parking issue as people will have to park vehicles near to the no-vehicle zone and then walk?”

I thought Professor was right. But I did not give up

“How about banning sale of diesel -powered vehicles altogether? In California such a ban will be effective from 2040 giving enough time to phase out. You could impose such a ban in Delhi’s NCR to start with say by 2020 as a promise during election”

Professor said that all the diesel vehicles in the NCR will then ply in UP, Haryana and Rajasthan transferring the emissions due to combustion of diesel.

“Dr Modak, what do you think of banning harmful products and substances – like cigarettes, asbestos and pesticides? These bans will help protecting the health of the people and environment of our country”

Did you know that in Canada, there is a Ban Asbestos Canada (BAC) group, a coalition of labor, public health, environmental and human rights consisting academic and scientific experts, concerned citizens, victims and their families? In December 2016, the federal government of Canada announced a comprehensive ban on asbestos and asbestos containing products by 2018”

Well Professor, you know how difficult it is to impose such bans in India. Firstly, you will lose a huge amount of tax revenue especially on cigarettes and pesticides. Further, reasons why we are banning such substances are so hard to communicate as the nexus between health, safety and environment is generally not understood by the Indian common citizens. I am aware that we don’t give any reason when we ban anything, neither people ask about the “science” behind banning but still ….”

Professor lit his cigar and looked outside the window. He could sense my discomfort.

I remembered the term Policy Impact Assessment (PIA). PIAs are performed in few countries when there is a proposition for changes in the policy frameworks especially if bans are to be introduced.


Banning E-Waste from Victorian Landfills (Case of Policy Impact Assessment)

E-waste is growing up to three times faster than general municipal waste in Australia and covers a range of items we use and discard from our daily working and home lives, including televisions, computers, mobile phones, kitchen appliances and white goods. These items contain both hazardous materials, which can harm the environment and human health, and valuable materials which are scarce and worth recovering.

Today, the Victorian Government in Australia is seeking views from the community and industry on the proposed approach to managing  ‘e-waste’ in Victoria. A package of proposed measures has been developed to reduce e-waste from landfill, increase resource recovery and support jobs and investment in the recycling sector.

It is important for all Victorians to have a say on the details of the proposed changes and the Government proposes to use this feedback to refine the arrangements for the ban on e-waste from landfill. The timeline for the policy package is from 4 October 2017 to 25 June 2018, followed by implementation till June 2019

To guide this process, the Victorian Government prepared a 200+ pages exhaustive document on Policy Impact Assessment.


“Oh, this is too time consuming a process” – Professor said. “We are here in a hurry. Don’t tell me that you want us to do Policy Impact Assessment of banning plastic? Let me think in the flight”. Professor left for New Delhi.

While getting back home, I was thinking.

Instead of the bans, should we not consider new solutions or better alternatives? We need to bring on board innovators who can make a difference. Let’s stop fooling ourselves about the efficacy of bans and actually roll up our sleeves and do some hard work.

And involve people and all the key stakeholders – Follow a process.

So, ban the bans and instead innovate.

 


Cover image sourced from

http://www.theunrealtimes.com/2015/03/10/indian-govt-to-ban-the-word-ban-after-continued-outrage-over-countrys-recent-bans/


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