“Global Carbon Footprint”

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

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

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

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

He then lit his cigar.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Meisterklasse

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

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

Pension Christina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Louisiana Blues Pub in Vienna

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

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

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

A look alike of Berk

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

A look alike of Nora

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

The Meisterklasse with a Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was real tense.

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

I was so delighted that I did thumps up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hotel Alma Boutique 

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

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

I plan to visit the Louisiana Blues Pub once again.

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Ahuja, me and the CSR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wow you seem to know everything Professor” I said

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

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

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

Mr. Ahuja entered the conference room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I felt like a mouse sitting in front of lion Ahuja

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had learnt my lesson.

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Something Fishy About 500


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

“What are you researching on Professor?” I asked

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

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

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

So I thought of a better explanation. I said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor continued

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, its Drinking Regulatory Zone” Professor winked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor continued

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

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

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

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

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

I drove back home wishing him all the best.

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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

Drinking to get Drunk

Drinking alcohol is no more a taboo. It probably never was. Many drink occasionally (that is what they say!) and some drink on a regular basis –every day. These regular drinkers take a peg or two of a large whisky at home after the dinner. Some prefer a glass of red wine as doctors say its good for the heart. The key is to drink moderately and not to get drunk. Some social drinkers drink only at the parties. These party drinkers stick to a drink or two to avoid making a scene.  Very rarely you see people overly drinking – and those who do so are generally captains and chief engineers sailing on the ships. These gentlemen are pretty used to swaying.

I admire those who drink solely to get drunk. These are the brave hearts. To these “drunkards”, any moderate drinking is not exciting as you don’t get “high” enough if you just had a peg or two. They feel that one should get drunk, then let yourself go with no chains to your mind and the body. “When you are truly drunk, man –  you are simply free” said a friend of mine. Another friend of mine who works for a multinational bank said that unless you get drunk you don’t get the “value for money” – he was perhaps right.

When I studied at IIT Bombay, we believed in the value for money. We used to go to a shady bar outside the Y-Point called Ratna and have couple of glasses of Mosambi and Naringi (cheap drinks that contained more than 60% spirit) and return to the hostels late night almost “floating”.

During the night of Mahashivaratri, we used to have “Bhang” that used to knock us down. I remember that I got so “high” after a glass of Bhang that I thought I had two large spans of wings on my body – replacing hands. I wanted to jump outside the window to fly over the Powai lake under the moonlight. My friends who were not that much drunk (fortunately) made all the efforts to hold me back jumping out of the window.

The rationale of getting drunk reached another dimension when listening to music from some of the maestros. We used to invite Pundit Bhimsen Joshi during Mood Indigo at IIT. There were occasions when he used to come in a “trance” and we, in order to appreciate his performance, used to overly drink and get “high enough” to reach his “level”.

But indeed, many artists do get drunk when they create or perform unusual art. I remember I went to a friend living in one of the old mansions on the Marine Drive in Mumbai. (Only people who are lucky or have done good deeds in their past lives get to live in these wonderful houses facing the sea). This friend was one of the famous guitarist – playing jazz. He did not make much money as to him money did not matter.

When I reached my friends house just after the sunset, his servant told me that “saab” is in the balcony playing guitar and has instructed not to disturb. I went close to the balcony and saw him sitting on a chair, holding his large box guitar and strumming. He would occasionally hum like an iceane on a rum cake. There was a large glass of whisky next to him on a teapoy. He would pause sometimes to take a shot from the glass. He was doing a fantastic piece of jazz – something very unconventional. It resembled a bit like numbers from Liona Boyd – an amazing Canadian Guitar Artist. I asked the servant “kitne glass liye (how many pegs has he had?)”. The servant showed 5 fingers (meant five glasses). I did not disturb him. I only wished I could record – as he wouldn’t even know what amazing pieces he was playing.

Apparently, people tend to talk too much when they get drunk. When you sit at the bar, you do meet such people. These people tell you something that would otherwise be not shared with anybody. These are their secrets. When these people get drunk, you discover an entirely new personality. Sometimes they abuse you, tell how they felt hurt because you did not treat well in the past and in some occasions they tell about someone they had a crush and alas – things did not work out. It could be a can of worms sometimes that gets opened. You are supposed to forget or pardon when these folks speak in a drunken condition.

I was working in Bangkok on a mission with the Asian Development Bank. We had a pretty mean and nasty American project manager, Nick, who used to kind of “harass” the Team. He was very difficult to work along but we both used to be pretty good friends. Julia, one of our Team members was from Australia. Julia was always uncomfortable with Nick and used to tell me how much she hates him. Nick also did not seem to like her. They not only had differences when it came to technical matters but also had strong differences on opinions and philosophy of life. Nick used to play saxophone at a German pub in one of the by lanes (soi) of Sukumvit. He was really good on the sax.

We used to go to the pub after the work and Julia used to tag along – but rather reluctantly. “I see him enough for the day – so not again” She used to say. We used to joke – what if Nick and Julia were married! Such different personalities!! I used to tell Julia that Nick was actually a nice person and somehow he did not know how to work with intelligent and beautiful women. I even told her that Nick actually likes her company. But Julia never seemed to be convinced with all my “stories” and defence.

We used to sit on the bar and have couple of drinks while Nick used to play the Sax. All of us were moderate drinkers. Julia was very careful as she feared she would speak rubbish if drunk.

One of the Friday evenings, however, we noticed that Julia was a bit high. The bar man was handing over the fourth “shot” of “long island” and she was all in the mood to get “drunk”. Long island is lethal drink that contains 1 part tequila, 1 part gin, 1 part whiskey, 1 part white rum, 1 part vodka, 1 oz sugar syrup, Coca-Cola and orange juice. It has all the “devils” in just one place.

On gulping the fourth shot of long island, Julia started speaking in a bit of slur. She asked me to move towards a table leaving the bar. “I want to talk to you Prasad”

I saw a different Julia when we sat on a side table. She started speaking in all emotions. She asked “Are you sure about what you told me about Nick? Does he really like me?”. She asked. She was looking towards Nick who was mending notes on the Sax. He was doing real good.

I told Julia that I truly believed so. Julia then spoke about how she admires Nick sometimes, but has somehow a bias of not liking him in the first instance. She realized that it has been a kind of “ego trip” – who will make the first move.  She went on to explain that it was not fair on her part to blame him all the time. She wouldn’t mind patching up if I spoke to Nick and explain. I could clearly see all this happening because she was overly drunk. It was her inner mind that was speaking out loud. Her eyes were moist and the voice was quivering. “Well Julia, I will certainly be the mediator if this will help and talk to Nick tomorrow. Let me help you however to get a taxi and I suggest you go home. You are overly drunk”.

I dropped Julia to the Taxi. She could hardly walk. “Forget what I said Prasad – I must be blabbering  something crazy” She whispered in my ears.

When I returned to the bar, I told the Bar tender to get me the last drink. I told my colleague about how drunk Julia was and how when you get drunk, your inner mind expresses what you really feel” I asked “can you ever imagine that Julia would ever get so soft on Nick?. I saw her venting out today. The Long Island worked. Must let Nick know sometime”

The bar tender while passing me the last drink said “ Strange woman, she took 5 shots of Long Island asking me only to mix sugar syrup, Coca-Cola and orange juice with no alcohol and paid the full price”.

I was astonished with the trick Julia played. You don’t need to get actually drunk to be free.

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Environmental Brokers


Public consultation is an important step in the environmental appraisal of projects. Many countries have instituted consultation as a part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) in India has provided guidelines for the conduct of the public hearing and for reporting the outcomes.

Public hearing is a complex process. It often has political overtones that are difficult to comprehend and manage. Public hearing is also influenced by corporate rivalries. Many believe that public hearing is the most crucial milestone of the EIA process. It can be a nightmare. Facing the technical committee in New Delhi for environmental clearance is comparatively less volatile and not so complex an ordeal.

Despite these challenges, public hearing is a step that is desirable. It provides an opportunity to the public to understand the project from both the perspectives i.e. development and environment. It’s a dialogue if conducted well can benefit everybody i.e. the project developer, environment, the affected public and of course the regulator. Unfortunately, the project developers often hide or provide incorrect information and environmental activists misinterpret and escalate the issues without much scientific basis to mislead the public. The public hearing then boils down to a negotiation between the project developers and the environmental activists to settle the matter.

My Professor Friend asked me to attend a public hearing on a Sunday. “Come dressed like a common man” he said.

“What is dressing like a common man?”, I asked the Professor

“Oh easy, look at the common man of the great cartoonist R K Laxman. You are already half bald like him and you were the coat just like he wears. You may wear some lose khaki trousers instead of the dhoti. But remember to make an ignorant and innocent face – that’s what the common man is about”

I agreed.

We reached the meeting place. It was a community hall that was not well maintained with paint peeling off from the wall. It had photos of stalwarts from both opposition and ruling parties hanging on the walls. Leaders of Congress were on the left and leaders from BJP on the right. A photo of Mahatma Gandhi was at the Center as if not sure where to be.

There was a long wooden table and chairs of different sizes stacked around. There were plastic chairs for people like us. The room was full. We took place in the last row. There was a wise looking man with a grey beard sitting next to me. He seemed to have experience of attending public hearing. He was wearing a pyjama and kurta – both not ironed.

One side of the long table was occupied by the environmental activists. I could recognize them because they had not shaved and were wearing spectacles of critical kind. Many were carrying cotton sling bags that did not seem to be washed on a regular basis. Few were smoking cigarettes and some were chewing paan (beetle leaves). Most had constipated and sad faces but a shine in the eyes that they were there to protect the world. The leader was wearing a bundee like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a green band on the head. He looked impatient.

The other side of the Table was occupied by the project developers I guess. These people were wearing safari suits and were carrying some project documents. They had faces of most humble kind and were listening attentively to the environmental activists

And there were officials as well. I could recognize amongst these the collector as he had the best chair to sit with a towel placed at the back of the chair. Man from the Pollution Control Board (PCB) could be recognized as he was already walloping the cashew nuts placed in the plate.

We were perhaps late, as the project was already presented by the Developers. “Did we miss anything critical?” I asked the wise man sitting next to me. “Oh, nothing much” he said “It’s a thermal power plant based on coal. The usual stuff. Clean coal, Tall stacks, closed loop cooling water system, well protected ash pond, green belt etc.” He said this in a rather weary tone.

“So, then what’s the issue?” I could not hesitate asking.

I must be loud as the Professor asked me to focus on the conversations at the long table instead of “whispering” to the wise man.

One of the environmental activist was asking a question “Sir, are you aware that the emissions resulting from the stacks, coal yard and the ash ponds are going to severely impact the air quality in the surrounding villages. People will not able to breathe. Their lives will be shortened as they will keep falling sick – have you ever thought about the plight of children and old people?”

The lead project developer cleared his throat and attempted to defend “Sirs, we are within the emission limits of those stated by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and in fact lower. The coal yard has a wall with 15-meter height all around and in addition there are water curtains. The ash pond will hardly have any air emissions as the particles are large and in a slurry form”

The activist said “I don’t buy your story. All this will remain on the paper and you will be flouting the norms, especially in the night”.   The representative from the PCB nodded taking a bite of hot samosas. He was looking for the ketchup.

An activist who looked like someone from academia (probably not promoted for a long time) said “Apart from the threat of air emissions, I am really concerned about the thermal discharge that will lead to heating of the seawater. This is going to severely affect the biodiversity and the livelihoods of the fishermen”

There was silence.

A man with a laptop in the developer’s team responded (he must be a consultant). “Professor, we are using a closed-loop cooling that draws less water than open-cooling systems”

Professor activist was very angry with this response. He said in a raised voice “Mind you, I am talking about temperature and not quantity of water. If you really mean to minimize water consumption, then you should have considered dry cooling. These systems use little or no water; instead, they use air to cool steam.

“But Sir dry-cooling technology is much more expensive to build and is less efficient”. The Consultant tried to defend

“Oh, are you teaching me?” The Professor activist was now really upset as his voice started quivering and body trembling. “And by the way, your closed loop system will be using chemicals. The receiving sea water is surely going to be affected with these non-biodegradable compounds– the shrimp farming activities on the shore will simply be devastated”

The head of the activists who was wearing a green band on his head then spoke slowly, firmly and in all seriousness “Have you set aside a special compensation fund? This fund will have to operate for at least five years to ensure that alternate livelihoods are created for the fishermen”

I thought that the leader wasn’t much concerned about the dying shrimps.

The wise man sitting on my left whispered “See, this how the negotiation starts; listen carefully now. To me, all these activists are nothing but environmental brokers”

I was amused to hear this term – environmental broker.

And indeed, the wise man was right. Several issues were brought up subsequently that majorly included employment to the local people and demands were made that few contracts that must be awarded to the local businesses. The discussions that started with the environmental issues later turned towards the social and economic “opportunities”. Promises were being made and a frail looking man was jotting them down. The collector was on the mobile phone sending WhatsApp messages.

I decided to step out for a while to get some fresh air and visit the loo. I saw an old man waiting outside who probably couldn’t find a seat in the packed community hall.

“Sir, is the meeting over?” He asked me.

“Not yet” I said

“Well, I wanted to ask the company whether my grandson will get a job”

“What is his qualifications and experience? I am sure the company will find something – do get in and tell your expectation to the man wearing green band”

The old man decided to follow my advice

Before he was about to enter the community hall, I stopped him.

“Sir, are you aware that this power plant is going to worsen the air quality in the region over a period. People working and living here will face respiratory illness. One of the activists is questioning the company about this issue”

The old man said “Well, I don’t know how much of this will be true. May be this is an exaggeration”

And with some afterthought he said “A little bit respiratory discomfort against a job guaranteed for life is a better option, I guess”

I thought that the old man was wiser than the man sitting on my left

I re-joined the meeting to see how environmental brokers operate.


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