Response to ToI story on GMLR

Hi Clara,

Writing with respect to your 17th May story on GMLR. “Green Clearance is no longer needed for SGNP tunnel: BMC

I would like to highlight that the current alignment with tunnels was my proposal and not the original plan by MCGM in 2014 when work first started under SVR Srinivas. Left to the MCGM proposal and alignment of 2014 GMLR would have been ready by now passing through the current Aarey Road. If the tunnel is coming up it is only because some of us disrupted the original alignment and I pushed strongly for the tunnel.

It would be a generally accepted principle that in any newspaper story all important facts pertaining to a matter should be covered and due credit should be provided to those who have played an integral role.

I would like to highlight the following facts for your information and consideration.

1) In July 2014 Aarey Road was handed over for upkeep and jurisdiction from PWD to MCGM. The condition of the road was pathetic and it was one of the major civic issues. The road was till then tolled and yet the road was in a bad condition.

Please have a look at the story below, which clearly highlights the issue and also MCGM plans for GMLR through this road.

https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/civic/BMC-to-take-over-Aarey-Colony-road-and-make-it-toll-free/articleshow/40144071.cms?prtpage=1

GMLR as per this alignment in 2014 would be along Aarey Road till Powai and then move northwards along Bhandup pumping station road axis to come to Mulund. In the process 2000 trees were to be cut. There was no alarm from anybody in the city then except Manish Gadia and myself.

 

2) I highlighted the inefficiency of such an alignment in my blog posts and media comments then. My first blog post on the same was on 28th August, 2014

https://rishiaggarwaal.wordpress.com/2014/08/28/gmlr/

Two days after the blog post I sent the first email to Mr. Srinivas on the matter seeking a meeting with him.

Through engaging Srinivas then I single handedly brought a stop to MCGM plans to start the work on widening of Aarey road for GMLR purposes. Manish Gadia was actively involved in the pressure but the initiative to bear down heavily on Srinivas was mostly mine.

We invited a few others, notably Sunjoy Monga and Anand Pendharkar to join in the efforts but there was no participation from either of them right till the end when we tasted success. Not even a congratulatory message.

Copies of the originating email and one later one from Manish Gadia for your perusal

30th August 2014

Recipients list of email on 30th Aug, 2014

Alarm email by Manish Gadia on 6th November 2014

 

3) In November of 2014, the local ward office had clear orders to start cutting trees post Diwali to make way for GMLR preparations. We were continuously in touch with the Assistant Commissioner at P(South) Office and the staff. During the clean-up drive kept at Aarey on 2nd November 2014 I even confronted Ravindra Waikar strongly at the Aarey Garden when he shouted back at me.

On November 11, 2014 we finally got a meeting with Srinivas on the matter. He rejected the tunnel idea (too costly according to him) then suggesting that he will consider an elevated option where neither the road will be widened nor trees cut. I was not sure how this would be possible but we agreed to such a plan as a means to buy time and avert the imminent cutting of trees which was beginning soon.

The tunnel was my most favoured option even then. Though I came for a lot of criticism in the nature community.

Letter submitted on 11th November, 2014 as part of the final meeting

4) The tunnel proposal as described in your article was written by me to MCGM citing all the advantages now ascribed to MCGM. Ranjeet Jadhav of Mid-Day even covered the matter prominently in a full page feature. Please have a look at image below of the article. My views have been covered in great detail. It came to my mind then that Mr. Padikkal and others had also suggested a tunnel option a few years ago, with one arm from the Kandivali end.

Mid-Day article from 27th November, 2014

5) Save Aarey movement was not such a big global name then but it became big because of all these big interventions of 2014 and 2015. Many who are now the face of the movement played no role in many of these developments. The early successes led to the subsequent demise of the movement because there was a rush by all and sundry to be the face of the movement.

In 2014 there was hardly any participation from people forget noisy rhetoric like now. Had there been no opposition from a few of us GMLR would have easily gone ahead on Aarey Road with 2000 trees being cut. With abundant knowledge of the alignment coming up there was no opposition from the large number of members who make up Aarey walkers Club (mostly businessmen who don’t want to mess with the establishment in anyways and would have been at ease with seeing the trees being cut). Nor from Bittu Sahgal or Anish Andheria or Anand Pendharkar or Vanashakti/Stalin (who were still to open their Aarey account)

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I love (not like) Aramco

I hardly read papers now. Whatever little news I follow is through what Google throws on its phone feeds. And then once in a while when I do read papers it is with shock and awe. And then sometimes it can lead to a lot of my time being taken away from urgent tasks to write notes like these. A waste. Nothing changes in this characterless country. The only take away? Never read the papers in the morning. At least not when you have a long to do list.

Two news pieces combined wonderfully in the past 2-3 days. I could see some headlines on the new Aramco investment of $44 billion investment in an Indian (or is it a Republic of Konkan) refinery. I think this was the first article I read.

$44 Billion?! Now where did they get that kind of money from? Somehow the money must have gone in to now come out? Here my vices and addictions have made me a pauper who can only sustain his dream projects on small donations from friends and there they have $44 billions! Now I should also learn to make that kind of money.

The interesting part was about how oil at $ 50 a barrel and oil at $ 80 a barrel makes a difference for Saudi Arabia and helps them support financing for some internal agendas. Every business and cause needs funds to sustain itself. And Indians sustain the Saudi business and cause(s) very well. They wholeheartedly subscribe. They love Aramco.

And then I saw this news item while going for this novelty called a newspaper at breakfast today. I had come from travels after a while and sitting for breakfast at home thought of also glancing through the papers. Saw this particular headline on page two, almost choked, went through a spin of thoughts and folded the paper to keep it aside to have my breakfast peacefully. Enough anguish, enough material to write this note. No need to even read the article.

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The headline was just regurgitating a similar headline from May 2015. Maybe there had been some new development (no) but the ground situation has been exactly the same, maybe even worse. I had even been invited to write a damn article on the development then in the Mumbai Mirror. Thinking that it will make a difference. It even started on the cover page not a sidey page 2 bottom.

I could speak at length about the joke that the Bombay HC is and bring in a dozen other pronouncements by it as case studies but why waste more time?

Walking for me is just not an activity, it is poetry, it is medicine, it is sustainability as a cause, it can be a topic for fiscal implications and most certainly a topic for how the transport planning of our cities should be carried out.

In 2012 I made an attempt to give shape to Walking Project as an advocacy movement, which will accelerate the development of pedestrian friendly roads in Indian cities. I had just come out of a showdown at my job at World Resources Institute where I got into a bad fight with the people who had taken control of a walkability improvement project I had developed with a lot of passion and fondness and were ruining it. The organisation itself is an elegant waste of money. Elegant is the word to note, not waste. As long as elegance is there waste is fine.

Since May 2015 (when I wrote the article on walkability as a fundamental right) and now when I read the article today, Indians have put billions of dollars into the pockets of Saudis and for Walking Project I have raised just about Rs. 100,000 from 5-6 odd individuals. And so the Saudi’s now are in a position to apportion a part of the money they have collected from Indians themselves and make an investment in a refinery of theirs. And here I sit fretting and fuming and wasting more time after reading a news article.

Much patriotic Indians (Mumbaikaars) have shown no support for a home grown initiative, which could at least endeavour to stop the flow of some of those dollars. I still sit on plans of a model road in each of the 24 wards, Andheri Kurla Road, E Moses Road, Senapati bapat Road and so on. Not to mention that in my mind I have plans all mapped out for important roads and junctions in 10 other cities I have visited since 2012.

There is a facebook group with 700 odd people. No activity takes place on the group now because I have decided not to engage people who cannot show character to contribute even 100 rupees a year. And they on their own do not have what it takes to show initiative and dare.

Two years back a think-highly-of-itself (which doesn’t) Rotary Club invited me to speak, two members got impressed with Walking Project and promised Rs. 25,000 each and that’s about it. No news after that. Another member suggested he could help with big sponsorship support but only for a co-founder tag. Ok sure. Self before Service.

The more character and intellectually challenged folks ofcourse do keep asking how any support for an advocacy movement will bring any immediate difference to their own experience of walking. It is like a quid pro quo. I pay the Saudi’s an xyz amount for every litre of fuel and that allows me to with much pomp and show drive around my luxury sedan. If I give you 10,000 rupees what is it that you have to show for the road outside my office? Nothing? Well you get nothing then. Please do not waste my time. I LIKE the activity you are doing. You can have my LIKE, the money is for the Saudi’s.  

While Indians have been luxuriously funding the Saudi business and cause(s), they – or the few I manage to reach through social media and personal interactions – are truly lousy at supporting any of my businesses and causes. Only a handful show the character and temerity to rise above.

My business does not prey on human weaknesses, it requires a certain character on part of the consumer. And that is where lies its shortfall. Weakness is aplenty in the people of India today, character too little. #sanskari

Yes a lot of this use of fossil fuels and outflow of money is needed to sustain the living paradigm we have adopted but a great deal of it is also waste. While we might question the paradigm and there may be differences of opinion on philosophical grounds there is no disagreement that the paradigm can be made a whole lot more energy efficient.  And it can be made energy efficient by only supporting those who will work on that agenda. Not by chanting Hanuman Chalisa.

Walking and cycling friendly cities, ecological waste management, would be so much more energy efficient and prevent millions of litres of diesel being used in the first place but some of us are left to doing pilots and giving quotes to newspapers while the big boys sign billion dollar contracts.

It is easier for a fossil fuel powered model of the world to be sustained because it can be funded. Dry up the funding and the Arabs would be like me and others in the ilk. Issuing requests for donations to sustain their enterprise and ideas.

Some side thoughts towards the end. The Arabs have learnt a lot from the Americans over the decades. After being fooled and used wholesale by the Americans they now have learnt to use the same tricks successfully to become (more) powerful. Everybody learns from the wonderful Americans. I am a product of American thought and action, though of the kind which does not find popular flavour. And so the Arabs have now started deploying the learning on gullible doormat nations like India who can be fooled and used any amount.

From money taken from the Indians they will not be able to create jobs for the same Indians and create a new loyal bureaucracy of people who have always loved to come out of the woodwork and serve up any new colonial master as long as they can get status and some money for lifestyle.

Buddhiheen tanu jaani ke pawan kumar….

Treat your sewage!

I spent December visiting various wastewater treatment facilities and researching on the processes and technology running each facility. Many of these technologies I had already been aware with or interacted but this time it was spending time in detail.

Each facility was marked with the simplicity of process and its eco-friendliness. Each process was treating dirty foul smelling sewage, which you could not stand from a few metres away and generating clear water which you hold in a bottle and bring close to your nose for smelling. With one more treatment level the water could be made potable.

A number of processes in application currently are energy guzzling and use polluting inorganic processes. None of this was the case with these processes.

At a time when all our rivers and wetlands are fouled with sewage and there is a looming water crisis it should be imperative upon every body to adopt such technologies in their circle of influence. And clearly the processes are available to ensure that not a single litre of sewage has to be discharged untreated. Sewage should be preferably treated at the source of generation and not be transported to centralised sewage treatment plants.

Swacch Bharat will be achieved when we have the intelligence to scale up the processes below and support knowledgeable people like showcased in this post.

  1. Constructed Wetland at Aligarh Muslim University

The first facility I visited was a constructed wetland in Aligarh Muslim University, created as part of a Department of Science – EU collaborative project Safeguarding Water Resources in India with Green and Sustainable Technologies (SWINGS). I was visiting Aligarh to meet my childhood friend Hamid who stays there and his wife is a professor at the University. He knew my interest and was kind enough to organise the visit.

The facility was treating one million litres of sewage per day. The sewage was drawn from the sewage treatment plant of the Aligarh Muslim University, which has a strength of about 20,000 students and various departments and generates six million litres of sewage per day. Pictures below show the facility and the processes.

1. What goes in is the black sewage on the right and what comes out is clear water like on the left. The black water is what goes down your toilet, comes from the washing machine, washing utensils, bathroom etc. When it goes untreated or partially treated into the rivers then that is the colour it imparts to the river as well.

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2. Raw sewage of one million litres is drawn daily from a common collection point where six million litres is collected. Sewage drawn from the collection point and stored into the circular tank in the foreground.

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3. Through a process called UASB (read here) the first round of cleaning the sewage happens and the water is treated upto fifty percent.

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4. In the second stage the treated water flows into the Syphon tank where using a mechanical process the water is pushed with force into the constructed wetland bed at a lower height than the Syphon tank.

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5. The constructed wetland has considerable amount of thought gone into its planning and design to ensure that the semi-treated water is optimally distributed through the wetland bed where plants specifically selected for their ability to remedy the water are planted. This is the primary bed and is raised about a metre above the ground.

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6. From the primary bed the water flows down into a secondary bed, where a different set of plants leads to secondary treatment.

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7. This is the quality of the water at this point.

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8. The treated effluent is discharged into the drains and part of it is used for irrigation purposes in the surrounding fields.

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9.This is the treated effluent, which is released into the drains.

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10. With one more level of treatment using either UV or AO process the water can be made drinkable. The scientists from the EU who were part of the project used to drink this water during the time they spent here. That’s clear drinkable water in the beaker!

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11. With my friend Hamid Qadeer on the left and Prof. Nadeem Khalil on the right.

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2. Soil Biotech Technology for a housing society in Virar

The second facility I visited was as part of a workshop and training program organised by Centre for Sustainable Environment and Development Initiatives (CSEDI). The three day workshop dealt with the rural context and a field visit was part of the training.

80,000 litres in a residential complex was being treated by Vision Earthcare a startup incubated in the IIT-SINE and having a technology partnership to use the patented soil bio technology developed by Prof. H S Shankar.

We were shown the treatment beds where the soil bio technology media was added for  the process of remedying the sewage. The treated water is then reused for the purpose of flushing. The beds themselves were beautifully landscaped and the first impression clearly is that this is the society garden and not a sewage treatment plant. In this case the plants themselves play no role in the process and are purely for ornamental purposes.

Since there is water shortage in Virar, tanker water supply is a regular expenditure and the society was able to save on the same. The excess water was discharged into the storm water drain.

  1. Dr. S. Chandrashekar in the grey suit explaining to the group the process of sewage treatment. Mr. Pramod Dabrase, Founder Director of CSEDI in the light blue jacket. We are standing over the tank which is the collection tank for the sewage.

Virar1

2. On left is the sewage collection tank and right is the network of pipes which carries out the sewage and spreads it in the bed, which has the soil biotech medium which remedies the water.

3. After the remedial action of the soil biotech bed what emerges is clear transparent water

Virar5

4. On the right hand side is the soil biotech bed below the landscaping which remedies the waste water.

 

3. Biosanitizer in a commercial building in Nariman Point

The third visit as part of the same training mentioned in point 2 was to a commercial building in Nariman Point which was treating 90,000 litres of its sewage within the compound using Biosanitizer technology.

Biosanitizer is a product emerging from the same research at IIT Bombay into soil biotechnology. It is developed by Prof. Bhawalkar and available in the form of crystals which are added to the sewage and create the remedying process which cleans up the water.

The building had adopted the Biosanitizer based method three years back by replacing its existing process, which was based on conventional processes requiring frequent addition of inorganic chemicals and use of electricity for aeration purposes. And was yet giving treated effluent which was showing odour and colour while used for flushing in the offices.

After adopting the Biosanitizer based method the building was happy with the results. Their recurring expenditure on consumables had become zero and the electricity consumption reduced significantly.

This process seems space saving and in the Mumbai context that is a key criteria.

Workshop participants in conversation with the Managing Committee member of building. The wastewater is collected in a tank behind and dosed with the Biosanitizer.

 

4. Seventh Standard Students at Kendriya Vidyalaya, INS Hamla!

This visit was not in December but a month before and it was most impressive to see seventh and eight standard students go about using phytoremediation to treat sewage from the neighbouring drains as part of their science project! Their enthusiastic science teacher Krishna Ma’am and Principal were as much a delight to meet.

It was the sharpest most energetic and enthusiastic bunch I had met in a long time and it was a pleasure to meet them. Just goes to show just how much talent is available to solve all our problems.

 

Finally this is the information I received from Raashid one of the workshop participants. Only numbers which fail to impress anymore. Need to know what is the outcome after so much expenditure.

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[ This work has happened under the aegis of Mumbai Sustainability Network (MSC) a registered non-profit, committed to the mainstreaming of sustainability pathways. Along with the support and collaboration with Centre for Sustainable Environment and Development Initiatives (CSEDI). If you feel this information is useful for society please consider supporting the work of MSC]

 

I enter 2017 broke

I enter 2017 almost financially broke and I feel no embarrassment or awkwardness in discussing the issue. Financially broke and with a stubborn and debilitating health condition. While I figure my options I thought I should record the situation.Everybody who passes this path should leave their thoughts. And as I finish writing this note I can see Shahrukh Khan speak ONLY to me – here

I feel it should be as much a topic of interest among those who either take interest in my work and follow my work and comments on public issues or claim to care for the environment. And it is not a personal topic limited to me. What I narrate here gives an insight into something more important that society should be paying attention to but is as blind as a bat to, to use a popular metaphor. If anything bats should be a metaphor for being adept at navigation.

And it is not a surprise when we see quality of life only deteriorate in our cities and environmental challenges seeming unsurmountable. When the vision or ability to navigate of the society is so poor then constantly hitting obstacles is a given.

A family emergency left me eroding any saving I had and then I stepped out of formal employment sometime during the year. I have had patchy income from either lectures or being a resource person for projects. Helped me pay the regular utility bills.

In between I have had meetings with the usual sprinkling of youngsters who are pursuing environmental or developmental courses and hoping and eager to develop a satisfying lifelong career in impacting environmental issues. The very first question they have of me is that is there any income in the same. I do not have a rosy picture to paint for them, not just from my own state but knowing well the situation many others find themselves from serving community issues. The curse of the commons.

My situation of course is such not just because of my being in this domain but primarily because of the spectacular collusion by the universe in ensuring enormous legacy issues from my family situation, which has persisted as such since we folded up a business. Happens when you challenge status quo.

This post also follows from a recent article of mine in Mumbai Mirror, where I essentially question the state of the environmental movement in the city, which according to me really is in tatters. And it is in tatters because as a society we have no clue about supporting this ‘industry’. Yes engagement in civic and environmental issues of your city is an industry like any other which provides value to the city, like the finance industry, like the fast moving consumer goods industry, like the entertainment industry, like the education industry, like the media and communications industry, like sports, like politics! The nature of value is different from these industries.

Like in any industry we should be discussing the size of the market, the growth in the industry, its prospects and its employability, ability to attract and nurture talent. These are aspects completely missing in discussions about environmental issues. It is as if these are alien and taboo topics.

It is because some human needs have an industry status that the goods and services keep flowing, from entertainment to fashion goods, gadgets and cars. The flow of environmental goods and services is so poor because it is not seen as an industry, it is a mental affliction which affects some unfortunate souls.

If one were to draw up a list of people working full time on the urban and environmental issues of Mumbai in advocacy or as a green business and draw up their incomes and arrive at a turnover of the industry it would be a figure too small and embarrassing to even discuss. A lot of people would come in as subsidizing through a mainstream source of income or a working spouse. Whoever wastes their time in challenging the city administrators on solid waste management policy and transport investments, the way the budget is handled, having more open spaces and walkable streets.

Environment and sustainability could be an industry which see annual recruitment drives and youngsters eagerly looking forward to join a slew of organizations working on exciting public policy and governance challenges, working with technology, green businesses and law and much more. Sanitation, air quality, waste management, green buildings, transport policy, biodiversity conservation street design, land use planning, the list of topics is fascinating and endless. Incredibly soul satisfying careers can be created around any of these subjects, which should pay well and would rapidly draw the world out of a cliff fall it seems headed towards most times. But no such is not the case here. Why? Because there is no money to be made here. No resources here. At least in the Mumbai, which I have known since the mid-90s till now. That this should happen (and why) in the wealthiest city in the country is another long commentary.

Instead you have some foolhardy youngsters taking a risky plunge every year. Invariably it is a tough launch received with shock from family and friends. Invariably there is deep despair after a few months and a course correction.

In any other industry the followers lustfully lap up the financial prospects of the industry and the juicy bits about how much the star performers ‘take away’. From salaries of CEOs to how much Salman and Sachin gross, the financial prospects of the industry are as much of a gratifying part as the core business. Their houses, cars, where they take vacations, favorite restaurants, their health regimen. Health and well being of the participants is of key interest to everybody not least the handlers.

In the environment domain it seems a given that all that you have to discuss is depressing news and go from firefighting one crisis to another. How people participate in this industry is no concern to anybody. Whoever discusses that. The crises happen in the first place because there is not discussions on the state of this industry.

It is a silent acceptance in society (the mothers that is) that this is anyways not a domain to come to as a career. They have their valid concerns. Its all fine to (occasionally) lament in the usual cliches during coffee table discussions but who ever comes to these fields as a life long involvement. You have to be stupid and you need to suffer the consequences of your stupidity. Careers are made in the mainstream.

In 2007-09, Jairaj Phatak, the then Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai drew the ire of civic activists when he refused to give any importance to the subject of open spaces in the city citing that in a survey conducted by him citizens placed concern for open spaces 13th or so in their list of importance. Understandably so. When you push fifty percent people to stay in slums begging and desperate for basics then where is the room for them to demand anything more. Always a good strategy by the ruling elite to stay in power and continue unchallenged with their nonsense.

When you think dispassionately then what the Commissioner said does hold true. He is clearly far better in touch with the ‘market’ than fuzzy idealistic me and others. Forget those who stay in slums, in the urban middle class or elite would the same sentiments be generated when shown a full page advertisement of an iconic smart phone (or any other) as compared to when they read about the efforts of an NGO working on saving and enhancing open spaces in the city?

On seeing the advertisement the majority check their credit card statements and make calculations on whether it can take the direct brunt of a single swipe or EMI option will be needed or some portion of savings and some portion of card will do. For the more endowed there are no such plebeian concerns. At a max three year replacement these people will over a lifetime reward the iconic smart phone with a few lakh rupees. The NGO will go multiple existential shocks during its existence and maybe fold up while the smart phone makers piles of cash become the envy of the world. The NGO has a poor base of people who take interest in its work and it is a non-paying base.

The more interesting are those who will read about civic issues and express concern but will never show the same commitment as the person showing towards the smart phone.

Careers in the environmental or developmental arena have refused to evolve over the time I have spent my time with them since the late 90s till now. At the most in the past decade or so we have corporate NGOs and Think Thanks but those have poor ability to challenge the establishment and cannot be a proxy for advocacy groups built by grassroots community campaigners looking at seriously impacting issues. If raising a family is your prime concern then the Corporate Think Tanks are a great place to go to. Serve some industrialists never satisfied gloated ego all your life and work with compliant CEOs with little or no skin in the game.

When you look around invariably all organizations and individuals arising from grass root campaigning and fiercely independent are in complete doldrums, going from one financial crisis to another. They rely on a type of community support, which has not seen the light in so long and appears nowhere close.

I now have a feeling of abhorrence at working with the kind of organizations I have worked with till now, which was anyways more to have a source of income. I never relied on them to provide me with relevant and satisfying environmental issues to work on. I was frequently found saying then that of all of my work, that which added the most value to the city has happened outside my formal paying jobs in the past 15 years. Had there been independent and crowd funded financial support for doing mainstream what I was doing on the sidelines I would have contributed a 100 times more to environmental issues in Mumbai. And before the tumble of family affairs the plan was to proudly self-finance.

And as a result of this abhorrence I now find myself stuck without income prospects. I would much rather sell that iconic cell phone than peddle my talent cheaply.

When the youngsters ask me about income prospects it is a most valid question I feel. I cannot give them an enthusing answer. Somebody who is a corporate lawyer or a marketing or finance professional in mainstream businesses does not have to go through such a situation. There such conversations are more about the enormous scope for personal enrichment, there is no question of anxiety on income.

Why is the state what it is? That could be a very lengthy discussion. There is no prospect of capturing the value created, capturing it in a manner that it is available for sole consumption and then being able to provide a point of sale for its dispensation. More importantly there is no instant gratification. What a luxury sedan or a premium smart phone can provide those in the environmental domain can never. Unfortunately Mumbai seems to completely lack in having a market size of another kind.

More mature societies and economies know these challenges well and hence you have generous philanthropy from the state or individuals and institutions supporting advocacy as a public good. That supplemented with social security and an overall high per capita income.

One would have hoped such an evolution in India but no. On a number of fronts evolution happens at lightening speeds in India but not on these fronts. The Indians who enjoy their canal rides and cycling in Amsterdam and clean air and open spaces in London, New York and California are quick to evolve in their consumption of material comforts but show a granite resistance to any transformation in thoughts. And so India trudges along. I need to figure out where I go from here and listen to King Khan.

How do we end this corruption?

#IndiaAgainstCorruption           #demonitization-will-end-corruption!

Below pictures capture the open loot and waste of public money that is being carried out across Mumbai in brazen public view. Footpath after footpath is seeing this.

The current type of paver blocks in perfectly usable condition are being removed and the new square kind are being put. A footpath which could have easily lasted for five more years is pulled apart.

More than the functioning of the BMC it is an insight into the poor capability of citizens even after so many years at being able to intervene in the simplest of public issues.

Not just waste of public money this is a waste of precious natural resources. If not those in the India Against Corruption side then those who fight for the environment and sand mining and forests etc. should have been moved by the sight of what is going on and done something. People move across the city with a smooth glazed vision.

It is easier to talk about big scams because then you have to only speak and do nothing. Or talk about big issues like the Shivaji statue because then you are flowing with the flow and part of the latest fad and talking point.

I used to scoff at those who participated in IAC in Mumbai, the idea of Jan Lokpal Bill, the naive enthusiasm around Anna Hazare. I would then challenge people to look into just MCGM and apply their energies there than the national level. The movement was another instance of flowing with the latest fad. Few of the people who participated have any self ability to address any issue (hyperlocal) or provide their energy and resource for anything which is not a national talking point.

Now the fad is demonetization will knock the wind out of corruption. Sure. Whats happening on the footpaths is plain blatant corruption in front of naked eyes, not hidden away. Whether the paver blocks or the grills, a whole racket within BMC is siphoning of public money through these expenditures, from politicians to officials and of course the contractor is only the medium who gets his commission for doing all the dirty work.

How will demonetization knock the wind of this corruption?

Let BJP leaders beginning from the PM and CM (since there is much agreement there that demonetization is the solution to corruption) swear on the Gita (Mein Gita ki saugandh kha kar…) or on an idol of Ram or on the shivling that none in the ranks of BJP has benefitted from these fake and shabby contracts?

25 years

Its a 25 year formal milestone event for me in the journey I took in living my life towards furthering environmental preservation and sustainability. It seems to have gone too fast but I am glad I pursued what I believed in, much difficulty and some regrets. Not the same fire in belly at 41.

It was in 1991, as a then 16 year old that I pulled my father along to take me to the office of WWF – Maharashtra to become a student member. The fascinating entry to the then D N Road Office of WWF had a roundabout entrance and could be reached through going through the intestines of the old heritage building from a back door entrance opposite New Empire theatre. Usha Srivastava must have been the first person I met there and in quick succession I guess Mrinal Ghosh who is still with WWF. Ranjan Biswas used to head the Chapter.

It was a high ceiling old building layout with large windows, which overlooked Wallace Street and D N Road. S P Godrej was a legend then. There was much which was fascinating for me as a teenager in that office. All the teenage fascination with paraphernalia associated with your icons – the t-shirts and stickers and mugs etc., the old 16mm projector, opportunity to engage in passionate discussions, ogle on great photographs.

In 1989-90 I had come to know about WWF-Maharashtra when still in school ( I did three years in Mumbai from 1988-91 at Holy Family School, Andheri (E)) I came to know of an exhibition by various nature clubs at Jamnabai Narsee School and decided to visit the same. It was among the first things on my to-do list for post school and I decided to strike it off soon enough.

In the five years preceding the 1991 visit I had gorged on every single bit of reading and watching that I could about the subject. I had witnessed and followed through the papers the Brundtland Commission Report, the Montreal Protocol, the documentaries on Project Tiger, David Attenborough, Sanctuary magazine and much more. On moving to Mumbai in 1988 we had subscribed to the Indian Express as our daily paper and they carried a fabulous Science and Environment supplement, to whose credit would go the copious amount of information which I consumed.

I had a fetish for collecting newspaper articles and for many years still I had entire issues and articles preserved with me, all of which got lost somewhere in the chaotic decade which ensued for my family.

It has been one tumultuous journey on the path wading through two decades of difficulties and grief on the personal path and not sure whether some of the choices I made along were right. Environment and sustainability were not the only driving impulses for me. I had a deep hatred and disregard for the formal education process, had strong ideas on nation building and the participation process and was quite opposed to following the route of going to the USA, which was almost a given then. Even as most of my inspiration to live the life I do and also the interests are derived from America.

We still had a beautiful and quite successful business in the late 80s and early 90s and the strong self confidence and aggression was built on the financial safety and my own ideas for the business. All of it would come crashing down in the 90s as the business crumpled and folded up leaving me without a floor to stand on. I had many social entrepreneurship ideas by the late 90s which would combine well with funding my interests but with financial bankruptcy and complete chaos there was no ground to build anything. Only a fire in the belly and a devotional commitment to an ideology.

Madhu Sawant – octogenarian then, ex armed forces and founder of I Clean Mumbai – who I would meet in 2001 after my first successful round of activism in saving large swathes of mangroves in Lokhandwala Complex would remind me of Vithoba and Potoba – that the stomach comes even before the good Lord. I was going forward only on the energy which propels the first gusts of hot air from a raging fire.

In the early 90s it was different. I had an obsession, and the obsession fueled on teenage energy and dexterity. I was to soon enough start following the 1992 Rio Conference closely and was all prepared to be part of the process to usher India into Agenda 21.

The Ram Mandir agitation and the Babri Masjid demolition left me bitter and angry because for me there was no issue which was more important for India than coming on to a sustainable development pathway and here the country and more importantly Mumbai, where I was based was engulfed in discussing and living something, which I found regressive and meaningless. Over 25 years it’s been a successful life for Advani and Thackeray and I cannot say the same for myself at 41.

In 1993 I became student member of BNHS, which opened the doors to their wonderful library, which in those days preceding the internet was a great source of reading and updating on current affairs and latest developments. The events at Hornbill House and also those organised by the then far more vibrant WWF were a great source of learning and helping develop the ideas already in my mind and see new ones.

I took a strong ideological decision to stay at R D National College, Bandra from where I had done my junior college and in 1994 opened (or what must be restarted) the Nature Club. I was not much for going through the motions of college but they had to be done. I could have chosen to be at St. Xaviers College and revel in the opportunities and networks but continued with my ego which refused to get a leg up from any additional brands other than my initial schools in Mussoorie. Its been a wildly successful social experiment with much learnings for society and the education system but not that anybody other than me and ego care about it.

I remember many a memorable encounter, activity and conversations. That student with whom I had all of 30 seconds insightful encounter in 1996 in the first floor corridor in front of the Psychology department. We had organised a film and discussion on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions and while rushing back into the Department I was selling it to everybody I met in the corridor. This particular student very matter of fact informed me that his student visa process was successful and he would soon be in the US, letting me know that there was no problem in the world once that goes through. My disgust with the Great Indian Middle Class and its belief systems  only strengthened through that decade.

In 1994 is when I came to follow closely all the work happening on solid waste management and the crisis we were facing. 1994 was also the year of the Surat plague and there was much work on that. I came to know of Shantanu Shenai and Green Cross Society and met him in that year itself. The first materials shared by him became my pillars and he was my first guru on the path of a sustainable paradigm towards managing human waste. It is more than two decades now, neither has he been successful nor myself in impacting the issue, with so much effort put in. Success in India is for those with the establishment.

I met many a person during the 90s, attended innumerable programs, read many an article, though not books because I was too impatient with implementing the complete clarity which I experienced in my mind about various wildlife, nature and urban sustainability paradigms.

Lets plan sustainable mobility for Mahatma Mandir, Gandhinagar

I was a delegate at the Urban Mobility India 2016 Conference organised by the Institute of Urban Transport at Mahatma Mandir Convention and Exhibition Centre at Gandhi Nagar. The theme this year was Planning Mobility for City’s Sustainability.

Several participants could not help but realise how the way the Mahatma Mandir convention centre is planned is itself not consistent with the theme of the conference. The Mahatma had said “be the change you wish to see in the world”. It will be good if the organisers of the conference will heed to those words and immediately undertake steps to plan for sustainable mobility for the complex and thus practice what they preach.

It will help safeguard the sanctity of giving themes to any conference and also help show genuine appreciation for Mahatma Gandhi beyond the usual accolades. Let Mahatma Mandir demonstrate highest standards of sustainability.

gandhinagar

The convention centre is massive spread over 35 acres and can hold programs attracting a few hundred to a few thousands. A number of programs attract delegates from outside Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad who require accommodation in hotels.  The immediate vicinity of the convention centre has no good quality accommodation forcing delegates to stay 3-20 kms away. This calls for long trip lengths, substantial time in transport, use of motorised means of transport and additional costs as well.

Sustainable Transport is the key theme for urban mobility. The principles of sustainable transport have been very well captured in a framework of steps to be taken – Avoid Shift Improve.

It is important to appreciate the need to avoid trips in the first place. If a trip does not take place or a much shorter length trip takes place then the following happens.

  • Number of people in a system whether on the road, in metro or in bus reduces, thus reducing crowding and congestion
  • If trip length is reduced then a number of people can shift to modes like walking and cycling. A 1-3km length is very favourable for walking and cycling compared with a 10km or more length.

How we use a given land area determines whether people are left with no choice but to take long trips or can conveniently do work with short trips.

The carbon footprint of holding an event at Mahatma Mandir is captured in terms of the sum total of fossil fuel based energy used by the various processes and participants. This consists of the electricity used for lighting and air conditioning the various halls and meeting areas, which uses electricity which is generated from burning coal. The other big component of use is the transport used by people who have to travel to the venue.

There are trips which are avoidable and those which are unavoidable. For those staying in Ahmedabad itself if they have to travel 20 kms one way to reach Mahatma Mandir then there is no way they can avoid the trip. But if there is a delegation of 20 people coming from 10 different cities of the country then it does not matter to them if they are staying 20 kms away, 7 kms away or 1 km away. Anybody would like to stay close to avoid long journey times and costs.

Now in the case of Mahatma Mandir there is no accommodation close to the venue itself. There is a five start hotel 3.5 kms away. Some of us stayed at a budget hotel 7.5 kms away. Every morning we would book three cabs and four people to one cab. A round trip would be about 15 kms – a litre or maybe half of fuel per cab per round trip. There is a corresponding amount of emissions per litre of fuel burnt.

isher-to-m-mandir

 

Providing good quality accommodation in a 500 meter – 3 kilometer vicinity of Mahatma Mandir with corresponding vibrant street life, entertainment and leisure facilities will ensure that:

  1. The carbon footprint of the events organised at Mahatma Mandir goes down.
  2. There is reduced congestion on the roads leading to Mahatma Mandir
  3. The delegates save time and money
  4. Delegates get to walk and cycle to Mahatma Mandir thus enabling zero emissions in their trips besides providing exercise and leisure. The neighbourhood streets of Mahatma Mandir which are otherwise desolate will also see life. They are not cycle friendly currently due to high speeding cars.
  5. The proximity of delegates staying close by would enable more opportunity for meeting already known industry colleagues from different parts of the country and make new contacts and friends within the industry.
  6. Possibility of organising informal side events, meetings, presentations would increase. Delegates could potentially hold these meetings in their hotels or specific facilities which could be provided as part of the plan.

Mahatma Mandir and Gandhinagar in general has the scope still to provide for high quality accommodation in various budget categories close to the venue of Mahatma Mandir since there are a number of empty plots.  With additional steps being taken a vibrant neighbourhood could be created around the complex making it great for off work hours as well. Great street food, art and culture. The complex and the buildings can become architecture and sustainability delights.

An analysis of the land use around Mahatma Mandir reveals that there are some plots which are completely empty as of now. One such is Sector 13D (shown in image below), which is about ten acres in size. It can be developed along the lines of a Khan Market, New Delhi with a lot of place for eating out and staying besides space for cultural activities as well. It will be good to have some scope for alcohol as well, which is a sore point in Gujarat for out of state visitors.

mm-sector-13-d

Khan Market is less than 5 acres and can pack in so much. At 10 acres Sector 13 D could do a lot more. Some elements from the Khan Market typology can be used. A grid of walkable streets would be a great feature.

khan-market

From Sector 13 D the various entrances of the Mahatma Mandir range from 100-1000 meters at the maximum. The median would be 500 meters. This is completely walkable or there can be small electric buses and cycles for people to choose from. There seems to be some land around Gandhinagar Railway Station and Sector 11 as well.

The following individuals and organisations should be immediately tasked with creating a time bound plan to ensure enough hotel capacity and a vibrant neighbourhood in the immediate 1-2km vicinity of Mahatma Mandir:

  1. Institute of Urban Transport (the organisers of Urban Mobility India). There are numerous urban planners employed with the institute itself. The MOUD is the patron body and should directly look into this. I will become a member of IUT soon and would like to drive this as a member as well.
  2. CEPT – there are numerous departments within CEPT which should have already looked into this already but should do so now. Prof. Sivanand Swamy now is Director of Excellence in Urban Transport and the proposal outlined above confirms to excellence.
  3. There is a group called Sustainable Urban Mobility India Network, of which I became a recent member and on whose organisation (and support from Shakti Foundation) I attended the Conference. It will be good for the Network to engage in this as well.
  4. There are so many urban designers and urban planners friends and would be good to see them take this up as well.