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.

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Issue specific stakeholder meetings for Mumbai Development Plan 2014

Letter for stakeholders workshop-DP-06.12

Meeting of which details are below was held as per the offer made in the letter above. Important meetings are planned and anybody interested should attend as a participant or observer.

I participated in the meeting below in the section of TOD. Link to presentation:

—————————————————————

Mumbai Transformation Support Unit, EMBARQ India and MESN invites you for the Stakeholder Workshop on Land Use and Transportation Integration. Following are the details of the workshop:

Topics related to Land-Use Transportation Integration:

1.       Parking

2.       Transit Oriented Development (T.O.D)

3.       Public Transport

4.       Road infrastructure

5.       Accessibility

6.       Capacity Building

You can participate in the Workshop in following 2 ways:  

1.       Prepare a 10 minute presentation on any of the issues mentioned above.

2.       Participate in the discussion which will be held in each session.

Pre workshop task:

Document reading from Preparatory Studies for Mumbai Development Plan 2014-2034 available on

www.mcgm.gov.in

  1. Refer to Transport chapter (page 126 to 150) in the following document:

http://www.mcgm.gov.in/irj/go/km/docs/documents/MCGM%20Department%20List/Chief%20Engineer%20%28Development%20Plan%29/Preparatory%20Studies%20Report/PREPARATORY%20STUDIES_PART_2_A.pdf

The presentation should focus on following 3 aspects related to the topics:

 1.       Regulatory

2.       Guide lines

3.       Institutional Setup

Important dates to remember:

1.       Indicate about your participation in the discussion by 14th Dec 2013.

2.       Indicate about your participation in the presentation by 13th Dec 2013.

3.       Send your presentations by 16th Dec 2013.

Details of the Program:

Date: 17th December 2013

Venue: Mumbai Transformation Support Unit, 11/13, Botawala Building, 3rd floor, Horniman Circle, Fort, Mumbai – 23.

S.no Topic of Discussion Timing

1.

Registration 10:00 am to 10:30 am

2.

Presentation on Land-Use and Transport overview as specified in the preparatory studies of Development Plan 2014-2034 10:30 pm to 11:00 am

3.

Parking 11:00 am to 12:30 pm

Working Lunch

4.

Transit Oriented Development 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm

Tea Break

5.

Any Other topic 2:45 pm to 4:15 pm

6.

Way Forward 4:15 pm to 6:00 pm

Contact details:  Phone no: Ms. Uma Padhye – 22662957/ 22690910, Email id: mailmtsu@gmail.com

Whats on agenda at Copenhagen?

With the considerable discussions on COP15 arising out of the meetings at Bangkok, Bonn, Barcelona and elsewhere and a global community engaging in the debates and following it through the net, I am left wondering what exactly is it that we will be discussing at Copenhagen?

Especially what will India be speaking and expecting? Will it be India’s stand of the developed world taking stringent emission cuts? Will it be KP beyond 2012? Will it be common but differentiated responsibility? Continuing with Annex I Annex II definitions?

If the US absolutely refuses to do things as we expect it to then are we going to keep it as a sore point which takes our whole focus or will we say chuck the whole world, we will work within our borders to become the one developing country which did the best with the resources available to us?

Is it not high time that we realized the futility of a talk on emissions control at two levels –

At one are we going to be discussing emission cuts and improving lifestyles side by side? Is one possible with the other? I am yet to see a rigorous debate on a paradigm shift which questions the very fundamentals of our developmental paradigm. I read news articles which have lines like

“The broader social and moral questions about coal are vexed ones. How do we weigh the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change against the desire of developing countries to achieve standards of living that the West has achieved by using cheap electricity and steel?”

http://www.theage.com.au/national/old-king-coal-20091107-i2w7.html

Can the discussion at Copenhagen be about realising that if everybody or even half the current population had the standards of living which the West has achieved, then possibly there will be a time sometime in 2110 (I am counting BAU, without any of the dire climate change projections happening) when the population has reached 9 billion, and half of that or 4.5 billion has been guzzling oil and gas and coal at West standards, when suddenly there has to come a time – this is pure maths without any dire exaggerated environmental outburst – when all of oil and gas and coal will be finished.

In such a scenario if we haven’t given sufficient thought a few decades in advance to preparing people to live happily and wholesomely a life and lifestyle, which is not the current Western one, dependent on only high carbon to provide satisfaction, then we will see a scenario where one moment people are driving the best of air conditioned sedans and working in sophisticated offices, and partying an vacationing at great locations and then in another decade everybody is living like the tribals, of the land, trying (trying because they never planned for what was to come) to surviving on decentralized food supply, and in a completely depressed state of existence, large amount of population dying because they bodies cannot bio-chemically adjust to the new situation.

Second, if it is sufficiently proven that technologies like CSP can provide the electricity needed to provide lifestyles like the West for everybody in India and China, then great lets party and see which vested industry lobby is stopping the transition and go one-point at a time to ensuring the whole of India (and China and the world) moves to CSP fed lifestyles by 2030.

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/09/worlds-biggest-solar-power-china.php

Then what is the point of discussing emissions? Why worry about what America does or doesn’t, KP or not, common but differentiated or not? Are resources really a problem? If India just restructures it leaking and completely illogical subsidy structures then we could be in a position to fund projects in our neighboring countries. So the question of requiring funds from the West is gone. Are we going to have the guts to take leadership on dismantling our subsidies and creating resources within the country for everything from efficient and intelligent public transport to a spread of renewable like never before?

Today a completely venal political leadership which with vested narrow minded business interests has taken complete control of India’s climate change agenda discussion.And most in the country just do not have the guts to handle this coalition –  hitting at America is kids play. We are only talking about the faults of others to hide the enormous defects inside. I would much rather have a position where we are correcting our defects irrespective of what the west does or not. And we would be doing this  if we innately cared and were responsible. But our country and its people are no less irresponsible than those we point fingers at.

Are we talking technology for doing all this? I thought we had the best brains in the world? And anyways when we have the money from the source above then we can import the best solutions. Why are ‘we’ (the we is tricky because it may be the vested interests masquerading as speaking on behalf of one billion Indians) looking for charity from the West, by emotional blackmail on their historical emissions record. Can we, like the Australian viewpoint in the article above look at taking a leadership position?

A third important point of discussion will have to be a paradigm shift at the level of human beings who comprise the human species. Will people continue to live in a current paradigm where selfishness and greed and apathy about the community rule or will we move to an educated class which sees education not just as a means to high paying jobs and then high carbon lifestyles (and this has and continues to remain big in India , a whole family co-ordinated operation) but which reads material beyond their degree seeking text books and understands linkages in the much flaunted Vasudhiava Kutumbakam. How many in India have that feeling for the country also – forget the world?

The discussion at Copenhagen will have to be less about emissions and more about values then. Once we have the common and shared (not differentiated) values in place then emissions will automatically restore themselves. When the fresh into a high-paying job 25 year old in America and India will accept paying a higher tax on his vehicle, will accept a much higher electricity tariff for his/her favorite lounge bar, the additional resources from which help solar electrify a  village at a time, and numerous other such segments would have given similar thoughts, then we would have moved to a world where we would have sorted our not just climate change but MDGs and a hundred other problems.

But until the quality of the human being itself is bad, the situation is like high ash high sulphur content coal. If you burn it you will get sulphurdioxide and ash. As long as an irresponsible humans bides 60 years or more on earth we will have emissions, accept it and face the consequences, shut the COP shops and let everyone be on their own.

Good governance vs. Good cricket

[ Just to refresh memory or for the sake of those who may not be aware at all I have been into activism for a very long time now and have clearly realised that the need of the hour is to be active in politics to make a larger difference. Having held the view since long and in the post 26/11 scenario I contested LS 2009 and secured 3301 votes]

I have been getting a lot of queries about am I contesting the coming elections? What is Jago doing? Is it fielding any candidates? If not then how does it expect to be seen as a serious contender? etc.

My thinking on this is borne from my experiences from the previous election. Clearly my conviction that I am good leadership material for the country remains.  But along with that is a realization that it takes two hands to clap.

If I think that I can provide good political leadership for the country then there has to be the flip side to it in terms of a demand for good leaders and not just demand but a decent level of support for them as well. And yes speaking specifically an appreciation and support for the excellent work I have already done till now (no humility lost in patting yourself on the back once in a while). A comprehensive listing of my comments in media on some issues is here –

http://mumbaivotes.com/articles/?&lstSource=0&lstDesignation=OTH&lstPolitician=991&lstIssues=0&all=1&page=1

Since it is cricket season I keep coming to my bete noire. Are good cricket players and good cricket more important for the country or good politicians and governance? And it is not an either or question. We can very well be enjoying our cricket and be taking good interest in the governance and politics of the country.

But the average man on the street would spend 100’s of his man hours on cricket, some money as well and nothing commensurable on good governance and good leaders. Not just the average man, even within the 3301 people who voted for me or the 188 odd who are on my Facebook support group, how many came back to check on the way ahead? How many keep a tab on the scores and player selection and Dhoni’s health on a daily basis.? Cricket versus good governance?

[cricket and excessive cricket watching anyways I feel is one of the bigger of many reasons for the state of this country]

And because millions are willing to give their eye balls and man hours to cricketers, one finds companies paying them sky rocketing sums to endorse projects, if what they get paid to play per match was not good enough. So much money that they do not know what to do with it.

Now if I were to devote my self to give good governance and understand legislation and improve on it and ensure better utilization of public tax payers money – what do I get?

Can I please get funds for a working secretariat. Can I please get even one twentieth of the time you give to cricket? Can you please help reach out to people? Publicity?

(And I have along with a very small group been doing yeoman service to the city by questioning the award of the outrageous Rs. 3,500 crores for remedying the Deonar garbage dump when significantly cheaper options are available. All this while even the average governance activist is completely clueless.)

http://mumbaiswm.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/deonar-project-fact-sheet/

The last election left me with three months of lost income and a fair share of expenses from my pocket as well, all of which completely delayed my plans to be into green business and left me financially in dire straits.

Thus if you play cricket well you get rewarded so well that beyond a point you have too much. And if you think about how your city’s taxes are used and how the average man at the railways station feels, or how are the footpaths and the urinals and do our municipal school children deserve a better deal and how our energy efficiency, renewable energy and green buildings policy can be a lot better you dont get as much as a 100 rupee note accidentally.

I think good people get good leaders and deserve good leaders. Opium addicts who would care a damn about the state of things around them – only their daily fix – don’t. That I feel is the state of 99 percent of our citizens today – consumed by cricket and many other worthless wasteful addictions.

And it makes more sense to either spend time on rehabilitating the opium addicts or waiting for their rehab to happen before starting to seek their votes.

[I have been thinking of alternatively naming this post “Politiking in the midst of opium addicts” ]