One day while teaching at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay; I received a call from Manjula Rao of the British Council Division. She said “Dr Modak, I have some budget to spare for conducting training on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Would you be interested? We will be able to support travel and stay of two British Professors. And you can design the course the way you deem fit. We won’t micro-manage”
As usual, I was itching to do something different and I thought I must make use of this generous offer from Manjula.
I spoke to my good friend M G Rao (who today is unfortunately no more). MG (as how we used to call him) was working with Rashtirya Chemicals & Fertilizers in Mumbai managing company’s environmental affairs. MG was a seasoned environmental professional, a passionate personality, a perfectionist and had a great insight to the EIA process. He always looked at EIA beyond mere compliance and more of an opportunity to value-add and de-risking.
MG, me and Manjula sat together in the Nariman Point office of the British Council and discussed to identify targets to train and prepared an outline of the program.
I proposed a case study-based approach to “teach”. At that time, EIA of Mumbai-Pune expressway was in the news. Report prepared by Associated Industrial Consultants (AIC) was under scanner. Erich Bharucha, Professor at Pune had raised concerns about the impact of cutting trees on the flying squirrels that harbored in the forests on the Ghats (hills). Alternate alignment of the expressway was therefore demanded. The State Government had another viewpoint and wasn’t sensitive to the concerns raised by Professor Bharucha.
The Giant Flying Squirrel
In the EIA report, the Consultant AIC did a comparison between the “project” and “no project option” and this comparison showed that over long run, the expressway would certainly be an environmentally sound option to connect Mumbai with Pune. “Business as usual” was no good! The benefits of saving fuel (and so the emissions) and time and reduction of risks during travel were simply enormous given the projected volume of traffic between the two cities.
I thought this case study could be used in the training program. I met Mr. B V Rotkar at the office of AIC who was heading the EIA Team. Mr. Rotkar, a veteran in the subject of Environmental Governance, was earlier Member Secretary of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). Mr. Rotkar was a Guru and an inspiring personality to many of us.
Rotkar listened to me. He liked my idea of using EIA of Mumbai-Pune as a learning case study. “Well Dr Modak, Go ahead but you would need to “doctor” the details and not lift the sections of our EIA report on as is basis. Make a “new story”, He smiled while handing over the EIA report to me. It was so generous of him.
Manjula asked me about the Venue. And I proposed Lonavala, a little holiday town perched on the hills and lying mid-way between Mumbai and Pune. We were planning the program in the month of October and that was perhaps the best period to be in Lonavala. I selected Fariyas Resort.
Fariyas Resort is a 5-star hotel located picturesquely at Frichley Hills. It enjoys proximity to the express highway, main market and several tourist attractions, including Pawna Lake, Lohagad Fort and Karla and Bhaja Caves. It is one of the best resorts in Lonavala.
I did a reiki by visiting Fariyas, inspected the training rooms, met the F&B Manager and saw the facilities as the program was going to be a residential one. We decided to accommodate 40 participants. A two days program on this basis fitted well in Manjula’s budget.
The next task was to identify the British Professors and check their availability. Two names occurred to me – one was Christopher Wood from Manchester University and second was Peter Wathern. Chris taught in University’s EIA Centre and had just published a book titled “Environmental Impact Assessment – A Comparative Review”. Peter taught at Aberystwyth University and had edited an amazing book “Environmental Impact Assessment – Theory and Practice”. I loved both these books and was keen to “teach” along with these two Professors.
(I would highly recommend you to read these two books – its been a while that the books have been written but do good old things ever get outdated? These books are even relevant today.)
When we contacted the Professors, both of them agreed to come and join in my “Lonavala Experiment”.
So, what was the experiment about?
This idea was to introduce a new way of teaching the subject of EIA and do capacity building of training institutions.
The “learning path” was first designed following the “process” of EIA. That led to the program design. For instance, the opening session was on Screening and the last session was Environmental Monitoring for Compliance and for Adapting the Environmental Management Plan. Mumbai-Pune expressway case study was “woven” across all the sessions.
The participants were split into 4 groups. For each work session, the group composition was changed so at the end of 2 days, almost all participants got “connected” to each other.
The method of teaching was not prescriptive. For example, each Group was given one-page brief with another page showing the project location. There were four such “sample” projects. To start with, each participant was asked to apply screening in his/her way and come with a conclusion on – whether an EIA is required? And if Yes then at what level (e.g. Initial Environmental Examination was adequate, or a detailed or comprehensive EIA should be done? And why?).
When groups were formed, a Group opinion was to be presented and this required that each member of the Group had to communicate his/her rationale, defend or critique and learn how to arrive at consensus. Oh, this was the toughest part! When each Group leader presented the Group view on project screening, a discussion followed that was even more enriching.
The session ended with a short discourse on the Screening Criteria followed in India and in other countries. Participants were then encouraged to comment (e.g. on criteria of project type, size/investment and location) and in specific the case of Mumbai-Pune expressway. Each session was thus exciting – both to the participants and the faculty.
Location of Fariyas Resort at the mid-way of the Expressway made a difference. We visited the site of Flying Squirrels to understand the sensitivity better! Session on alternatives was therefore full of ideas and energy and debates! At the end of the course, all participants learnt the practice of EIA, and as MG used to repeated say “its power as a value – add”
But I think the best part of the “Lonavala experiment” was integrating the training program with potential institutions and faculty who could replicate. I invited faculty from 8 renowned institutions in India who taught EIA in their curriculum. We called these faculty members as Observers and they served as Facilitators or Resource Persons during the period of training.
I requested these faculty to stay for one more day after the 2 days course and discuss the course content and pedagogy. The 40 participants had left by then.
The third day was very productive as these 8 faculty members made observations to further improve the training program. We made plans on how could we continue this model of training at their respective universities and what help would they need from us and from the British Council. There was so much positive energy when we closed the session on the third day.
Peter and Chis were amazing. I learnt a lot from these two stalwarts. We did a Training Manual after incorporating suggestions from the 8 “peers”. Peter took the responsibility to edit and finalize. Manjula found money to print the Training Manual.
MG and I spent good time in selecting the 40 participants. We chose participants from different disciplines and practice experience that ranged infrastructure developers, regulators, financiers, academicians, environmental NGOs, media personnel and of course the EIA consultants. Many of these participants of the Lonavala experiment are still in touch with me today. Its sad that Peter Wathern is no more. He died in 2015. I don’t see any recent “google footprint” of Chris Wood. Last I saw him was at the IAIA Conference in Hongkong.
I would very be interested to repeat my “Lonavala experiment”. It was EIA the last time and this time, the topics could be different – may be Circular Economy? Do write to me if you have any suggestions or need any help.
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