The “Converters”

In my career over 40 years, I developed several action plans for the Governments. Amongst several, notable were Strategic Action Plans (SAP) for the States of Uttarakhand and Maharashtra, Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM) Plan for City of Pune, SAP for the Palar River Basin in Tamil Nadu and very recently the Clean Air Action Plan for the Government of Gujarat. There were special variants too such as the Project Implementation Plans (PIP) to support the World Bank. Amongst these, two PIPs were interesting and impacting – one was on the Industrial Pollution Control in Gujarat for the Department of Forests and Environment  and second on Environmental Impact Assessment for the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The former PIP laid the foundation for investments on pollution prevention and control in Gujarat including institutional capacity building and the latter PIP gave birth to the famous or not so famous EIA Notification of 2006.

Not all plans that I developed fructified as envisioned. Plan like ISWM for Pune did get implemented over time (credit to Dr Nitin Kareer, Commissioner Pune then) and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) received significant traction on the basis of  the SAP that I prepared.  Dr Dilip Boralkar, then Member Secretary of MPCB, leveraged on this SAP and did efficient “surgeries” wherever needed and took hard decisions. In implementation of the plans, your counterpart matters if you want to see that plans you make do not remain as mere documents but get implemented on the ground.

My Professor friend strongly believes that one must work closely with politicians and get their support right in the formulation of plan and enjoy their blessings during implementation. He would always say “Dr Modak, you may prepare a comprehensive and “future ready plan” following the rounded 4P (Policy, Plans, Programs and Projects) approach through extensive stakeholder consultation, but all these efforts can still go waste unless you are able to excite the responsible ministers/politicians”.

I recall the Eco-City Action Plan that me and team EMC developed over 18 months for SMK (Sangli-Miraj-Kupwad). This work was done in 2009-2010. The genesis of the project was an  evening meeting I had with Jayant Patil (then Minister Finance at Maharashtra State) at his residence. In view of the forthcoming elections in Sangli, Mr. Patil asked my suggestions on what could be “different”, not yet done and is people oriented. I suggested that we prepare and launch an Eco-City action plan that is developed in a highly creative and interactive manner involving all the key stakeholders. The theme “Eco” will be appealing and distinguish him from the opposition leaders. My condition to him was that he will have to be present in some of the important public gatherings and speak the “language” of an Eco-City.

Minister Jayant Patil and me at the public gatherings

When the action plan was developed, I had to make a presentation in the SMK Council and face the opposition leaders. That wasn’t easy. I somehow managed this difficult task and got the action plan endorsed and committed by the entire house. The SMK Eco-City process and experience was later lauded internationally at the IAIA conference in Calgary. You can download the executive summary of the Eco-City Action Plan from

Later when I was advising Asian Development Bank (ADB) on the project Green City Melaka, in Malaysia, I was pleased to see that the Chief Minister, Datuk Seri Idris Haron took personal interest and supported us in both planning and implementation. Green City Melaka was another avatara of Eco-City SMK. I remember the numerous discussions I had with Datuk Haron in his office and at his residence, in late evenings. He used to ask tough questions, clearly with political motives, but it was clear that unless we had satisfactory answers to those questions, our ideas would simply remain on paper.

In 2003, the World Bank was developing a Strategic Action Plan (SAP) for Palar River basin in State of Tamil Nadu. Palar river flows only 14-15 days in the year and the water gets stored into huge Tanks to meet the annual water needs. Over the years the basin was facing significant stress in economic, environmental and social terms. See Figure below that describes the various issues that had progressed over time such as deterioration of environment, loss of income and out-migration.

I was commissioned to develop an action plan for Palar river basin following the process of Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). SEA requires extensive consultation with stakeholders. I decided to include the concerned Ministers in making of the action plan. We booked one entire hotel in city of Kanchipuram and invited 40 participants for a 3 day residential workshop. The participants included tanners, farmers, research institutions like National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI), Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) and government departments such as Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), Tamil Nadu Water & Drainage Board (TWAD) etc.

Farmer at the Kanchipuram Workshop

The workshop focused on preparation of an action plan including institutional arrangements (responsibilities) with budgeting i.e. allocation of required financial resources. With the support of Chief Minister then (late Madam Jayalalita), we could get three important ministers of the State that included Ministers of Water Resources, Agriculture and importantly Finance. All the 3 ministers attended the residential workshop. The concerned bureaucrats had to be present! The outcome of the workshop was not only the action plan with commitment for implementation but also creation of Palar Basin Board chaired by the Chief Minister – first such Board in Asia.

When I recounted these experiences, my Professor Friend warned that working closely with politicians can be dangerous and counterproductive especially when political situation is unstable.  He cited number of instances in his career where a well prepared plan was never implemented as the leadership or the governance changed. He said that unfortunately many politicians are “polluted” today. And we do not have a Pollution Control Board equivalent to manage this kind of pollution.

Just then we were finishing our coffee, a bright middle aged professional walked in.

“Oh, Dr Modak. Let me introduce you to one of my colleagues at the School –  Mr. Kaushik”.

I knew that Professor had just opened a new School on Sustainability. Not much was known about the School in the professional world however. And it looked more like a secret mission. In fact, I wanted to visit the School one day and understand the programs, Professor runs.

“Hello Mr. Kaushik”, I shook hands with the gentleman and asked “What’s your specialization at Professor’s School?”

“I am a kind of “converter” Sir” He replied. It looked that he was not very enthusiastic in explaining what was meant by a Converter.

Professor saw that I was bit confused.

“Oh Dr Modak, my School basically teaches smart people like Kaushik about how to “convert” the politicians to support good action plans on sustainability and ensure that they get implemented without delays. While the stakeholder consultation process is critical, we encourage our students to achieve early involvement of the concerned politicians. We also teach our students how to balance relationships between ruling and opposition parties. We explain  how to speak political language in explaining the science and importance of sustainability to the Ministers and show them that practicing sustainability is basically an advantage to all”

I realized that I have heard such a statement before. Oh dear, I realised that Professor had “stolen” the mission statement of my own company EMC. The only thing I was unclear in this case  was the term “advantage to all”.

Sensing the importance of this kind of training, I asked Professor if I could depute 5 bright colleagues in EMC to join the School.

“Sorry Dr Modak, for the next two years, our batches are full. No more seats available till the end of General National Election. But you can book seats now if interested”.

I didn’t have anything to say. I left Professors library wishing all the success to Mr. Kaushik and his colleagues of the “converter” kind.

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