Friday, 18 May, 2018


68.  AN STP IN THE TOWN OF KUPPAM ( Pop. 21,963 Census 2011)


This little story again illustrates and highlights the fact that I have been repeating again and again and again : The classical Extended Aeration Activated Sludge ( EAAS) system is still the best STP Technology for Micro , Mini and small STP’s in Res. Apt. complexes, Commercial Office complexes, Hospitals and colleges etc.


The small little town of Kuppam  best categorized as a Tier 4/ Tier 5 town, lies in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, roughly 130 Km ESE of Bangalore.  It can be reached  in about three hours by car on fairly well tended roads.  I had occasion today to visit this little town on an invitation from the prestigious PES  group of Institutions which runs a Medical college and a Hospital attached to the college in Kuppam.

My brief was to inspect, study and solve the riddle of excessive loss of water in their Water Treatment Plant ( WTP) in excess of 30 % when nearly 600 KLD of water extracted from their borewells was treated through a Pressure Sand Filter and a water softener. Sitting in Bangalore, my first thought was that the Ion Exchange resin in the softener may have outlived its usefulness and therefore was calling for frequent regeneration with common salt, followed by rinse operations which might explain the losses.  However, as is my wont, I reserved judgement until I did a Genba walk and an onsite physical inspection.

The puzzle was solved easily enough within minutes when the WTP operator at site confessed that he did a backwash of the sand filter once every three hours for 20 minutes on each occasion, which water was then wasted out on to the adjacent open Field. This practice was based on some Standard Operating Procedure ( SOP) possibly shared with him by the very same ignorant Plumbing Consultants whom I deride at the slightest chance that I get.. I showed the operator the quality and clarity of this “Backwash Waste”  and his folly in blindly following a fool’s advice  and gave him a fresh set of SOP based on scientific principles of pressure loss across the filter measured by two pressure gauges one fitted before and one after the filter.  The small town boy was beaming with pleasure, nodding his head at this simple, logical, common sense explanation when I left him to inspect the Sewage Treatment Plant on the other side of the campus.

Not one, but Two STP’s I was told were on campus, one rated at 200 KLD and the other at 400 KLD.  Having seen first hand sins of the past in the WTP, I trudged along towards the STP’s, expecting the worst.

LO and Behold ! Both STP’s were in perfect working condition, each receiving also the design quantity of wastewater and producing treated water of excellent quality like from any STP that we at Ecotech operate and maintain.  The secret of this Success was not far to seek.   Both STP’s were built on the Classical EAAS Technology, well designed and engineered. 

In a remote Small Little Town of Kuppam I saw a 100 % success rate of STPs. If only the self proclaimed  Hi tech City of Bangalore had this success rate, the lakes in Bangalore would not have to suffer.  For this to happen, one must cull out and permanently disable all commission seeking Plumbing consultants in Bangalore and the equally corrupt Architects who employ them

This story of Kuppam would be incomplete without a final piece of teaching and learning.

When I asked the Boy how many times he backwashed the Filter in the STP, he very respectfully replied that he did this procedure two times in a day.  Where was the need then to backwash the filter in a WTP every three hours I questioned him, when you are filtering clean water from a borewell and not STP water ? 

Good Environmental Engineering as I have often said is only 50 % knowledge, expertise and experience.  The other 50 % is the use of common sense to apply in practice what you have learnt.


Dr. Ananth S Kodavasal                                                                                    May 18, 2018


Saturday, 5 May, 2018


44. PARTNERS AND ASSOCIATES IN BUSINESS

 
When I quit Voltas International Limited in utter disgust in the year 1986 ( see A JOINT VENTURE COMPANY IN YEMEN ), I did quite a bit of spade work before I took the next big plunge in my career : I scouted around for suitable business opportunities in Bangalore and Madras, before zeroing in on Bangalore as the city of choice to set up business.  Also, since I was not certain how long it would take me to find my feet in the consultancy business, and indeed find a sufficient number of clients to keep the Home fires burning bright, I had a fall back strategy. Before quitting Bombay, I called upon friends and associates manufacturing pumps, agitators, and other odds and ends which find extensive use in Water and Wastewater treatment plants, and convinced them to give me sole dealership for selling these items in the Southern states of India.  And since by temperament I am a poor salesman (short tempered and ill mannered when having to deal with lesser mortals), I took on board a Partner to look after the Sales end of the business.

The Environmental Consultancy Business would be handled by me under the name and style of Ecotech Engineering : The Sales activity would have a separate and distinct identity, under the name of Dixie Enterprises.  My other partner would be solely responsible for day to day running of this Company.  An equitable scheme of sharing of profits from the two companies was mutually agreed.  It was also expressly agreed that the highest level of professional ethics and integrity would be maintained, and Dixie was not to have any business dealings with Ecotech’s clients : this to avoid any potential conflict of interest.

Now, a brief description of this partner of mine is in order.  An old colleague of mine from my previous company, Dilip was an extremely outgoing and gregarious fellow : always smiling, playing pranks, playing the fool,  an eminently friendly and likeable character. His joie de vivre was infectious : A few minutes of Dilip’s company will lift your spirit, setting it free and flying high.

Nothing happened either in the Consultancy front, nor in the sales front in the first six months of startup.  I kept my cool, comforting myself that these things take time, patience and perseverance. 

A break came providentially, when an old colleague from Bombay asked me to take care of the supervision and guidance during execution of a Sewage Treatment Plant for the Indian Telephone Industries which he had bagged.  Another colleague from Madras entrusted the task of commissioning a particularly difficult industrial wastewater treatment plant for the Mysore Acetate and Chemicals in Mandya.  An old college mate of mine facilitated my getting a consultancy assignment for a Wastewater treatment plant for NP Chewing gums ( see Treatment Plant Design by Academics ).  Now the ball was set well and truly rolling in the consultancy business.

Dilip, meanwhile found it an uphill task to sell pumps, agitators etc., and develop his end of the business.  Towards the end of the first year much to my chagrin, I found him canvassing sales from my clients in the consultancy business.  By means of a quick surgery, I closed down Dixie Enterprises, terminated our partnership and concentrated on developing Ecotech.  I lost a business partner, but retained a friend : Dilip is still the same old prankster I knew about 30 years ago.

I seem not to have learnt my lesson from this unhappy episode.

I got myself into a loose association with another erstwhile colleague of mine.  Things were going well for quite a number of years, since he also had another partner as a mentor, a much older, wiser, seasoned professional, a hands on engineer, a genius and a gentleman. His was the voice of reason, the sane counsel that reined in the over the top and get rich quick schemes of his younger acolyte : I was the technology and process consultant to them with my chemical and environmental engineering background : many a difficult industrial wastewater treatment plants were successfully designed and executed by this arrangement.

All was smooth sailing until another junior partner was roped into their company : Coming from a totally vacuous background, with scant appreciation of business and professional conduct, this charlatan brought in new work ethic and standards which possibly were music to the ears of his over ambitious boss : indeed, I suspect that could be the very reason for inducting him into the company in the first place.

Soon came a day when the Senior partner possibly could not countenance the shady goings on in the business and quit to protect his fair name : shortly thereafter, I too opted out when it became clear to me that professionalism and business integrity and ethics was of no account in this association, and my fair name could be dragged through the mud and mire they were sinking into.

I neither regret this decision nor rejoice in having made it : only a deep sense of sadness and sorrow lingers in having lost a friend bowing to Mammon.



                                        



Dr. Ananth S Kodavasal                                                                                    December 05, 2011


Saturday, 31 March, 2018

I ONLY EAT RAGI MUDDE - GIVE ME CASH


67. I ONLY EAT RAGI MUDDE – GIVE ME CASH


Myself personally and Our Company Ecotech, we  both practice a strict policy of  “ Na Khaaoonga,  Na Khaane Doonga”  to borrow a famous quote from our own dear PM  Narendrabhai Modiji.  This roughly translates as  Will neither take nor give any form of illegal gratification. Simple and straightforward, no frills attached.  And which also makes me laugh when I see pages and pages of sanctimonious and patently duplicitous  “ethics policy” of several Multinational Companies.

Circa 1990, my father moved from Bombay to Dharwad in North Karnataka and set up an edible oil refining unit in the Belur Industrial Area of the KIADB.  Industrialisation was yet to take off in Dharwad at that time, and it was better known as a lazy, sleepy town with a salubrious climate. Things today are a little different in Dharwad with a huge Tata Motors manufacturing facility and a spanking new High court  building  bang opposite the Industrial Area, across the NH 4 that connects Bangalore to Pune.

My father, being a strict disciplinarian and a law abiding gentleman that he was ( I inherit from him several such good traits ) insisted on setting up an Effluent Treatment Plant ( ETP) for his factory, although I am sure in those days, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board  ( KSPCB )would have looked the other way with a little bit of encouragement : I am not sure if the situation is any different today.

Quite naturally, having first hand information about my qualifications, competence and experience my father commissioned me to design and execute this smallish ETP.  The Design done, the Regional Office of the KSPCB after the customary site inspection, approved the scheme and passed the file on to the Head office in Bangalore “for further process”.  The H.O of the KSPCB,  at that time was housed on the eighth floor of the Public Utility Buildings ( PU Bldg) on MG Road.  The “subject” was put up to the Technical Advisory Committee ( TAC ) of the KSPCB which is apex “expert” body which scrutinizes all ETP / STP proposals.  Our design and proposal sailed through the TAC without further ado.  I passed on the good news to my father in Dharwad and that he could expect to receive the Consent letter from the KSPCB shortly.

That was not to be.  The “File was put up” to the member Secretary of the KSPCB and was awaiting his Imprimatur. When I enquired about the delay in the approval process, my friends at the KSPCB advised me to see the Member Secretary.  So I went to see the M.S.

The M.S at that time was a jovial little fellow, appointed to his post from another Govt. Department, unconnected with the subject of pollution and was obviously a sinecure -  a final posting, counting down the days to his imminent retirement from service.

His urgency was apparent in the way he came straight to the point and asked “How much”?   Equal to the task, with a look of surprise on my face, I asked How much what ? I did not want this conversation to prolong so I decided I should make a small deviation from my avowed policy of “Na Khaane Doonga” and I invited him out to dinner at the Taj ( Taj Residency it was called then) at Trinity corner, just across from the PU Buildings.   A small compromise of my policy no doubt, which I preferred to view as a Farewell dinner to an elderly gentleman.

The jovial part of the gentleman came out when with a broad smile on his face he said “ I am a man of simple tastes. I don’t enjoy Five star fare.  I only eat Ragi Mudde – Give me cash  instead.” 

A man of simple tastes and high morals I thought to myself as I walked out of his room not wanting to humour him further.

Learn More about Ragi Mudde here :



Dr. Ananth S Kodavasal                                                                                                March 31, 2018



Saturday, 18 June, 2016

THE WISE MEN OF THE TAC

66. THE WISE MEN OF THE TAC

THE PLUMBING CONSULTANT

Every new project that comes up in Karnataka, be it a Manufactory, a Residential complex, a Software complex, a Retail Mall, Hospital, Hotel, School, College etc., is required to set up a Wastewater Treatment Plant – A sewage Treatment Plant ( STP) in the case of domestic Wastewater or an Effluent Treatment Plant ( ETP) in the case of process or trade wastes.  That is the terminology used and don’t  ask me why.

This story pertains strictly to the first category of STPs -  Shit and piss.

Every promoter of such projects, not being an expert himself in designing or executing an STP falls back upon a one stop solution for all his woes, and that is his Architect.    The Architect in most cases is only a middle man (Almost all Architectural firms I have had the misfortune to deal with, if only briefly, fall in this category) and brings on board consultants and engineers of various other disciplines required to complete the project which typically will include a :

- Structural Designer
- Plumbing consultant
- Electrical Consultant
- Landscape Consultant
- HVAC Consultant
- Govt. Liaison and commission agent ( much like the Architect himself)

The cost cutting starts at this point when the Architect does not want to employ a specialist Environmental Consultant and asks the Plumbing Consultant to double up and design the STP.  Most plumbing consultants lack the professionalism required to say NO to an assignment they are not competent to handle.  Greed, avarice and the comfort of Google goad them to take on a task that they are just not equipped to handle.  They then end up “ Designing an STP with a little help from Google”  - see my earlier Blog on this subject :


What should be a only a two page concise design brief of an STP containing only pointed and pertinent design basis, design criteria, engineering criteria becomes a big fat tender document with a lot of extraneous crap and totally missing the critical Design and engineering framework.  All manner of STPs are acceptable to this plumber including Septic tanks, Anaerobic systems, UASB, Electrocoagulation Systems, RBC, SBR, MBBR, MBR, EAAS, Enzyme based systems ( ?),  $%#@, and +*%& etc.  Google rather than domain knowledge and expertise is the Friend, Philosopher and Guide for these Commission agents. 

And there is another breed of consultants with Zero technical knowledge who will simply plump for an SBR system simply because “ 99% of STP’s in Bangalore are designed as SBR’s.”


THE TECHNICAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE ( TAC)

Sitting in judgement over this load of shit and piss generated by the crapsters is a bunch of equally wise men of the TAC constituted by the State Pollution Control Board.  All good men mind you.  I am talking about a bunch more than three years ago consisting of Academicians, retired foresters, fishermen, Agriculturists and suchlike who in all their lives have seen STPs only in these crappy reports. 

In order to show them the real world outside their ivory towers, I took them on a tour of STP’s that they themselves had vetted and approved.  The day tour took them to STPs based on SBR, EADOx, MBBR, MBR - All of them defunct.  In the MBR installation which the team visited ( A self styled Seven Star hotel near Yeshwantpur)  there was a pipeline leading out of the STP transferring raw, untreated sewage directly outside the premises.  So that the STP Operator will not have to scratch his head trying to figure out the Best Operation Procedure ( BOP),  the Pipeline was clearly marked in BOLD LETTERS and in  indelible paint :  “ STP BYPASS”.

Having shown to the TAC first hand their folly in approving all and sundry STP designs of these plumbing consultants, I was hoping for some words of appreciation for having opened their eyes to the pathetic state of the STPs they had approved.  Not just me, thousands of honest citizens in the City would thank the TAC to do their job with due diligence and right application of mind.

Alas ! that was not to be. At the end of the tour, the leader of the TAC team pompously declared that the STPs suffered and were dysfunctional  due to “Poor Operation & Maintenance”.  As a natural corollary therefore no blame should attach to them.  All the STP proposals they had scrutinised and approved were perfect in design and Engineering.

I had to bow my head before these wise men if only to hide the uncontrollable fits of laughter I was breaking into.


Dr. Ananth S Kodavasal                                                                                                June 18, 2016



P.S : I write this piece on the day our Company Ecotech celebrates 30 years of being in the Environmental Control Business. It only saddens me that after all these years neither the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board nor the plumbing consultants have been able to crack the STP Design conundrum.  The lakes of Bangalore suffer on account of these Charlatans.  Honest citizens of Bangalore are destined to suffer lifelong on account of defunct STPs in their backyard.  A perennial source of water for secondary usages is being squandered mindlessly. These quacks must really be put behind bars for professional misconduct and criminal malpractice.  

Sunday, 5 June, 2016

THE 99 % THEORY FOR DESIGNING AN STP

65. The 99 % THEORY FOR DESIGNING AN STP

Regular followers of my blogs will no doubt know that I hold Plumbing Consultants in the lowest esteem when it comes to designing a Sewage Treatment Plant.  I have in the past compared them to petty traders on Linghi Chetty Street and Thambu Chetty Street in Parrys Corner, Chennai who would proudly announce themselves to be “ Manufacturers’ Representatives and Commission Agents


Just last week I had occasion to reaffirm and reconfirm this belief of the role of Plumbing Consultants and their incompetence in designing Sewage Treatment plants.

In the first instance this plumbing consultant (who could rightfully claim to be the descendent of a now defunct consulting company of the same ilk)  did a simple cut and paste job of an STP of a Residential Complex to that of a Commercial Complex.  What makes things worse is that the design brief for the Commercial complex clearly states that working hours are only from 8 AM to 6 PM.  Big mistake # 1 !!

Peak sewage inflow hours, Peaking factor etc. are totally different in the case of a Residential Complex and a commercial complex with a canteen attached.  Therefore, Cut and paste is not the appropriate design route to follow.  Big mistake # 2 !!

The Cut & Paste STP of this plumbing consultant was based on the SBR ( Sequencing Batch Reactor) technology, without a proper Decanting mechanism ( Heart of an SBR System), and also not meeting any of the established norms and design criteria for an SBR Design.   Big mistake # 3 !!

Sensing something amiss, the hapless client of this plumbing consultant, a highly respected MNC appointed me to review the Technology selection, Design, Engineering  of the Cut & Paste STP of this Plumber.  This was a job I took up with immense pleasure and glee to completely disrobe the plumber and demolish his pretensions of being an Environmental Consultant and Designer of STPs.  I highlighted several serious faults, deficiencies, inconsistencies in selection of Treatment Technology, design and engineering and sent a two page questionnaire seeking his response.  Two weeks passed, and I got no response from the Plumbing consultant.  On my persistence, the Plumbing consultant sought a Face to Face meeting to clarify matters from his perspective.  Big mistake # 4 !!

Has anybody ever heard of a Plumbing Consultant winning an argument with Ecotech in matters of Technology selection, Design, Engineering, Operation, Maintenance, Resuscitation of defunct STPs ? 

“ When Ecotech Talks, people listen”  is a truism enshrined in Law ( well, almost).


This Plumbing consultant apparently was hoping against hope for a Miracle to happen like the one which saved Brother Dominic of Xerox fame in the blog above.

The Plumbing consultant arrived for the meeting almost an hour later than the appointed time. Big mistake # 5 !!  I suffer from an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ( OCD) of being on time every time for every meeting, and I expect the same from the opposite party.  The callous behaviour of the Plumbing consultant ( what else can one expect from a common plumber who can only do a cut & paste job) had my blood boiling and baying for his blood all the time I was waiting for him to show up.

Stumbling, stuttering, floundering, facing a bombardment of technical, logical, common sense questions  the plumbing consultant ducked under the Table and a feeble voice was heard saying “ After all Sir, 99% of STPs designed in Bangalore today are based on SBR Technology “

Ah ! How foolish of me not to have understood this novel  99% Theory for Designing an STP !!


Dr. Ananth S Kodavasal                                                                                                June 05, 2016

Saturday, 16 April, 2016

A LOT CAN HAPPEN OVER COFFEE

64.  A LOT CAN HAPPEN OVER COFFEE

I like the tag line of Café Coffee Day simply because it transforms the humble cup of coffee into an event pregnant with a myriad possibilities limited only by ones imagination.

Which brings me to the point I wish to make about the recent Direction of the bumptious Central Pollution control Board ( CPCB) of India, wallowing in its own self importance.  And why shouldn’t it ?  After all its Parent Ministry the MOEF (originally started off as the Ministry of Environment & Forests) is now derisively called the Ministry of Enjoyment and Fun by several of its own denizens.

The CPCB has promulgated new Rules with respect to quality of treated water from Sewage Treatment Plants ( STPs) across the length and breadth of India – From Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Assam to Gujarat or vice versa depending on which way your head is screwed on.  It says, and I am not joking, that Ammonia Nitrogen ( NH4-N) and Total Nitrogen in treated water from an STP shall be limited to 5 and 10 mg/L respectively and not vice versa.  I am having some enjoyment and fun from this term vice versa.  I love it.

Now, the new Rule also gives a grace period of a full 5 Years for existing STPs to tremble and obey and comply with the new norms with respect to Nitrogen and its compounds.  Why Five years ?  Well we all know how the mind of  Babudom  works :

- Do we not have Five year plans from the Nehruvian era ?
- Do we not have Governments which last for Five years ?  ( More or less)
- Is Five not a good Odd number ?
- Is Five not a Prime Number ?
- Is Five not half a decade ? 
- Is Five not Fu”nf in German ?

A Lot can happen over Five years in India  !

Well a Babu will be a Babu and will continue to be a BoobooNeither time nor tide has been able to change his inherent DNA.

And my serious question after all the fun and enjoyment, and rolling on the floor is over is simply this :

If the threat of Nitrogen to the Environment is really as serious as it is made out to be, why give Five full years for corrective action ? Shouldn’t it be an imperative and  the Topmost  Priority of the CPCB and the MOEF to have it in place ASAP ?  It all looks like a big joke to me from the jokers having fun and enjoyment at the expense of the common citizens of India.

It reminds me of an old print Advertisement in one of the Env. Magazines :


There is a pall of dense smoke hanging over the entire page.  And a forlorn  balloon which says in a voice almost choking “ If it is the man from the Dept. of Environment, tell him I can’t see him now”. Well said -  Avoid these folks like the Plague !


Dr. Ananth S Kodavasal                                                                         April 16, 2016


Wednesday, 13 April, 2016

PRIVATISE AND PROSPER - BWSSB STYLE


63.  PRIVATISE AND PROSPER –  BWSSB STYLE


Like the story of the visionary businessman Srihari Khoday from some 25 years ago, here is another real life recounting of my brush with another equally business minded agency – the Bangalore Water Supply & Sewerage Board, fondly called the BWSSB :  With some officers of the Board, to be more precise.

As a very strict rule, I do not entertain requests for my services from Governmental Agencies, Parastatals, Govt. undertakings etc., for reasons well known to those who may have had the misfortune to deal with these rascally entities.

About 20 years or so ago the BWSSB came to the happy conclusion that it could not handle the K&C Valley STP ( the one behind the Karnataka Golf course ) satisfactorily enough with its own resources of men and materials.  A decision was therefore taken to entrust Operation & Maintenance of the STP to private hands.  A very laudable decision by all counts no doubt - but for one deal breaking consideration which I was about to discover.

I was pushed, sweet talked, persuaded and cajoled to pick up this tender by a very close associate of mine at that time with the solemn assurance that it was for the greater good of the society and for the benefit of the long suffering Bellandur lake which was at the receiving end of Millions of litres of sewage from half of Bangalore city.  Also, the BWSSB officer in charge of this exercise was a long time friend, a class mate of his from school and college days.  Despite initial reluctance and nervous trepidation that I felt, I steeled myself to venture into hitherto uncharted territories : If Captain Kirk and his crew of Starship Enterprise can do it, so can I.

I studied word by word, para by para and page by page the tender document until I could recite the tender backwards. This method of dissecting a tender document  to the last comma and full stop was drilled into me in my first job in India with Dorr-Oliver Inc. immediately on my return from the USA.  And as prescribed in Section 3.5 of the Tender document, I visited the  STP for the customary site inspection.  From more than a  Kilometer away on the lonely Wind Tunnel Road,  I was unerringly guided to the spot by the ever increasing stench of untreated sewage. No google map was required to home in to this STP.

The STP itself presented a picture of a major disaster struck area.  Dismantled and stripped down pumps and forlorn motors strewn around helter skelter ; Sewage overflowing from channels and drains, with swarms of mosquitoes proliferating in this happy breeding ground ; Less than 30 % of Surface aerators which deliver Oxygen to the bugs which treat sewage, churning the surface of tanks, which in itself was a minor miracle.  There was not a single human soul in sight.  I beat a hasty retreat from  this unholy hell hole, now firmly determined that no amount of pushing, sweet talking, persuasion or cajoling will make me participate in this tender.

The final kick in my ass for this crazy adventurism was delivered by the BWSSB classmate himself who took me aside and gently broke to me the unwritten clause and condition of the tender for privatisation of O&M of the STP.

Apparently the STP generated a lot of organic sludge from its settling tanks which were the only units which worked in the STP,  and  which was good farmland manure.  And in those days, when Bangalore city was not the urban conglomeration and concrete jungle that it is today, there were farmlands and farmers in close vicinity to the STP.  These farmers paid Rs. 400 per tractor load to take away the manure for their use.  The total amount per day thus collected ran into several thousands of Rupees.

The classmate from the BWSSB then assured me that the only Service Level Agreement they would hold me to was that the entire proceeds of sale of organic manure from the STP should be off the books and passed back to the officers who were good enough to make the privatisation exercise happen.  There was no further requirement from the STP and no questions asked.  Bellandur lake be damned.

Three cheers for a Happy New Year  and all hail Privatisation – BWSSB style.

Dr. Ananth S Kodavasal                                                                                                April 14, 2016