Guiding Thoughts

Smart Highways

If you were asked to picture a Smart Highway, rest assured, you would think of a highway that has high speed cars, automated toll booths, etc. However, one barely pays attention to all the waste that is generated at the various food courts and malls along the highway. Excel Industries Limited, a pioneer in Sustainable Municipal Solid Waste Management presents its unique perspective on how Highways can be made Smart and Sustainable by at-source management of organic food waste, sewage and human waste generated in large quantities at the food courts along the highway using simple de-centralized techniques and generating end products which could be used for unique purposes such as urban farming, re-usable water and fuel!


Smart Highways in India

A Concept note on ecologically Sustainable Highways in India

Author: Ashwin C Shroff, CMD, Excel Industries Limited

If you were asked to picture a Smart Highway, rest assured, you would picture a Highway having high speed cars, automated toll collection booths, electronic surveillance systems and shining sign boards. Are you quite sure that having the above really makes a highway smart? Think again.

Quite surely, you must have stopped by one of the several food courts while driving on one of the expressways in India. Have you ever noticed the lack of sanitation there? Have you wondered what happens to all the food waste, human waste and recyclable waste generated at the food courts? Also, have you ever wondered the amount of pollution generated on the highways due the large number of vehicles plying on the highway and its long term repercussions?

By suitably designing these food court areas, one can really make the highways sustainable and hence smart. A smart highway in the real sense is the one which besides being appealing to high speed cars is also the one which is ecologically and economically viable.

Forever committed to the cause of sustainability, solid waste management and sanitation in the country, this concept note tries to bring about a futuristic yet simple and ecologically sustainable view to the Smart Highways of the country.

Every car plying on the highways stops at the food court area for one or more of the following reasons:
– To fuel up the car
– To relieve oneself by visiting the restrooms
– To fill oneself up by eating and drinking at the food courts
In the above process, one rarely thinks about the waste generated and what could be done to the waste? We suggest several easy to implement de-centralized solutions to the above issues that would go a long way in making the highways green and ecologically sustainable.

Organic food waste generated from the process of cooking and also as leftovers of food consumed at the food courts can be treated at source using a de-centralized composting or bio methanation plant. A food court on Mumbai-Pune expressway would generate over 100 tons of organic waste annually. This is ideal for either of the above two technologies to convert organic waste into bio-manure/compost and/or bio-energy.
Compost recovered from the Composting plant can either be fed to the farms in the vicinity for growing high quality organic produce or the food court area can itself be designed in a way as to have vertical farms to grow fresh green vegetables needed for cooking the food consumed in the food court.

Likewise, the biogas generated from the de-centralized bio- methanation plant can be converted into more value added product such as bio-CNG or ethanol. This can then be fed back to the fuel station at the exit to fuel the cars with clean fuel. Bio-CNG and Ethanol as fuel is getting increasing attention as source of clean & renewal source fuel and mandating blending or fuel switch to reduce carbon foot prints in several countries in the world. With a strain on crude oil resources across the world, inflationary & geo-political risk all countries including India will soon have to look at these alternate clean renewable sources of fuel.
From the toilets and kitchens at the exit, sewage is generated which can be easily treated using a de-centralized sewage treatment plant using easily available technologies. Only upon primary treatment, the treated water can be easily fed back for irrigation of the vertical farms at the food court as also the various trees along the highway.

Along the length of the highway, several locally favorable fruit trees can be planted. These trees serve the dual purpose of providing fresh produce as well as a larger goal of carbon sequestration against the immense pollution created by the vehicles plying constantly on the highway. Compost from the de-centralized composting plants and treated water from the de-centralized sewage treatment plants must be used to water these trees.

Just like there is organic food waste, there is also an equal or more amount of recyclable waste in the form of paper and plastic. This can be easily recycled and offer productive work / livelihood for micro-entrepreneurs as also provide framework for inclusion of local area people. At the source of generation, the segregated recyclable waste could be safely collected, crushed and baled into easily transportable material which can be recycled into more value added products at a recycling center. A recycling center can be developed along the highway which could cater to the recycling of all such waste coming from various pick up points along the length of the highway. Thus pollution impact of various waste streams is minimized as also it provide livelihood for unskilled / poor people from waste value chain.

By adopting these simple yet sustainable methods, the highways can be called smart in the true sense. These highways can thus be ecologically viable. The major tangible gains that can be demonstrated as below:
a. Reduction of cost and pollution in transporting food from long distances by growing high quality fresh produce at source in vertical farms
b. Reduction of Green House Gas (GHG) emission by stopping the waste being sent to the land fill or waste flowing into nearby water bodies
c. Carbon sequestration by way of planting trees along the length of the highway

All stakeholders such as travelers traveling on the highway, infrastructure companies building the highways, national and international funding agencies financing the highway projects as well as policy makers across ministries stand to gain by this approach.

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Fostering Global Peace – Swami Vivekananda’s Dream : Presentation by Shri Ashwin Shroff at Ramakrishna Mission, Khar, Mumbai

Fostering Global Peace – Swami Vivekananda’s Dream

Global Co-operation and peaceful co-existence
through International Trade

Ashwin Shroff
2 February 2014
Ramakrishna Mission, Khar, Mumbai


• The subject “Fostering Global Peace- Swami Vivekananda’s dream” chosen for deliberations to celebrate Swamiji’s 150th Birthday is indeed apt and approporiate.

• If one studies and looks at Swamiji’s life attentively, the one thing which strikes us is Swamiji’s global outlook which transcended religions, nationalism and sectarianism.

• Swami Jitatamanandaji in his biography of Swamiji captures this “international / global / universal” aspect of Swamiji very succinctly when he calls Swamiji the “Prophet of Internationalism”. Chapter 10 of this biography is titled “Prophet of Internationalism – Harmony of Nations and Harmony of Religions”

• The concern for Internationalism and a universal / global outlook is seen in Swamiji’s speeches and writings. A few excerpts will give a clear idea of this “

Extract from a letter to his disciples written in 1894 (Reference : Swami Vivekananda – Prophet and Pathfinder by Swami Jitatmananda)

“Everything must be sacrificed, if necessary, for that one sentiment, Universality. Whether I live or die, whether I go back to India or not, remember this specially, that universality – perfect acceptance, not tolerance only – we preach and perform”

Again consider this extract from a speech given in 1897 (Reference : Swami Vivekananda – Prophet and Pathfinder by Swami Jitatmananda)

“It is becoming every day clearer and clearer that the solution of any problem can never be attained on racial, or national or narrow grounds. Every idea has to become broad till it covers the whole of this world, every aspiration must go on increasing till it has engulfed the whole of humanity, nay the whole life within its scope.

……. Problems can no more be solved on national grounds only. They can be only be solved when looked at in the broader light of international grounds. International Organisations, International Combinations, International Laws are the cry of the day. That shows the solidarity”

Swamiji’s message of globalisation / internationalism / Universality was rooted in the Philosophy of Vedanta which stress the presence of the single, indivisible “universal spirit” in all of us irrespective of nationality, religion, caste or creed.

Ramakrishna Mission Centres spread out in all parts of the world are carrying forward Swami’s message of fostering global peace, harmony and understanding.

On a practical plane, Indian spiritual literature emphasises the “Chatur Vidha Purusharthas” – The four aims of a noble life. These are “Dharma’ (Right Conduct), “Artha” (Economic Prosperity), “Kama” (Fulfilment of Desires) and “Moksha” (Spiritual Liberation). Thus in the Indian spiritual framework, Wealth / Economic Prosperity is an integral part of spirituality and not something which conflicts with spirituality. As Chanakya mentions in his Chanakya Sutras “ Dharmasya Moolam Artham” – Root of Doing right is wealth”.

International Trade has a significant contribution to make towards the generation of wealth and consequently alleviating poverty and lifting the standard of living of millions across the globe.

The link between Trade and Political Conflict is well established by history. The trade wars of the 1930s in which countries engaged in competitive devaluations of their currencies and raised trade barriers worsened the great depression and this is now seen to be an important factor leading to the World War II. Likewise, it was trade disputes which lead to the “opium wars” between European Powers and China.

Likewise, in this era when there is a tendency to divide on the basis of nationalistic, religious and sectarian grounds, trade has the potential to serve as a strong binding force in the promotion of mutual self interest and well being.

The WTO Brochure lists out the following ten benefits of an international trading system :

a. The system helps promote peace
b. Disputes are handled constructively
c. Rules make life easier for all
d. Freer trade cuts the costs of living
e. It provides more choice of products and qualities
f. Trade raises incomes
g. Trade stimulates economic growth
h. The basic principles make life more efficient
i. Governments are shielded from lobbying
j. The system encourages good government

To quote from the WTO Brochure

“Peace is partly an outcome of the two most fundamental principles of the trading system which are (1) Helping trade to flow smoothly and (2) providing countries with a constructive and fair outcome of the international co-operation that the system creates and reinforces

Crudely put, sales people are usually reluctant to fight their customers. In other words, if trade flows smoothly and both sides enjoy a healthy commercial relation, political conflict is less likely. What is more, smoothly flowing trade also helps people all over the world become better off. People who are more prosperous and contented are less likely to fight”

Interaction between Jamshedji Tata and Swami Vivekananda

In 1893, in a boat that sailed from Yokohama to Vancouver, two great Indians, one, a monk and the other, an industrialist met for the first time. The monk was Swami Vivekananda, who was to take and interpret to the West, more effectively than anyone else, the religious and philosophical tradition of India. The industrialist was Jamshedji Tata, the father of Indian industry. As they got talking, Vivekananda explained his mission of preaching in the US, the universality of all religions. Jamshedji said he was in search of equipment and technology that would build the steel industry and make India a strong industrial nation. Vivekananda blessed Jamshedji, and remarked “How wonderful it would be if we could combine the scientific and technological achievements of the West with the asceticism and humanism of India!” They never met after that journey. But these words struck a chord in Jamshedji’s heart. Five years later, Jamshedji’s response came in a letter to Vivekananda.

The letter is reproduced below:

Esplanade House, Bombay.
23rd Nov. 1898

Dear Swami Vivekananda,

I trust, you remember me as a fellow- traveller on your voyage from Japan to Chicago

I trust, you remember me as a fellow- traveller on your voyage from Japan to Chicago. I very much recall at this moment your views on the growth of the ascetic spirit in India, and the duty, not of destroying, but of diverting it into useful channels.

I recall these ideas in connection with my scheme of Research Institute of Science for India, of which you have doubtless heard or read. It seems to me that no better use can be made of the ascetic spirit than the establishment of monasteries or residential halls for men dominated by this spirit, where they should live with ordinary decency and devote their lives to the cultivation of sciences –natural and humanistic. I am of opinion that ,if such a crusade in favour of an asceticism of this kind were undertaken by a competent leader, it would greatly help asceticism, science, and the good name of our common country; and I know not who would make a more fitting general of such a campaign than Vivekananda. Do you think you would care to apply yourself to the mission of galvanizing into life our ancient traditions in this respect? Perhaps, you

Perhaps, you had better begin with a fiery pamphlet rousing our people in this matter. I would cheerfully defray all the expenses of publication.”

With kind regards, I am, dear Swami
Yours faithfully,
Jamshedji Tata

Vivekananda was busy starting the Ramakrishna Mission and could not accept the offer but he promptly sent his disciple Sister Nivedita who met Jamshedji and his advisor, Mr Padsa. A detailed plan formulated by them was promptly suppressed by the Viceroy, Lord Curzon. However Tatas persevered and continued to work on their plans.

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