Religious Figures and Water Practitioners Come Together to Awaken Society’s Consciousness on Water Management in India

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June 20, 2023

Kuldeep Chauhan, Editor-in-Chief, HimbuMail
20 June 2023, Shimla/New Delhi

For the first time in India, a conference brought together influential religious figures and water practitioners, establishing a powerful alliance with a shared vision of safeguarding water resources for future generations.

There is no disagreement over sanctity of water in all religions. But problem is how different communities and their followers take up the task to conserve and protect water and on which scale of their involvement?

There are individual success stories in Assam, Himachal, Ladakh (Ice Stupa), Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and other places where individual initiatives have created wonders conserving water and forests.

There are tribal communities in the Himalaya who live in harmony with Nature preserving and protecting water and bio-diversities. But the challenge is how to bring all on board to protect water, forests and glaciers from depletion.

The conference brought Religious leaders from various faiths together at N D Tiwari Bhawan in New Delhi on June 18 and addressed the pressing need for water conservation and management.

Under the banner of “Water Security and Peace” the conference witnessed the convergence of diverse religious teachings. They all emphasized the paramount importance of protecting nature.

Recognizing that the protection of water is a fundamental responsibility outlined in religious texts worldwide, the religious leaders urged a global awakening towards water conservation and peaceful coexistence.

During the conference, several key decisions or resolves were made.

Religious leaders pledged to collaborate closely with social workers to preserve India’s faith in the sanctity of water and nature.

A comprehensive water literacy campaign will be launched across universities, colleges to promote awareness and ensure water security.

Notably, Chetna Yatra, a symbolic journey led by religious leaders of all faiths, will be organized to raise awareness about groundwater recharge, inspiring communities to actively participate in conservation efforts.

Eminent subject experts from across the country shed light on the dire consequences of the water crisis compounded by climate change.

The conference drew a diverse audience, encompassing individuals from all walks of life who united in their resolution to forge ahead in water conservation initiatives.

Dr. Rajendra Singh, President of the People’s World Commission on Drought and Flood said the impending water crisis threatens global stability. “To avert this crisis, people from all segments of society must unite, as only through collective action can peace be preserved.”

Dr. Indira Khurana, President of the Himalayan River Basin Council, expressed her concern about the unexpected swiftness with which climate change impacts have affected humanity. Underscoring the gravity of the situation, she stressed the urgent need for society to address these challenges together, transcending societal divisions.

The program’s convener, Maulana Qasmi, highlighted that religious leaders felt a shared responsibility to stand alongside society in protecting nature. “Their aim is to awaken society to the critical subject of water conservation, fostering a deep sense of awareness and urgency.”

The conference featured the insightful perspectives of notable figures such as Sudarshan Das from the Mahanadi Bachao Andolan in Odisha, Vinod Bodhankar from Pune, Neeraj Kumar from Bihar, Deepak Malviya from Kanpur, and Anil Sagar, Arun Tiwari, Ibrahim Khan, Raj Kumar Sangwan, Subodh Nandan Sharma, Lakshmi Bhatia, Devangshu Dutta, among others.

Over 140 participants passionately shared their views, further fueling the collective resolve towards water conservation.

National convenor of Jan-Jan Jodo Abhiyan, Sanjay Singh, emphasized that the time has come for people of all religions and social classes to unite on a massive scale, collectively spearheading the cause of water conservation.

Distinguished representatives from various faiths graced the event, including Dharma Guru Swami Sushil Goswami, Vivek Muni representing Jainism, Ijazak Malekar from Judaism, Father Sebastian from the Christian faith, and Shri Mahant Vivekanand. Maulana AR Shaheen Qasmi and Mr. Tariq represented Islam, while Dharam Singh Nihang advocated for the Sikh faith, and Mr. A.K. Merchant shared the views of the Bahai faith.

The historic conference, organized by the People’s World Commission on Drought and Flood and the World Peace Organization, serves as a powerful testament to the growing realization that water security and peace are intricately intertwined.

The religious leaders have taken up the mantle of environmental stewardship in India and it remains to be seen how the people and other NGOs, bodies and government agencies replicate the resolves on the ground zero.

If what is resolved at Conference gets practiced on ground zero, the Nation and the world stand poised for a better future where collective efforts pave the way for a harmonious coexistence with nature.

Will Tetra Pack of Frooti, Appy be Banned From July 1?

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June 28, 2022

June 28, 2022

Edited by Surabhi Shaurya, India.com

The blanket ban on single-use plastic items from next month poses a challenge to cool beverages such as Frooti, Real, Tropicana and Maaza. Earlier, beverage company Parle Agro, which owns Frooti and Appy had also urged the government to extend the deadline to implement the ban on plastic straws by six months. For the unversed, the government’s ban on single-use plastics, including plastic straw, is going to be effective from July 1, 2022.

Calling the government’s decision a ‘hasty ban’, Parle Agro had said it will ‘negatively impact’ overall businesses of the industry players in the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) and beverage segment. “While Parle Agro endorses the government-led ban on the use of plastic straws, our plea is to postpone the implementation of the injunction by six months,” the company had said in a statement.

Amul Urges Environment Ministry to Postpone Ban

Besides, leading dairy firm Amul has urged the environment ministry to postpone the ban imposed on plastic straw by one year due to lack of adequate availability of paper straws in the domestic as well as international markets. “We have written a letter to Environment Secretary on the proposed ban on single use plastic straw,” Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) MD R S Sodhi had said last month.

GCMMF markets its milk and other dairy products under Amul brand. “The plastic straw in our butter milk and lassi is attached to tetra pack. It is part of primary packaging. So we have urged the Environment Ministry to include it as part of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and recycling,” Sodhi said.

Amul needs 10-12 lakh plastic straws daily. Besides, Sodhi said, the company has urged the ministry to provide local industry one year to set up dedicated facilities for producing paper straws. “Paper straws are not available in domestic market. We don’t have capacity. We are not getting paper straws in international market,” he added.

Why Are Beverage Makers Worried?

To ensure a smooth transition to environment-friendly options like the paper of PLA straws, non-alcoholic beverage makers would require at least 6-8 months.

Parle Agro said that India produces and sells around 6 billion packs of paper-based beverage cartons with integrated plastic straws per annum. The available capacity to provide alternatives like biodegradable PLA straws or paper straws by a local Indian manufacturer is 1.3 million units per day, which is much less than the actual requirement.

“Packaging companies will need to invest in the right infrastructure to accommodate the changes which will require time to ensure the alternative is appropriate and cost-effective, especially during inflationary times,” the company said in a statement, adding that currently, there is no local manufacturer who can accommodate the demand.”

How Will Ban Impact The Sale Of Cold Beverages

The supply chain of beverages sold in small tetra packs will be disrupted with the blanket ban. Moreover, the beverage makers might have to incur heavy import and logistics costs as they import paper straws to replace plastic straws.

Speaking to Moneycontrol, Devangshu Dutta, CEO of retail consulting firm Third Eyesight said, “The companies have to look at alternative solutions, which may increase the costs. It will be challenging for the companies to pass on the increase in cost to the consumer as it may dampen demand, especially given the fact that these products are priced at low price points to target a certain consumer cohort.”

Full list of items to be banned from July 1:

  1. Earbuds with plastic sticks
  2. Plastic sticks for balloons
  3. Plastic flags
  4. Candy sticks
  5. Ice-cream sticks
  6. Polystyrene (Thermocol) for decoration
  7. Plastic plates, cups, glasses, cutlery such as forks, spoons, knives, straws and trays
  8. Wrapping or packing films around sweet boxes
  9. Invitation cards
  10. Cigarette packets
  11. Plastic or PVC banners less than 100 micron
  12. Stirrers

Explainer: How a plastic straw ban will impact beverage makers

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June 10, 2022

Devika Singh, Moneycontrol

June 10, 2022

As the threat of a plastic straw ban looms, dairy products giant Amul has written to the Prime Minister’s Office, urging a delay of its implementation by up to one year.

Amul makes products such as flavoured milk, lassi and spiced butter milk that come in small cartons packed with plastic straws for on-the-go consumption.

The letter to the PMO, sent ahead of the proposed July 1 start of the ban on single-use plastic products, said the move may have a “negative impact” on farmers and milk consumption.

“We agree it is a positive step to reduce plastic usage,” R.S. Sodhi, managing director of Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF), which owns the Amul brand, told Moneycontrol.

“However, we have requested the government to delay the implementation by six months to a year so that we utilize this time to gradually shift from plastic straws to paper straws,” Sodhi said.

The government earlier this year issued a notification banning several single-use plastic products. The ban has the potential to affect the sales of beverages sold in small tetra packs.

Here’s a rundown on all the products that are proposed to be banned, why beverage makers are pushing for a delay in its implementation and how it will affect them.

What does the government notification say?

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change released a notification in March banning single-use plastic items.

Such products include plastic plates, cups, glasses, forks, spoons, knives, straws, trays, swizzle sticks, wrapping or packing film, invitation cards, and cigarette packets and plastic or PVC banners of less than 100 microns from July 1.

Other products such as earbuds with plastic sticks, plastic sticks for balloons, plastic flags, wrappers for candy sticks and ice-cream sticks, and polystyrene (thermocol) for decoration also come under the ambit of the ban.

In February, the government had notified guidelines on the extended producer responsibility for plastic packaging under the Plastic Waste Management Amendment Rules, 2022.

“Directions have been issued to e-commerce companies, leading single-use plastic sellers/users, and plastic raw material manufacturers with respect to phasing out of identified single-use plastic items,” the notification said.

Why are beverage makers worried?

Non-alcoholic beverage makers like Amul; Parle Agro, maker of Frooti; and Dabur, which sells a range of fruit-based drinks under the Real brand, have a significant share of their revenue coming from low-unit packs priced at Rs 10.

These packs, which come with a plastic straw for consumers to drink the beverages, are meant for on-the-consumption and are mainly sold in rural areas. According to industry estimates, packaged consumer goods makers derive 25-40 percent of sales from low-unit packs priced at Rs 2-Rs 15.

The only replacement to the plastic straws available in the market are paper straws that are produced in a very limited quantity in India.

Plastic vs. paper

Sample this. According to the industry, about 6 billion packs of paper-based beverage cartons with integrated plastic straws are sold annually in the country.

The capacity to produce paper straws is only 1.3 million straws per day against a requirement of 6 million/day.

Paper straws are also an expensive alternative to plastic straws given their limited availability.

According to Schauna Chauhan, CEO of Parle Agro, although the company started importing paper straws to adhere to the new rules by the given deadline, it is not a sustainable solution.

“The percentage increase in the cost for importing PLA straws and paper straws goes up by 259 percent and 278 percent respectively. The economics just does not match up for a Rs.10 product,” she said.

While a plastic straw costs 10 paise and accounts for 1 percent of a Rs 10 beverage carton, a paper straw costs 40-45 paise and would account for 4-4.5 percent of the cost.

Besides paper straws, beverage makers have found another alternative in PLA straws that are made of corn starch and biodegradable.

In-house production of paper straws

Beverage companies are urging the government to delay the ban so that they can build adequate capacity for producing paper straws in the country.

Amul plans to import paper straw-making machines and start production in-house. Parle Agro, too, has similar plans.

“We have already begun work on developing many local MSMEs {micro, small and medium enterprises} to be able to cater to our volume of biodegradable straws,” said Chauhan of Parle Agro.

“A six-month extension will help straw manufacturers in India build adequate capacity to manufacture and supply biodegradable straws to beverage companies in India,” she said.

These companies source plastic straws from third-party manufacturers.

Potential impact of the ban

The ban, if it comes into effect on July 1, will disrupt the supply chain of beverages sold in small tetra packs such as Frooti, Appy Fizz, Real Fruit Juice, Amul Lassi and similar products.

The companies are also expected to incur heavy import and logistics costs as they import paper straws to replace plastic straws.

“The companies have to look at alternative solutions, which may increase the costs. It will be challenging for the companies to pass on the increase in cost to the consumer as it may dampen demand, especially given the fact that these products are priced at low price points to target a certain consumer cohort,” said Devangshu Dutta, CEO of retail consulting firm Third Eyesight.

To tackle the challenge, Amul plans to sell its products without straws until the company builds the capacity to produce paper straws in India.

“However, this impacts the on-the-go consumption of our products,” said Sodhi.

Sales in the hinterland

A majority of the sales of these low-unit packs come from rural India, and could hurt the earnings of packaged consumer goods makers. Parle Agro, for instance, derives about 50 percent of its sales from rural India.

“The increase in the product cost will lead to a fall in demand and affect sales significantly. The hasty ban will negatively impact the industry and overall businesses of numerous players in the FMCG and beverage segment.,” said Chauhan.

Experts say growth in the non-alcoholic beverages segment has been driven by tetra packs, and while plastic packaging and straws do have an adverse impact on the environment, the switchover is set to disrupt the industry in the short and medium terms.

(Published in Moneycontrol)

Retail in Critical Care – The Impact of COVID-2019

Devangshu Dutta

April 7, 2020

Oil shocks, financial market crashes, localised wars and even medical emergencies like SARS pale when compared to the speed and the scale of the mayhem created by SARS-CoV-2. In recent decades the world has become far more interconnected through travel and trade, so the viral disease – medical and economic – now spreads faster than ever. Airlines carrying business and leisure-travellers have also quickly carried the virus. Businesses benefitting from lower costs and global scale are today infected deeply due to the concentration of manufacturing and trade.

A common defensive action worldwide is the lock-down of cities to slow community transmission (something that, ironically, the World Health Organization was denying as late as mid-January). The Indian government implemented a full-scale 3-week national lockdown from March 25. The suddenness of this decision took most businesses by surprise, but quick action to ensure physical distancing was critical.

Clearly consumer businesses are hit hard. If we stay home, many “needs” disappear; among them entertainment, eating out, and buying products related to socializing. Even grocery shopping drops; when you’re not strolling through the supermarket, the attention is focussed on “needs”, not “wants”. A travel ban means no sales at airport and railway kiosks, but also no commute to the airport and station which, in turn means that the businesses that support taxi drivers’ daily needs are hit.

Responses vary, but cash is king! US retailers have wrangled aid and tax breaks of potentially hundreds of billions of dollars, as part of a US$2 trillion stimulus. A British retailer is filing for administration to avoid threats of legal action, and has asked landlords for a 5-month retail holiday. Several western apparel retailers are cancelling orders, even with plaintive appeals from supplier countries such as Bangladesh and India. In India, large corporate retailers are negotiating rental waivers for the lockdown period or longer. Many retailers are bloated with excess inventory and, with lost weeks of sales, have started cancelling orders with their suppliers citing “force majeure”. Marketing spends have been hit. (As an aside, will “viral marketing” ever be the same?)

On the upside are interesting collaborations and shifts emerging. In the USA, Jo-Ann Stores is supplying fabric and materials to be made up into masks and hospital gowns at retailer Nieman Marcus’ alteration facilities. LVMH is converting its French cosmetics factories into hand sanitizer production units for hospitals, and American distilleries are giving away their alcohol-based solutions. In India, hospitality groups are providing quarantine facilities at their empty hotels. Zomato and Swiggy are partnering to deliver orders booked by both online and offline retailers, who are also partnering between themselves, in an unprecedented wave of coopetition. Ecommerce and home delivery models are getting a totally unexpected boost due to quarantine conditions.

Life-after-lockdown won’t go back to “normal”. People will remain concerned about physical exposure and are unlikely to want to spend long periods of time in crowds, so entertainment venues and restaurants will suffer for several weeks or months even after restrictions are lifted, as will malls and large-format stores where families can spend long periods of time.

The second major concern will be income-insecurity for a large portion of the consuming population. The frequency and value of discretionary purchases – offline and online – will remain subdued for months including entertainment, eating-out and ordering-in, fashion, home and lifestyle products, electronics and durables.

The saving grace is that for a large portion of India, the Dusshera-Deepavali season and weddings provide a huge boost, and that could still float some boats in the second half of this year. Health and wellness related products and services would also benefit, at least in the short term. So 2020 may not be a complete washout.

So, what now?

Retailers and suppliers both need to start seriously questioning whether they are valuable to their customer or a replaceable commodity, and crystallise the value proposition: what is it that the customer values, and why? Business expansion, rationalised in 2009-10, had also started going haywire recently. It is again time to focus on product line viability and store productivity, and be clear-minded about the units to be retained.

Someone once said, never let a good crisis be wasted.

This is a historical turning point. It should be a time of reflection, reinvention, rejuvenation. It would be a shame if we fail to use it to create new life-patterns, social constructs, business models and economic paradigms.

(This article was published in the Financial Express under the headline “As Consumer businesses take a hard hit, time for retailers to reflect and reinvent”

5 Pieces of Advice to Young Professionals Entering the Fashion Industry

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May 27, 2019

(The following is the video and the text of the Commencement Speech by Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight, at the Convocation of the batch graduating in 2019 from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Patna, India.)

I would like to just share a few learnings from my own career. I hope some of these learnings will provide you some food for thought, and if they stick, I hope they prove valuable to you in some way in your own career.

I think as a graduate of a professional institute, there are 5 life-skills or attributes or pieces of advice that could be useful to you.

  1. Approach work in an integrative manner, not distributive: As you enter the industry, you will find that there is a tendency to specialize. Entry level roles are functionally specific. As an individual you need to make a special effort to not lose the larger perspective. As you grow in your career you will find that an ability to connect the dots and show others the bigger picture will be a more valuable skill than you can imagine today. So, if you are a designer, as about a hundred of you present here are, please spend time and effort understanding the intricacies of manufacturing, the nuances of marketing and the thrust of business development. If you are a merchandiser or a technologist, please make time to expose yourself to art, music, cinema – what might seem to you as entertainment (or even a waste of time) today will go a long way in preparing you for leadership roles, because you will be able to not only understand your own function but understand what makes the other parts of the organisation tick.
  2. Be available to others: No matter what work you do, it is never in isolation and depends on support of your colleagues and peers, within and outside the organisation. By making yourself available to others – whether to help in a professional situation or personal – you lay the foundations for relationships that will support you through your career and your life in ways that you cannot anticipate or plan. All professional success is built on foundations laid by others. The best way to express thanks for their contributions is by making yourself available to make others succeed.
  3. Learn. Learn. Never stop learning: As you graduate today, I hope you will have no illusion that you have learned everything you need for the rest of your career, and that you are set for life. The world is changing faster than ever, and so is the market and the industry. Make your skill set something that is refreshed all the time. If you don’t cultivate the hunger to learn, it is very likely that there will come a point in your career where you are feeling stuck and will not have the tools available to push yourself into a new trajectory or career orbit.
  4. Have integrity: Be honest to the work that you do, be honest to the organisation that you work for, to your colleagues, to your customers, to your suppliers, to your juniors. The word “integrity” has its roots in “intact” or “whole”. When someone lacks integrity, it is as if they have a split personality – thinking or believing one way, while behaving another way. The greater the difference between the two, the more energy you will waste. If you have integrity in life, if your thoughts, words and actions are aligned, all your energy will work in the same direction. I know this could be possibly the most difficult pieces of advice I’m asking you to follow, but I think it will pay off for you in building your career.
  5. Adopt a responsible approach towards the environment: As graduating students of NIFT you need to realise that you are becoming a part of the 2nd most polluting industry in the world after oil and gas! As India’s economic growth continues, the fashion, consumer products and retail sector are expected to grow as well. It is critical that today’s youth actually start questioning how this industry runs worldwide. Please don’t blindly accept that just because the global industry has worked in a particular way for the last 80-100 years, it is the right way. The fashion sector runs on planned obsolescence – i.e. products are planned to be discarded within a short time, even if physically and functionally there is nothing wrong with them. At a recent industry conference, I called fashion a “zombie industry” – zombies are supposed to be dead but they act as if they are alive, as they run about eating people’s brains. Don’t become another zombie in a zombie industry. Find ways to fight the waste created within and by this industry. If you can make it more sustainable, less wasteful, it is your own world that will be a better place to live in.

Thank you so much for patiently hearing me out. I hope some of the advice would have resonated with you, and will prove useful. I wish you all the very best and offer you my congratulations, on behalf of all the other alumni – welcome to the industry. Thank you!