Learning from communities and working together has been the key. – Sreedhar Ramamurthi

Sreedhar Ramamurthi
Bionic Environmental Solutions (Cofounder), New Delhi

Q1. Please share your inspirational journey with us?

In my childhood I was fascinated by the various aspects of the earth and wanted to learn geography. A big thick book “Physical Geology” by Arthur Holmes drew my interest in the public library that I used to frequent. I decided to become a geologist. I pursued and eventually finished my Master’s from University of Roorkee, which is now IIT, Roorkee.

During the stay in Roorkee, I was deeply involved with a pioneering group in the Electrical Engineering Department, Appropriate Ecotechnology Development Group (AEDG) and were involved in developing mist chambers for plant propogation, building biogas plants and undertaking programmes for plant conservation in the campus and in difficult landslide prone terrains of Himalayas.

I was selected to the Geological Survey of India through the UPSC exam and the Department of Atomic Energy. I joined the DAE and was involved for a one season in Columbium and Tantalum Investigations and later to map the Uranium deposits. During this time I was also exposed to the tribal communities living in the region. I was distressed that neither the company nor the State was warning people of the hazards of radiation and was shocked to see children playing on the tailing pond and villagers grazing in lands which showed radiation intensities which were 30,000 times the normal. I found it difficult to convince either the community or the Government and resigned from the job. I then took up research on some exotic volcanic rocks of Italy and subsequently joined the ONGC exploring for Oil. While working on some of the exploration tasks, I realised that there was lot to do outside of large institutions. Development Alternatives, an emerging development organisation tasked me with setting up the Environmental Systems Branch and today it is globally known group.

The journey of enabling institutions and networks started and I have been instrumental in establishment of TARU, a reputed development research company, the Indian Network for Ethics and Climate Change, Environics Group of organisations, Biodiversity Conservation India Limited, mines minerals and PEOPLE, Mine Labour Protection Campaign Trust, the EIA Resource and Response Centre, Occupational and Environmental Health Network, Mojolab Foundation, Hackergram.

Q2. You are a Co-Founder of Environics School of Management Sciences. Please share something about your venture?

This is an exploration to deal with the huge management deficit we have in managing our development activities. We focus on training community members and professionals who work for the communities on Environmental Assessments, Legislation in Mining, Environment and Forests, Human Rights. We also undertake courses for other institutions. We will soon launch more formal programmes for larger audiences. With the recent developments virtual education is becoming more crucial and we will combine that with direct experiential learning on the field.

Q3. What kind of hurdles did you face in your journey?

Life is a challenge. In my younger days I thought if our country found enough energy sources, we would not be poor. But when I started helping discover uranium and oil, I realised that it is not merely the availability of resources, it is the political economy of management. Today I find we have more vested interests destroying our natural resources for private profit and our governments are slowly becoming puppets in their hands. So, the challenge is to save the people from those whose duty is to serve them! In the context of the management centre, we designed a course for the University of Mysore on an MBA in CSR. We were on the verge of starting the physical programme in India in 2014. However, the Ministry of Higher Education suddenly banned the conduct of outreach courses and we had to withdraw the course despite students having registered. In the subsequent year we tried to initiate the course in Bangalore, but by the time the State government had changed rules. We are really plagued by the whims and fancies of our governance mechanism.

Q4. You are an alumnus of IIT, Roorkee. What was that experience and how do you bring that standard of education of IIT in your school?

Roorkee was an amazing place to learn and its proximity to the Himalayas enabled lot of opportunities to be in tough regions. The Earth Sciences department had one of the best teachers and academicians of the time and had a constant flow of visiting professors from the best of the institutions around the world. So, the intellectual world was stimulating and that is what we enable for our trainees. The other thing which I imbibed in Roorkee and insist, is the motto which is  (“Shrm bina Na Kimapi Sadhyam”)  Nothing can be achieved without hard work.

Q5. What kind of problems have you faced in your Industry/Domain and how will you remove it?

The area I work in has several vested interests operating against such as corrupt officials, lazy bureaucrats, profiteering businessmen and practical problems of poverty and squalor. Learning from communities and working together has been the key means that I have used in overcoming them apart from having lot of patience and forebearance.

Q6. You worked in ONGC as a Geologist. Please share some good tips to become a great Geologist?

You need top be inquisitive and willing to think and work hard in tough terrains. Temperamentally you must love nature and its complexity.

Q7. What is the meaning of success in your terms?

To have been useful to several people in society.

Q8. What was the role of your family or colleagues in shaping your visions and goals?

Yes, they have always been encouraging and inspiring.

Q9. How do you handle stress in this fast and competitive life?

I do not generally get tensed because I think there is only what I can do that can be done. And my way to cheer up others is to tell them “Tension is to be given not taken”