Environmental issues weren’t always discussed with the kind of urgency as they are now. Clean drinking water, good air, hygienic living conditions, effective waste disposal, etc, were the only requirements by the civic community. Civil engineers were called upon to give efficient solutions for these basic issues, who then had to educate themselves. But now the purview of environmental concerns has extended to carbon trading, waste management, impact assessment and mitigation, environmental planning, health safety and sanitation, water supply and treatment, air pollution management and other domains.
This led to the emergence of a new field called environmental engineering, which includes subjects like international environmental law and business management. “Human interaction with nature ended up becoming a threat to ourselves. Nature also began to respond with catastrophes, having lost the equilibrium,” says Kannan Pasupathiraj, managing partner, EcoTec, which offers waste water management solutions in India. Based in Chennai, pursued environmental engineering at the Technical University of Hamburg, Germany. “Nordic countries were more environmentally conscious then and within the 30 subjects in our curriculum, we could choose our specialisation — water engineering, waste management, environmental planning and management, environmental impact assessment, etc. India’s approach to environmental engineering is still primitive in comparison. It has only begun to evolve,”
he opines. He has worked with a waste water treatment plant in Hamburg, followed by research at Ultrawaves Water and Environmental Technologies, Hamburg, and has engaged in humanitarian relief work in Sri Lanka.
The academic angle
Delhi College of Engineering (DCE) offers courses in environmental engineering at bachelor’s, master’s and PhD levels. “The field is gaining importance. Placements are guaranteed and many students are also heading abroad for further studies. The private sector offers lucrative opportunities. We have 60 students at BTech level and 18 in master’s now,” says Prof SK Singh, dean, department of environmental engineering at DCE.
After completing PhD, students can become researchers at places like National Environmental Engineering Research Institute in India, or become scientists or teachers in their areas of specialisation. A foreign experience can really help. Now more funds are being allocated to research in this area with MNCs stepping in to clean up the mess. Science and engineering graduates can become planners, environmental engineers, advisors, carbon traders, be employed with MNCs to plan and carry out projects under their corporate social responsibility. State Pollution Control Boards too require qualified professionals.
But that’s not all, there are jobs in the humanitarian sector as organisations like International Red Cross, UNICEF, UNEP and UNESCO that are engaged in emergency and relief work across the globe. Short-term courses are also conducted by United Nations Institute for Training and Research to bring engineers up-to-date. Pasupathiraj believes the waste water segment would be the largest in India.
“It’s not just what an engineer can learn; it’s also how he communicates. Everyone knows the cause of climate change, but something needs to set him apart. That’s where his awareness and exposure will come into play. The multicultural environment that awaits them requires good communication,” says Pasupathiraj.
Prof Singh believes freshers can get paid Rs 3-4 lakh annually in India. Pasupathiraj is of the view that with more exposure, experience and awareness and good communication skills, environmental engineers can earn up to Rs 35 lakh per annum.
Where to study
IIT-Kanpur, IIT-Kharagpur, University of Pune, Jadavpur University, Indraprastha University, IIT-BHU, Manipal University, IIT-Madras and Anna University are popular destinations.
“Environmental concerns can no longer be ignored. I chose my specialisation and pursued it. The opportunities available are astounding. What is needed for the future is that the curriculum is equipped to produce quality teachers and engineers to cater to the rising demands of the future. We can’t get by with just fixing current issues; foreseeing the problems of the future are also important,” concludes Pasupathiraj.