Even as rural areas in otherwise drought-hit regions of Maharashtra (as also in neighbouring areas of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) struggle to cope with immense damages due to untimely rain and hailstorms in Feb-March 2014, the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report warning that "extreme weather events may increase in frequency," has led to alarm amongst environmental activists and farm rights groups alike. They are calling immobility on the issue since June 2008, "unacceptable negligence."
An RTI response by the state environment ministry to the South Asian Network for Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP) confirms that both the state and its consultant The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), have failed to prepare the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC). "It would seem there is no intent or seriousness on this crucial issue, which can play havoc with lakhs of people and their lives," said Parineeta Dandekar of the SANDRP.
She pointed out how the government has not gone beyond "lip-service". Soon after the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) was made public on June 30, 2008, the state announced the formation of state council on climate change (CC) three months later. Accordingly, the work
was awarded to TERI on August 20, 2009, "to assess climate change vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies for Maharashtra state and prepare a SAPCC," for Rs98 lakhs. The plan was envisaged to include six case studies.
The official order regarding TERI (6 members in addition to Dr Pachauri and Dr Leeana Srivastava as advisers) had been given the above task, along with Met office, Hadley Centre, UK (2 members) and formation of state coordination committee for this under the chairmanship of chief secretary. It was passed on November 26, 2009. This council was to meet "at least twice a year to review the situation on CC and adaptation strategy" as per the GR. It has met just once in the last 33 months.
After giving contract to TERI in 2009, announcing state council on CC in 2011, the first and the only meeting of the CC happened only in Feb 2013! Minutes of the meeting claim that the final report from TERI is expected in March 2013. However, there was no discussion on this important report or even a discussion to hasten the formulation and implementation of this report.
Strangely, TERI and MET Office UK, had already published a note on the Action Plan in 2012 itself, when the State Action Plan is still not final even today!
"When the environment department conducted a decision-makers workshop on CC adaptation and mitigation on Feb 24-25, 2011, we were hopeful about the process gaining momentum, but our hopes remained just that," laments Himanshu Thakar, Dandekar's colleague.
In fact, a state advisory panel on CC was created with CM as chairperson on July 8, 2011. Following the first meeting of the state advisory committee on CC in Feb 2013, another one on draft climate change action plan with chief secretary in chair was held on Oct 7, 2013.
"After that the silence's been deafening," remarks Dandekar who along with several other activists and groups attached to SANDRP was outraged when the state environment department in its response to the network's RTI query on the SAPCC said, "The final action plan on climate change is not yet
submitted by TERI to the state government," on April 2, 2014. SANDRP said the RTI response underlines, how respective governments have given no priority, time or importance to consider climate change or its impacts on societies and ecosystems.
Admitting that an SAPCC is not a magic wand to cure all ills, activists like Thakar argue, "It is one of the indicators of the seriousness and intent of our administration in tackling real and grave challenges. Right now, there seems to be no seriousness and no intent."
While officials at TERI said only the state government can make a statement on the issue, nobody at the environment ministry was willing to talk.
The way TERI was asked to create the SAPCC was also inappropriate, said many. The state government order of Nov 16, 2009, mentions no competitive bidding. It says following a presentation on CC by Dr RK Pachauri of TERI his organisation was given the task of preparing the plan along with Met Office, UK for Rs 98 lakhs.
When TERI was given the task of preparing the SAPCC, Pachauri, who heads TERI was also on the state council to oversee the preparation of SAPCC. Secondly, since he's a member of PM's Council on Climate Change, which recommends state action plans and then his own organisation, TERI is awarded the work to prepare the action plan for Maharashtra.