Thursday, January 21, 2010

MR PACHAURI, THE MUCK IS IN YOUR FACE

What a comedown for a man who received the Nobel Peace Prize a couple of years back for his efforts "to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change." For someone who, as Chairman of the powerful Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), had been raising what appeared to be genuine alarms over the disastrous effects of global warming, the allegations are damning. And the stink is familiar: he is corrupt and is making pots of money in many ingenious ways.

Rajendra Kumar Pachauri was the mastermind behind the thousand-page report on the dangers of global warming put out by the IPCC in 2007. Among other things, the report warned that Himalayan glaciers would most likely disappear by 2035, "perhaps sooner". That error, the "only one" as Pachauri puts it, to dishonestly underplay its gravity, and that too only after he realised that there was no option left but to admit, has been used by the West repeatedly to demand that India should take greater action to reduce its emissions.

Before the official admission came in from the IPCC that it had not followed "proper procedures" while reaching a conclusion that created a scare in India and rendered it vulnerable to pressure, Pachauri had lambasted a government of India report that had asserted that glaciers had not retreated abnormally, going to the extent of saying it was based on "voodoo science". Who was into voodoo all this time will be clear presently from the trail that led to inclusion of this claim in the IPCC report.

It all began in 1999 with a telephonic interview that Syed Iqbal Hasnain, a then little-known scientist then based in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, gave to the New Scientist, a popular science journal. Hasnain now says that he only told the interviewer that the "mass of glaciers will decline in 40 years" and that 2035 is their invention. The report in the magazine found its way into a WWF pamphlet which was the source quoted by the IPCC in its report.

In all these years, Hasnain never challenged the 2035 dateline attributed to him in any of the three publications, despite all the noise that it has been generating. On the contrary, as recently as last September, he was quoted in a story in The Globe and Mail as a person “who believes the Himalayas may be denuded of all snow and ice in as little as 20 years.” That's not all. In 10 years since that defining interview, Hasnain has acquired an impressive profile and many awards, including a Padma Shri. Surely, he would have been aware that the prognosis attributed to him was part of the IPCC report. Why, then, did he not only not bring it to the notice of Pachauri and the scientific community, but continue to make similar alarmist assertions?

Pachauri would have found Hasnain extremely useful for substantiating IPCC's case for raising even more funds for his very own The Energy and Research Institute (TERI). Is that why he appointed Hasnain as Senior Fellow in the institute? Is that why he mounted an aggressive defence of the 'Hasnain para' in the IPCC report till he found that there was no place to hide? As the University of Colorado’s Roger Pielke Jr. noted this week, “[T]his stinks … what we have here is a classic and unambiguous case of financial conflict of interest.”

There are many more serious allegations against Pachauri. In December 2009, Christopher Brooker and Richard North of The Telegraph, UK, reported raised questions about Dr Pachauri's involvement in many organisations that stand to benefit from IPCC's recommendations. According to them, Pachauri "has established an astonishing worldwide portfolio of business interests with bodies which have been investing billions of dollars in organisations dependent on the IPCC’s policy recommendations... these outfits include banks, oil and energy companies and investment funds heavily involved in ‘carbon trading’ and ‘sustainable technologies’, which together make up the fastest-growing commodity market in the world, estimated soon to be worth trillions of dollars a year." This was followed by another report this month about the dubious reporting of income by TERI Europe.

In India too, Pachauri's dealings are being questioned. "He seems to be failing to uphold standards of propriety in his professional dealings" says a report in India Today which brings out in detail how he has benefited from dealings with Public Sector giants like ONGC, IOC and NTPC, companies on whose boards he has been, through TERI which entered into business dealings with them. All these companies contribute heavily to green house emission, hastening climate change. In March 2008, ONGC and TERI floated a joint venture ONGC-TERI Biotech Ltd (OTBL), with TERI and ONGC holding 47% and 49% stake in it. The objective of the company is to undertake "large-scale application of microbial product oil zapper for clean-up of oil spills in farmers' fields and around oil installations and treatment of oily sludge hazardous hydrocarbon waste".

As per OBTL's website, the company already has an impressive client portfolio that includes Indian Oil, ONGC, Reliance, Oil India, Hindustan Petroleum, Bharat Petroleum and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. The company also says that it has a sound business plan chalked out. Pachauri is confident that it will clock a top line of $2.1 billion in three to four years. Since TERI has a 47% stake in the company, it stands to benefit enormously. Pachauri, however, maintains that there is no 'conflict of interest' involved. Former Minister of State for Petroleum, Santosh Gangwar, like most others, thought otherwise and had even complained against it to Petroleum Minister Deora.

Pachauri continues to maintain that he has not pocketed even a penny from his associations with a whole lot of companies and institutes. All the honoraria - and that has to be considerable - that he receives goes to TERI and "to its 'Light A Billion Lives' campaign for reaching solar power to people without electricity", he says. Sounds very noble and self-sacrificing. If indeed Pachauri has been and is giving away so much of his own money to a non-profit organisation for the good of India's poor, he should be proudly telling the whole world about it, disclosing the actual amount involved. Isn't his reticence odd, to say the least?

The Telegraph has an interesting explanation. Routing all that money to TERI not only enables Pachauri to conceal what he earns but also helps him avoid paying taxes on the income, which he then launders through TERI. That this allegation is not just a shot in the dark is supported by the fact that the accounts of TERI are not included in its annual reports. The salary that Pachauri draws from TERI is also not publicly disclosed.

No wonder then that after threatening to sue the daily, Pachauri now says "I don't want to stoop to the level of muck that some people are trying to create." The muck is in your face Mr Pachauri, and it is pretty dirty and it is sticking. You need to clear it. All that you have to do, if your conscience is clean, is to disclose your and TERI's earnings, the sources thereof, and the details of how all that money is being spent by the non-profit organisation you have been part of since 1981. If you and Hasnain and others like you really have nothing to hide, or be ashamed of, why the hesitation?
'