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Start pricing water, says Pachauri

The Statesman, New Delhi, 7th April, 2013

Water should no longer be free, environmentalist and Nobel laureate Rajendra K Pachauri said today at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.  

“You know the time has come when we have to start pricing water,” he told an audience at the Charitable Trust Annual Award Ceremony organised by the Indian Chamber of Commerce's Ladies Study Group. “We have this mistaken belief that water is a God-given gift and to price it is evil. But you know to waste it is much more evil.”  

It might nudge people to think more about how they use this valuable resource, he said. “If there was a price that we had to pay for consumption of water, our behaviour would change.”  

Mr Pachauri who is also Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change spoke of the importance of “local action” and the need for individuals in civil society to come together to solve environmental problems.  

“There is really nothing more effective than people themselves organising to do what would be in the interests of the society,” he said, adding, “government institutions, if I may say so, are not capable of managing and dealing with some of the challenges that we are facing.”    

While much of his talk used global anecdotes to highlight the need to preserve the balance of ecosystems, Mr Pachauri was asked during a question-and-answer session what needs to be done to protect the Sunderbans and those living there. Without directly mentioning Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's dream of expanding tourism in the Sunderbans, Mr Pachauri said it would be “totally, totally illogical” to set up more eco-tourism and recreational facilities there.   

Such plans could very well be “loss-making propositions” because of the risk of damage to locations from coastal flooding, rising sea-levels and storm surges, he said, “but more importantly, I think that the fragility of the zone really prohibits or should prohibit the use of any investments in this direction.”  

Mr Pachauri, who is also director of Delhi-based non-profit The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), talked about different projects his organisation has undertaken, like providing solar lanterns to thousands of rural households. Although he did not offer specifics on future projects in West Bengal, he hinted there was the possibility that TERI might get more involved in the state. “I will be meeting the finance minister and the chief secretary in a little while, and I am going to tell them we are prepared to come into West Bengal in a big way,” he said. An audience member asked him to tell off the finance minister and the chief secretary for the wasteful street lighting in Kolkata, with trident lamps and older street lights packed in closely, lighting up the same areas of the street. “I will convey it but that might terminate my meeting,” joked Mr Pachauri.