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Profile: Till his sacking, R K Pachauri was the face of TERI

For most of the world, he was the face of IPCC, till he had to resign ignominiously in February, but the organisation which has been almost synonymous with R K Pachauri's name is the Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

Written by Amitabh Sinha | New Delhi |
Updated: July 24, 2015 2:15:03 pm
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For most of the world, he was the face of IPCC, till he had to resign ignominiously in February, but the organisation which has been almost synonymous with R K Pachauri’s name is the Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

Long before he became an international celebrity, especially after the Nobel Peace Prize which he accepted on behalf of IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in 2007, Pachauri had already established TERI as the country’s leading organisation in the environment and sustainability space.

Read Also: RK Pachauri asked to step down, Ajay Mathur is new TERI chief

And even as he globe-trotted in the last 15 years — sometimes being present in three different countries on the same day – hobnobbing with heads of states, movie stars and corporate bosses, and lecturing at the world’s finest universities, Pachauri never ignored TERI. He could be found in his small, rather unassuming, office on the sixth floor of TERI block at India Habitat Centre almost every day he was in Delhi.

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It is an organization he had led and nurtured for more than 30 years, from 1982. He was not just the chief executive officer but also the main fund-raiser and the chief research guide. TERI bears his imprint more than anyone else, including probably Darbari Seth, the celebrated Tata executive who founded the organization in 1974 as the Tata Energy Research Institute with the backing of JRD Tata and continued to be chairman of its governing council till his death in 1999.

Though the organization still takes pride in Seth’s legacy, TERI had quickly dissociated itself from the house of Tatas after Seth’s death and rechristened itself as The Energy and Resources Institute in 2003. Old timers say one of the reasons for breaking the Tata association was the difficulty TERI used to face in raising funds because donors thought an organisation backed by Tatas did not require funding.

The steady rise of TERI in the eighties and nineties accelerated as Pachauri gained international prominence from the middle of the 1990s. Along the way, he convinced some of the finest brains in the Indian energy and environment sector to work for TERI. A large number of these happened to be influential retired bureaucrats who brought to TERI not just their expertise but also their networks. People like Prodipto Ghosh, Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, Nitin Desai, Ashok Jaitley, and Pronab Dasgupta became prized assets for TERI.

Its governing council now boasts of such names as Deepak Parekh, Naina Lal Kidwai, Kiran Mazoomdar-Shaw and Hemendra Kothari. The same council today felt constrained to ask him to step down.

As Pachauri arranged more funding, more projects and more consultancy work for TERI, the organization also expanded. It has more than 15 divisions now, each catering to a specific area of specialization in the energy, climate change and sustainability sector. Its staff strength has grown to over 1200. Its website says TERI now has regional centres in Bengaluru, Goa, Guwahati, Mumbai “and the Himalayas”, besides affiliate institutes in Washington and London. It says it has presence in Japan, Malaysia and the UAE as well.

Besides, it also established the TERI University near Faridabad with a deemed university status. It runs Masters, doctoral, diploma and certificate programmes.

In its annual report for 2013-14, TERI listed as many as 298 ‘partners’, spread all over the world, with which it was working on various projects. These included government and non-government bodies, multilateral agencies, corporates, academic institutions, and scientific organisations. It also listed representations on 94 national and international expert group committees related to energy, environment and climate. TERI employees also had representation on 49 national and international journals.

In addition to its core areas of work involving research and consultancy, TERI has started to diversify in outreach activities in recent years, all spearheaded by Pachauri. In 2008, it launched the Light a Billion Lamp programme, a campaign to replace paraffin and kerosene lamps with solar lamps. It also started the GRIHA rating system for measuring the energy efficiency of buildings in collaboration with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and a few other organisations.

But the real clout of TERI, and Pachauri, used to be evident at two of its annual events, the flagship Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, or DSDS, and the Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture. Every year since 2001, a few heads of state and some Nobel laureates, apart from sundry ministers from several countries, used to land in Delhi to attend the DSDS. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was almost a regular at the event, having inaugurated it five times. This year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had confirmed to be the chief guest but after that he was invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attend the Vibrant Gujarat event. He could not say no to Modi but expressed his inability to travel to India twice within a space of three weeks. DSDS therefore had to make do with Arnold Schwarznegger and the French foreign minister as its most high-profile speakers this year.

Amongst those who have Darbari Seth lectures are Mukesh Ambani, N R Narayana Murthy, Anand Mahindra, Sam Pitroda, K Kasturirangan, and former scientific advisor to Prime Minister R Chidambaram.

Pachauri has been so integral to TERI that many senior officials were not immediately aware as to how many tenures as director-general has he served or what the exact was the process for selecting a director-general when he had to go on leave. His presence in TERI used to be taken for granted.

This was not the first time that Pachauri had landed himself in trouble. On earlier occasions, he had managed to wriggle himself out without too much damage. More importantly, his own controversies had never affected TERI. This time, he dragged TERI into the worst crisis of its 41-year existence.

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