WITH large parts of Maharashtra experiencing an intense heat wave last month and once again earlier this week, with annual rainfall patterns in some parts turning into a 15-day cycle of excessive precipitation instead of the normal two-month period, and with mean daytime as well as night-time temperatures rising, Met department officials concede that the state is experiencing the impact of climate change and related conditions. Yet, though a policy for the state to tackle climate change has been awaiting final approval for six months now, senior officials say the subject is simply not one of priority within the Maharashtra government.
“Limited will has been shown by the government,” said one senior official dealing with the subject. “Heat wave is a current issue but a heat action plan is operational only in Nagpur. There is a state action plan devised in 2014 but no policy or instructions to integrate departments affected by climate change. There are only three climate change researchers in the state government and no climate change-specific research has been initiated by the government. Dealing with the adverse impact of climate change remains a long distance agenda.”
The most influential group in Maharashtra discussing climate change is a council run by the chief minister, officials said. “However, this group has only met twice since 2014,” the official said.
About 18 months ago, following a government resolution, a climate change cell was formed in the state government. “The group has suggested various action plans that are now being made into a policy,” the official said. Curiously, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) is not a part of this council.
“A climate change policy has already been prepared six months ago but is awaiting the final nod from the state cabinet,” said Satish Gavai, Additional Chief Secretary, Environment Department.
The policy is believed to have proposed two observatories to closely study weather patterns. “One is a climate change cell that will be operational from Aurangabad and the other is a ‘drought observatory’ in Osmanabad that will closely observe the water situation in Central Maharashtra and Vidarbha.
The policy, officials said, heavily relies on a report prepared by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and several other state stakeholders in 2014, which had assessed climate change vulnerability in Maharashtra. That report predicted that temperatures would rise between 1.1 degrees and 1.64 degrees centigrade from 2021 onward, rising up to 2.6 degrees more until 2070.
“It is alarming that we are exposed to future temperatures. Temperatures predicted for years from now are already affecting livelihoods, crops and even cattle,” said K S Hosalikar, deputy director of the IMD.
Annual data released by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) reveals that 2016 was the warmest year for India since 1901. The five warmest years in India were all recorded within the last 15 years. The Met department has predicted that it will be hotter than usual during the summer of 2017 till June with temperatures likely to be more than 1 degree Celsius above normal.
More than 17 observatories across the state have already recorded temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, long before May, the month of the peak summer temperatures. On April 15, another heat wave warning was issued for central parts of Maharashtra.
But the IMD’s own inputs to villages remain “irregular and incomplete”, officials pointed out. For instance many of the observatories in the interiors of the state do not provide daily data. According to IMD officials, there are 19 non-departmental or part-time observatories across Maharashtra, which is more than the departmental observatories that are 17 in number.
“Non-departmental observatories are not run by IMD but by officials trained by the IMD. Unfortunately, there are several instances when these non-departmental observatories do not give us readings for a few days, hence, affecting the state’s preparedness as accurate data is not available. Currently there is no observatory in Thane or Navi Mumbai, for example,” an official said.
To improve their “accuracy” in predictions, the IMD has recently proposed to these part time observatories to provide readings at least four times a day.
Hailstorms that typically appear in the central parts of Maharashtra are often not predicted early enough to issue a warning as there is no Doppler device in Central Maharashtra and Vidarbha. The current window to alert farmers in these affected regions varies from 30 minutes to three hours, Met officials said.
IMD ranked Maharashtra fifth with 146 casualties, for deaths caused due to extreme weather conditions. A majority of the deceased lost their lives due to flooding and heavy rainfall. And there were 43 heat related deaths in 2016, official figures revealed.
From 185 patients handled in 2014 (April to May), the count of hyperthermia patients rose to 1,255 in 2015 and 2,688 in 2016. In March 2017 alone, 1,142 cases of hyperthermia were reported by the state along with four deaths due to heat strokes. Last year, 43 persons lost their lives due to heat strokes, official data revealed, indicating that the rise in temperatures has affected residents of the state.
“The state acts when there is a disaster like Malin, the Pune village washed out due to a landslide or the Mahad bridge collapse last year that claimed 27 lives. The Maharashtra government has always been speaking of golden hours to save lives but now it needs to revise its policy and bring in ‘platinum minutes’ to reduce casualties, especially due to extreme weather,” said a senior government official.
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