New Delhi: There could not have been a better birthday gift for new environment minister Anil Madhav Dave, who got the portfolio on the eve of his 60th birthday on Tuesday.
It’s also a fitting gift: Dave, an expert in river conservation, is known as an environmentalist and cycles to work.
After assuming charge on Wednesday, Dave said that he would take forward the work done by his predecessor Prakash Javadekar and would maintain a balance between development and environment—echoing a line that was often used by Javadekar.
Striking that balance will be crucial—Dave’s appointment as minister of state (independent charge) for environment, forest and climate change comes at a time when the government is under increasing fire for allegedly diluting environmental laws.
Dave is a third-time Rajya Sabha member of Parliament from Madhya Pradesh.
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He is a former pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological parent, and identifies himself as an “RSS swayamsewak" (volunteer) on his Twitter handle. He is unmarried.
Fortunately for Dave, the range of subject matters in his new assignment is not expected to pose a problem as he has been actively involved in conservation work on the Narmada river and was also part of the parliamentary forum on global warming and climate change.
“I have to understand you and you have to understand me and very importantly, I have to understand the work. First, I will try to understand the department and its priorities and challenges. It will take me one week’s time. After that, we will decide the way forward. Development and environment are together and not against each other," said Dave.
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He described himself as an “accessible person" who is ready for a chat with anybody—a style of working that is still rare in India.
“I work hard. Since I do not have kids and don’t have to take them out in evenings, you might have problems (due to late working hours). But I will ensure that your evenings and dinners are not spoiled," he added in his introductory speech at the ministry.
Dave, who is a post-graduate from Gujarati College in Indore, has written eight books (in Hindi and English), including one on climate change called Beyond Copenhagen and another on freedom fighter Chandra Shekhar Azad.
Dave’s concern for the environment can be gauged from his habit of cycling to Parliament.
“I am not using cycle as a transport just to get praise or a photo in a newspaper. I am doing it by choice. When I was nowhere, I was using it, and in future also I will do it," said Dave.
Last year, he earned praise for successfully organizing the World Hindi Conference. Promotion of Hindi as the official language is an issue that is very close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Dave has also been an active parliamentarian. Besides being a member of various parliamentary panels such as those on water resources and the consultative committee of the information and broadcasting ministry, Dave has also been chairman of the Select Committee on Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2015, the Select Committee on the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013, and the Select Committee on Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2013.
Activists are being cautious the new appointment.
“We hope that the ministry of environment, forest and climate change shall under your leadership become truly the protector of the nation’s environment, forests and natural heritage like the rivers," said Manoj Misra, an environmental activist and convener of non-profit Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan.
In his initial interaction after assuming charge, Dave tried to steer clear of the controversy regarding the Forest Rights Act, 2006, with the opposition Congress party planning agitations across several states over the alleged dilution of the rights of tribals and other forest dwellers.
“Whether it is Congress government or Bharatiya Janata Party or NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government… it is a continuous process. One should not see it in a compartment," Dave said.
“If some commitment is done by ex-minister or (former) government, the government is bound to do it. It’s a continuous process and in this process, one should think of going in right direction," he added.