Low-Key Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave Departs Quietly

An RSS man at heart and in mind, Dave had replaced Prakash Javadekar as environment minister at the Centre in July 2016.

Anil Madhav Dave. Credit: PTI

Anil Madhav Dave. Credit: PTI

Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Anil Madhav Dave passed away after a cardiac arrest on May 18 morning, aged 60. This followed a period of prolonged illness through which Dave tried to keep up with work.

Polite, contained in his words and a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) man at heart and in mind, Dave had been chosen by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as minister in charge of the environment ministry in July last year. He had replaced Prakash Javadekar, who had been promoted to the rank of cabinet minister in charge of the human resource development ministry.

A three-time Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh, Dave was a contrast to his more confidant and vocal predecessor. A self-proclaimed environmentalist, much better recognised as an organiser of grand events in his home state, Dave preferred to stay off the media grid as a minister, unless the turn of events required otherwise. The nature of business at the environment ministry, however, did produce such events often.

Born in Ujjain but educated in Gujarat, Dave had worked hard to build the image of an environmentalist and a thinker after a good launch into party politics, courtesy Uma Bharti. Besides his acumen as a political manager, his amiability and ability to organise big cultural and environmental events kept him in good books of all BJP chief ministers of the state. With the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) taking over at the Centre, he was trusted by the prime minister to be the chairman of the crucial select committee on Coal Mines (Special Provision) Bill, 2015, and the Real Estate (Regulation & Development) Bill, 2015.

Upon becoming the environment minister, he indicated his continued loyalties by publicly batting for interlinking of the Ken-Betwa rivers, even before it had got statutory expert clearances. The linkage, located in Madhya Pradesh, is also Uma Bharti’s pet project. And, like his predecessor at the ministry, he quickly adapted to constantly hyphenating development (read, project clearances) with environmental protection at every given opportunity, staying tightly aligned with the vision of the prime minister in particular and the NDA government in general.

As a minister, he lacked lustre but was industrious – a trait that the current dispensation would have only valued. But, it is hard to judge his performance as a minister in charge of protecting the environment for six reasons.

One, the NDA government’s overriding desire for ease of business gave him little wiggle room to showcase any ‘green’ credentials. Two, he had a rather short tenure. Three, the ministry has always been closely monitored, instructed and guided by the Prime Minister’s Office under the NDA government. Four, several of the substantial (and often controversial) changes that the NDA sought in environment regulations for ease of business had either been set in place or already initiated during Javadekar’s frenetic tenure. Five, with NDA focusing the ministry’s energy on ease of business, the courts have increasingly been seen as the focal point of environmental action. Six, he came in at a time when the hoopla around the Paris Climate Change summit had simmered down, the pressures on India over its role in the agreement had eased, and the combat had shifted to low-key battles about crucial but not headline-grabbing details.

Perhaps one of most critical changes to the environmental regulations that Dave was overseeing at the time of his demise was the ordered alteration and dilution of the coastal protection regime.

On his demise, the prime minister tweeted, “I was with Anil Madhav Dave ji till late last evening, discussing key policy issues. This demise is a personal loss. Anil Madhav Dave ji will be remembered as a devoted public servant. He was tremendously passionate towards conserving the environment.”

By arrangement with the Business Standard.