Can the new Environment Minister Anil Dave save our rivers?
- Anil Dave comes into office with a lot of expectations being pinned on him
- With is active involvement with the environment, people are hoping he will play for the cause
More in the story
- What do others have to say about Dave?
- Will he play Modi\'s cards once he comes to office?
Anil Madhav Dave is probably India's first minister for environment, forest and climate change, who was known as an environmentalist well before taking charge.
His predecessor Prakash Javadekar, now human resource development minister, sported the title neither before nor after his stint.
Even Jairam Ramesh, arguably the most famous environment minister so far, was a card-carrying, pro-growth World Bank-type economist when he took charge, claiming to have turned into an environmentalist only afterwards.
Dave has written a book on climate change and has spoken out on environmental issues. But what he is really known for is his work on the Narmada.
He has circumambulated the Narmada in a Cessna aircraft and he has rafted down the 1,312 km-long river.
Even the village Dave has adopted under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana, is near the banks of the Narmada.
So will Dave save our rivers?
Burdens of the past
Note that 60-year-old Dave, a Gujarati representing Madhya Pradesh in the upper house, is filling in the shoes of Javadekar. A man who was rewarded for carrying out Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pro-industry agenda to the book.
Under Javadekar, the ministry began favouring building dams in the Himalayas. It turned the other way when the Art of Living Foundation conducted a festival on the fragile floodplains of the Yamuna in March 2016, for which the ministry was also rapped by the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The festival was inaugurated by Modi.
"Here's a man who doesn't need to be informed what a river is and what it requires. We are not just hopeful but confident that things will happen for the good. At the same time, there are compulsions attached to occupying a ministerial seat, and we hope that he surmounts these compulsions," said Manoj Misra, convenor of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan and petitioner in the Art of Living case in the NGT, speaking about Dave.
On the other contentious issue of building dams on the Himalayan tributaries in Uttarakhand, Javadekar's ministry made a U-turn before the Supreme Court, which was hearing a case on allowing more dams in the state.
The ministry first admitted that dams in the state were responsible for the 2013 Kedarnath floods (that killed at least 5,000), but soon it made a submission in favour of allowing dams, relying on a 100-year-old pact signed by the British Raj with Hindu nationalists.
"The environment ministry played a very dubious role in the case pending in court on the safety of dams in Uttarakhand. We hope that Dave remedies the wrongs. We are really banking on that," said Mallika Bhanot of Ganga Ahvaan, an organisation that works on the Himalayan tributaries of Ganga.
The U-turn too reportedly followed an intervention from the Prime Minister's Office.
Dave's role in conserving the Narmada is seen with some scepticism. Dave organises an annual event on the Narmada (that passes through Madhya Pradesh), known as Narmada Samagra, and has also started a river festival.
Hartosh Singh Bal, the political editor of The Caravan and author of a book on the Narmada, said that Dave told him on record that he is not in favour of damming the Narmada.
But a senior river conservationist, on condition of anonymity, said that Dave has avoided the question of dams, usually diverting the issue. "At one meeting, he spoke about the pollution of rivers but did not refer to the role of dams. Instead, he made tangential points about how coins thrown into the rivers from bridges pollute it, and about designing special eco-friendly coins to throw instead."
"The point is - what did all that lead to? His party was in power in Madhya Pradesh for over a decade, but the state has done nothing for the Narmada," the activist said.
"At Narmada Samagra, Dave talks about participation of people and civil society in decision making. Now that he is the minister, we hope that he implements these ideas, making environmental governance more participative," said Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People.
Thakkar pointed out that the ministry's expert committee on river valleys is meeting on Monday and Tuesday. But its agenda, which includes approving projects in five large river basins, was released only on Friday, with no draft studies released beforehand - a violation of Chief Information Commission's orders, Thakkar said.
Ideally, Dave should postpone the Monday meeting and make sure that the documents are set in order first. This is Dave's first chance in making a difference. It is a trial by fire.
Will Dave survive this?
Edited by Jhinuk Sen