The news of the untimely demise on May 8 of Anil Madhav Dave, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, reached us in Bonn, Germany, during the Climate Change Conference held there from May 8-18. Within minutes, the sad news spread like wildfire amongst delegates. We started receiving messages from the representatives of many other countries. The chair of the Group of 77 and China, Walter Schuldt, announced the news and conveyed condolences on behalf of the members of the Group of 77 and China which represents over 134 countries.
Many eulogised the minister’s sterling role in mobilising grassroots organisations and energising the international environmental movement. The Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) also officially communicated condolences on behalf of the secretariat. She also recalled her meeting in Delhi with Dave that took place just last month.
The reaction reflected the popularity and goodwill that Dave had earned within a short span of about 11 months as he represented India at various international environmental platforms. I feel a sense of personal loss, having been associated with him quite closely, both in the domestic and international spheres. A man of few words, he believed in action; his understated style could not hide his strong convictions and his honest dedication to the nation. When he spoke, the world listened.
Ministers and diplomats would come to us after his interventions and convey their appreciation for his vision, perspective, clarity and deeply humane approach to the problems of the global “commons”. In the Kigali negotiations on hydroflurocarbons (HFCs) in 2016, he stood firm on India’s interest and carved out a favourable outcome.
He was passionate about conveying the broad vision of the government and its ambitious course of action during the last few years. The issues of a sustainable lifestyle, climate justice, concern for the poor and the marginalised across the globe, as brought to the international agenda by the Indian Prime Minister were topics that he ardently advocated during the COP-22 UN Climate Change Conference held in Marrakech in November, 2016. In fact, he encouraged youth from the country, outside the Indian delegation, to attend the COP-22 and observe the latest developments in other countries, thinking about how these could be harnessed to India’s benefit.
Entering the India COP office in Marrakech, he would jocularly say to us, “Your worker has come, now you can put him to any job”. And then, he would not leave the venue till all important issues were attended to. All the bilateral meetings, COP events as well as activities in the India Pavilion in Marrakech, bore his personal stamp and sincere focus. According to him, the problems of climate change and the environment would not be solved by discussions held in air-conditioned rooms. These would only be solved by involving the masses, especially youth and children.
In office, he followed an open door policy, whereby officials and members of the public could approach him and seek guidance on any important issue. He was always willing to listen to other people and encouraged us to work as a concerted unit by creating “Team Prakriti” in the ministry. In regular review meetings, he would brainstorm on improving things for the citizen by simplifying procedures and emphasising strict enforcement.
Beyond work, he would suggest reading books, practising yoga, getting involved in public service and taking care of one’s subordinates. In the true Gandhian mould, he was from a breed which is rare in public life, one that never hankers for personal acquisitions.
Working with Dave was an honour and a lesson in humility, team work and dedication to the nation. He will be remembered by all, especially those who had the good fortune of working closely with him. Many ideas and guidance provided by him will continue to shape our thinking, responses and activities in the coming years. This would be a fitting tribute to a rare personality.