He is opposed to big dams, advocates natural farming, considers sewage treatment technology to be a “big fraud”, admires Tripura’s CPI(M) Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, is passionate about river conservation, and does not seem very impressed with bureaucrats — one of his eight books is titled ‘Sambhal Ke Rahna Ghar Me Chhupe Hue Gaddaro Se (Beware of the traitors hiding within)’.
India’s new Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave is joining a government for the first time, but is not a novice. He speaks forcefully and frequently, both within the Parliament and outside, on a range of topics including rivers, water, forests, pollution and sustainable farming, subjects that he would be dealing directly with in his new role.
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From his past speeches and writings, Dave, who celebrated his 60th birthday on the day he took office on Wednesday, comes across as a staunch “swadeshi” who prefers indigenous farming, and favours the use of Hindi and other regional languages in public discourse.
In one speech, he mentions why he prefers to be only on a fruit diet when travelling abroad. “They mix cow meat in many things and I do not want to touch cow meat even by mistake,” he says. In another speech, he tells students to be careful about what they say. “Wrong choice of words can be worse than gou-hatya (cow slaughter),” he warns.
Yet, Dave is also open to embracing new technology developed anywhere in the world, and admires countries like Israel and Germany. He says he is opposed to “angreziat” (English-ness) and not the English language which has “beautiful literature”.
Originally from Gujarat, now settled in Madhya Pradesh, Dave appears to be a great admirer of Swami Vivekananda, Chhattrapati Shivaji and Chandrashekhar Azad who he invokes repeatedly in his speeches and writings. For him, Shivaji is someone who provided good governance for three decades.
Having been part of the Narmada campaign, it is hardly surprising that Dave is opposed to dams and big irrigation projects. “Big dams older than 20 years need to be put through a social and economic audit to see what we gained from them and what we lost, and whether their utility still remains,” he said in one of his Parliamentary speeches.
In a number of other speeches, he has lamented on the state of India’s rivers that, he says, are dying due to neglect and pollution. Dave repeatedly stresses that river is a living unit and not a water body. “It blesses you if you treat it properly,” he says.
However, some of his views, as expressed in his speeches, seem to be at odds with existing policies and programmes of his government. For example, in one of his Parliament speeches in 2013, he describes the sewage treatment plant technology (STP) to be a “big fraud” but does not go on to elaborate why he thinks so. He also says that it was a myth that cremating dead bodies near rivers was adding to their pollution.
Incidentally, the government’s programme of cleaning Ganga river relies heavily on creation of STPs. Putting an end to the way bodies are cremated near the river is also one of its main components.
But there is a convergence of views as well. Dave maintains that even treated water from STPs must not be allowed to flow back to the river, something that the Ganga cleaning programme also seeks to ensure.
Dave has also advised patience in the “clean Ganga” programme. “It will take at least two generations to clean the river. Nothing happens instantly in nature. We must give it time. Impulsive decisions and actions can backfire,” he says.
He clearly does not seem to be in favour of chemical fertiliser-based farming. While addressing farmers at an event in Madhya Pradesh, he spoke about the need to embrace zero-budget farming, a concept that says the net production cost of agriculture must be zero — nothing should be purchased from outside and nothing needs to be added to the farm. “There is no other alternative. We have seen the results of chemical and even biological farming,” he says.
Dave has advocated the introduction of a separate budget for agriculture, and has praised former Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa for doing so.
In several of his speeches, Dave elaborates on what he thinks comprises good governance and how the political class must behave. He blames the past 65 years of “misrule” for India’s problems but does not name the Congress. He rarely rakes up political issues. He even praises Tripura CM Sarkar in one of his speeches. “He is a very simple man. He washes his own clothes. His wife still travels by an auto. He is an example of good governance,” Dave says.
Dave has ridiculed the political leaders who crave for positions and run after office. “When a person is born, he comes with his fortune written on his forehead. What has been written there cannot be taken away, but no one can write there afresh,” he said in a speech.