Obituary : Genetically UnModified Environment Minister

cc_mustard_16x9‘Walking away from the decision-making could be the hardest but it could also be the best decision’, says a wise fable. Anil Madhav Dave, India’s Minister of Environment surely faced such predicament . His fate took decision for him.‘Walking away from the decision-making could be the hardest but it could also be the best decision’, says a wise fable. Anil Madhav Dave, India’s Minister of Environment known for the most ordinary personal life with extraordinary passionate traits, surely faced such predicament recently. His fate took decision for him. He walked away from decision making. History has already made an addendum to the wise fable to Anil Dave’s story. He walked away for eternity. He passed away on 18th May 2017.

Narmada river was to Anil Dave what Mars is to Elon Musk. Musk has openly stated that he wants to die on Mars, where he wants to set the human colonies by launching a programme of regular space-shuttles. While Musk has engaged himself with his unique ambitious sky-mission, Dave was engrossed with his down-to-earth devotions to rivers that had nurtured civilizations for centuries. He dedicated all his life in conserving the river and its ecosystem. He had written in his will that he wishes to be cremated on the banks of river Narmada. His wishes have been realized by his friends and relatives.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his characteristic style of ‘disruptive innovations’ in governance, selected Anil Dave, less than year back, as his Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. It was disruptive innovation because, Dave was not a politician in its most common connotation. He was activist and hard-core environmentalist. Appointing environmentalists as the Ministers of Environment has not really been the wide spread practice followed by the heads of the state across the globe. After winning the election and taking over the reins of the government, heads of states are normally known to be busy in exploring surreptitious ways to squirm away from the election promises on ‘green agenda’.

Prime Minister Modi, in contrast, had shown extraordinary courage and leadership by appointing Dave, in July 2016, as India’s Minister of Environment, thus breaking away from conventional political stealth. Dave at that time was leading the most simple life but busy with community-level activities in promoting organic farming, opposing the use of chemicals to stop ‘atrocities’ on soil, writing the books on key ecological issues like climate change and dedicating himself for cause of the environment, particularly rivers and soil, and creating awareness on conserving river Narmada through organizing massive festivals and events along its banks.

Less than a year as Minister of Environment of India is too short a period to assess Dave’s work as Minister of Environment, leave alone making the judgement on his leadership in tackling environmental issues which have become nothing less than daily encounters with nature. Local issues like air pollution, river deterioration, loss of biodiversity and soil fertility combined with global issues of climate change and sustainable development goals have now become the causes of conflicts, battle and wars.

At the same time, it is not difficult to assess if the approaches and initiatives taken by the Minister Dave have been in right direction. There comes his ‘environmental genome’ as backdrop to assess his work.

It was clear right from beginning that Dave was thoughtful environmentalist having engaged himself with people and nature. He was clearly uncomfortable to trade the compromises and negotiations that had become sine qua non of the national and international acts and protocols that are needed to set the developmental agenda and economic imperatives of the 21st century. He had in the past criticized severely the behavior of developed nations at Copenhagen Summit of Climate change in his book “Beyond Copenhagen”. He advocated national actions rather than wasting time on international agreements. Now, after taking over as Minister of Environment he was in a quandary if he has to modify his ‘environmental genes’ to fall in line with India’s strategy to get engaged in international agreement or stick to his guns-original genes.

Dave’s environmental genes, however, were again on real test-bed when the issue of approval of commercial production and marketing of Genetically Modified (GM) mustard came up for approval just before his death. Supreme court had stayed the process of approval in 2016 as a sequel of civil society’s litigation for more investigation in nearly decade long case.

The recommendation by Genetic Engineering Approval Committee ( GEAC), favouring the GM mustard was published for public opinion a year back. All civil society activists including Vandana Shiva, ardent supporter of Organic farming, were clearly against GM mustard as it would harm the biodiversity, soil fertility and make farmers impoverish by depending on foreign companies rather than on nature. The recommendation emanating from the People’s Assembly, organized by NGOs led by Vandana Shiva in New Delhi in 2016, where Anil Dave, was also present as a Minister, stated that GEAC report, was “unscientific, irresponsible and it undemocratically imposes GM Mustard on the poor Indian farmers”.
On a day before his death, on 17th May, Mr. Dave met delegate of farmers’ association who were strongly opposing the proposal to approve GM mustard. The ball was clearly with the central government for the final decision. In similar situation few years back, Central Environment Minister Jayaram Ramesh, had taken decision not to approve GM brinjals.
Same night on 17th May, Dave also met PM Modi. In the past, Dave had clearly stated that he was against use of chemicals for farming. Approval of GM mustard would mean application of more chemicals. Dave’s own environmental genes favored conservation and organic farming. Dave was at cross roads, weather he needed to modify his ‘genes’ for the purpose of giving the approval of GM Mustard, which is stated to enhance the income of Indian mustard farmers by nearly 30 percent.

The fate finally made a choice for him. Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave walked away from the final decision and died with ‘genetically unmodified’ assertion next day on 18th May.

After cremation, his ashes were thrown in free-flowing river Narmada. He apparently confessed to Narmada, that walking away from this crucial decision was hard but it was the only robust option of not modifying his environmental genes. END

Authored by Rajendra Shende, Chairman TERRE Policy centre, IIT alumnus, former Director UNEP.

Also appeared in diverse edited format in:

The man who fought for and against GM crops: India’s late Environment Minister Anil Dave

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