An environmentalist and water conservationist, Union environment minister Anil Madhav Dave seeks to steer clear of controversy while promising consultative processes on river conservation, coastal regulatory zones (CRZs) and GM food. Excerpts from an interview with Lola Nayar:
Water is one area with which you have been closely linked. Do you feel enough is being done to make a significant difference to the cleaning and conservation of rivers including the Ganga and the Yamuna?
This society, in the last 65-70 years, has spoilt its rivers and converted their sparkling waters to drainage water. No institution or organisation has done this. It is the society at large and the policy- and decision-makers who are responsible. The first and foremost responsibility of society is to bring back these rivers from being nullahs. Let us have good water bodies all along the rivers and in their different catchment areas.
Are you planning to come out with any policy for the protection of water bodies with regard to town planning and urban development?
Yes, within a very short time, we will come out with a policy and seek the participation of state governments in this effort. The consultation process is currently on and we will be able to come out with the policy within a month or two.
There are apprehensions that the Ken-Betwa linking project would adversely impact people living downstream as also large parts of the Panna tiger sanctuary (in Madhya Pradesh).
These (apprehensions) are all based on speculations as the project is yet to begin. My stance is that we should start with one project and do a profit-and-loss assessment within five years. If we see more profit, we should then move ahead. The first project is to be the Ken-Betwa project. Both the central and the state governments are capable enough of taking care of the tiger sanctuary—after all it’s they who have created the sanctuary and are the property owners. They are not going to spoil their own sanctuary.
In the coastal areas, how are you proposing to balance environment concerns and the livelihood of locals with the development goals?
“Agriculture policies should not be at the whims of a few, but should be the consolidated approach of scientists, planners and decision makers.”
In a very short time, I am going to call a meeting of all Members of Parliament whose constituencies are in the CRZs (coastal regulatory zones). After talking to them, I will speak to the fishermen and all other stakeholders. It will take some time, possibly six months, to come out with a strong CRZ policy. Tourism is another area we hope to develop in the coastal belt. Today, lots of Indians go abroad just to spend a few days on the seashore. We too have no dearth of good shores and our plan will be to improve the tourism potential in states such as Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Similarly, on the issue of bio-diversity, there is considerable concern about the government stance whether it is on GM crops or on the conservation of our biodiversity hotspots.
We are holistically looking at the entire agriculture system. Agriculture policies should not be victims of the whims and fancies of one or two people but should be the consolidated approach of scientists, policy-makers, planners and decision-makers. On the GM issue, one subcommittee (of the environment ministry and the department of science and technology) is already looking into it. They will have consultations with the civil society, and then go back to the committee, which will further give its recommendations. After this process is over, we will look into these recommendations.
The GM field is currently dominated by MNCs and the private sector, why is the public sector lagging?
That is because the indigenous work was not protected. Once that happens, I am sure Indian scientists are going to protect the interests of farmers. Just wait for 2-3 years and you will see a paradigm shift in the entire scenario.
For most part of the 10-year UPA tenure, the environment ministry was seen as a major hurdle to investment growth plans. What do you see as the role of the ministry?
I think this ministry is part of Team India. And in order to develop this country into a super power, we will move hand in hand with the other ministries.