Bureaucracy and Rivers

Continuing the celebration of Godavari Dussehra, let us today explore the ‘Bureaucracy and Rivers‘ in India.

Rivers in India falls under the purview of environmental bureaucracy of the country. As suggested by Khator (2009), the environmental bureaucracy performs both regulatory as well as non-regulatory functions. Identifying the source of problems, standardization, monitoring of compliance and penalization of non-compliance are the regulatory functions of the Indian environmental bureaucracy. Non-regulatory functions play a role in the distribution and re-distribution of the natural resources.

The specific institutions which shape the riverscapes in India. At the Central Government level we have:

  • Ministry of Environment and Forests (National River Conservation Directorate) http://nrcd.nic.in/Home3.aspx
  • Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley and Hydropower projects
  • Central Pollution Control Board http://cpcb.nic.in/
  • Water Quality Assessment Authority http://wqaa.gov.in/
  • Water Resources Ministry http://www.wrmin.nic.in/
  • Central Water Commission http://www.cwc.nic.in/
  • Inter-state water dispute tribunals
  • Power Ministry: Promoting Hydropower projects
  • Central Electricity Authority: Sanctioning authority for Hydropower projects
  • Government Hydropower development organisations
  • Planning Commission

At the State Government Level we have:

  • Environment, Water Resources (or Irrigation), Power Departments
  • River Basin specific organisations (like Irrigation Corporations in Maharashtra)
  • Water Resources Regulatory Authority (Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal          Pradesh)
  • State Pollution Control Boards

Apart from this, relevant acts in the Indian environmental bureaucracy are:

  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974: This was enacted in 1974 to provide for the prevention and control of water pollution, and for the maintaining or restoring of wholesomeness of water in the country. The Act was amended in 1988. Central and the State Pollution Boards were established as a part of this act. http://envfor.nic.in/division/water-pollution
  • The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972: “The provisions of Section 35(6) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 prohibit anybody from stopping or enhancing the flow of water into or outside a National Park except by permission from the Chief Wild Life Warden. It further states that no such permit shall be granted unless the State Government in consultation with the National Board is satisfied that the change in the flow of water into or outside the National Park is necessary for the improvement and better management of wildlife therein” (Thakkar 2012). http://www.moef.nic.in/division/wildlife
  • The Forest Conservation Act, 1980: “The Act is supposed to help protect rivers that pass through the forests, including putting restrictions on mining of minor minerals from the beds of such rivers. Section 4.6 of the Act says, ‘Extraction of minor minerals shall be from the middle of the river bed after leaving one fourth of the river bed on each bank untouched’” (Thakkar 2012). http://envfor.nic.in/legis/forest/forest2.html
  • The Environment Protection Act, 1986: Seeing the increasing anthropogenic interventions in the environment, this act was enacted with the main objective to provide the protection and improvement of environment. http://envfor.nic.in/legis/env/env1.html
  • Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority Act (2005): Under this act the Maharashtra water resources regulatory authority was established to regulate water resources within the state of Maharashtra in various sectors. http://www.mwrra.org/index.php

Like several other section of the Indian bureaucracy, even the environmental bureaucracy is a complex institutions. As Khator (2009:225) suggests:

“The functioning of the environmental bureaucracy is riddled with many problems. To begin with, developmental priorities of the country undercut the position of the environmental bureaucracy; it finds its task of promoting the environmental cause difficult, particularly in times of fiscal austerity. Often, the task of the environmental bureaucracy is not only to regulate the business, but also more important to regulate other bureaucracies (transportation, development, agriculture, and industry) that may overlook the environmental aspect in their plans. Without the unwavering support of the people and that of the government, the environmental bureaucracy finds itself in an awkward position.”

I hope, this article enables you to understand the legalities and institutional rights of a river in India. This was positionality of rivers in the Indian bureaucracy. Let us meet again tomorrow with a different outlook.

-Shilpa Dahake | Facebook



Khator, Renu. (2009). Bureaucracy and the Environmental Crisis: A Comparative Perspective in Bureaucracy and Administration edited by Ali Farazmand. Boca Raton: Taylor and Francis Group.

Thakkar, Himanshu. (2012). Rivers: Legal and Institutional Issues in India. South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, May.

* The facts and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author.

News Reporter
I am an architect turned anthropologist. After finishing my Masters in Anthropology from University of Pune, I was working with Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune under a project funded by UNICEF and Integrated Child Development Scheme, Government of Maharashtra. During which I was stationed in Nandurbar District of Maharashtra (which is predominantly a tribal region) as a Field Research officer. Currently, I am a doctoral candidate in Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Mohali, India. My current research explores the interaction of the cultural-religious, the political-economic and the ecological dimensions of the river in Nashik city in Maharashtra. Broadly, investigating how the multiple perspectives of a natural resource overlap, contradict, challenge and support each other, thus shaping the urban landscape and producing socio-spatial inequalities.

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