Ramaswamy R. Iyer (1929-2015)

“…the deplorable state of most of our rivers is the outcome of several factors. These include inefficiency, poor technology, negligence, obstruction of flows, bad practices, absence of civic sense or concern, competition for exploitation, non-compliance with rules and regulations, the atrophy of old traditions and cultural practices, and so on; but it is necessary to seek a deeper for the dire straits of our rivers” (Iyer 2015:435).

Similarly to the above insightful thoughts, Prof. Ramaswamy R. Iyer has left behind a legacy of ideas, analysis, and conceptualization over water issues in India.

Retired as a secretary at the Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India and a Padma Shri awardee, Prof. Iyer was one of the foremost thinker on the issues related to rivers and water in the country. During his tenure in the ministry, the country’s first water policy was formulated. After his retirement, he became instrumental in giving strong grounding and voices of several activists of the country, when he logically and firmly argued against the notion of controlling and taming of the rivers. And suggested the following conceptualization of rivers (2015:442):

  • A river is not a drain.
  • Rivers are natural phenomena and not human artefacts.
  • A river must flow.
  • ‘Minimum flows’ or ‘ecological flows’ are misleading concepts.
  • A river needs space.
  • A river needs its bed.
  • A river is an inseparable part of the hydrological unity; and a river basin is an integral whole.
  • The health of a river would depend on the health of the ecological system of which it is a part.

To get a clear understanding of his perspectives, please watch the below his plenary address during India River Week 2014.

His popular works are – Water: Perspectives, Issues, Concerns (2003), Towards Water Wisdom: Limits, Justice, Harmony (2007), Water and the Laws in India (2009), and Living Rivers, Dying Rivers (2015).


Further Readings:

About Prof. Ramaswamy R Iyer



Some articles by Prof. Ramaswamy R Iyer







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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