Ramasamy iyer – “Water man”

ramasamy R iyer


Ramaswamy R Iyer: Not your typical bureaucrat

He played a signature role to get a nod for the Narmada project at one time but turned around to become one of the most articulate and dogged critics of such large water engineering projects in the country. Ramaswamy R Iyer, retired secretary at the water resources ministry and a awardee, passed away on September 9.

An audit services officer who later became one of the foremost thinkers on issues pertaining to water and rivers in the country, the country’s first came when he was secretary of the ministry.

Ironically, the policy advocated much what Iyer grew to disagree with after his superannuation from government service. The policy favoured the transfer of waters between rivers and large dams. Iyer litigated against the first and argued logically and firmly, but not furiously, against the second.

His background and detailed analytical commentary on looking at a river as a holistic natural phenomenon and not a water pipeline gave a boom of gravitas to the voices which would otherwise have been easier to dismiss as only that of ‘activists’.

His academic work, coupled with attempts to shape public discourse through writings in the mass media (particularly The Hindu) created a body of work that countered the arguments from the 1980s that rivers could be engineered without care for the larger ecology they fed. After the Supreme Court passed a judgement in 2012 favouring the inter-linking of rivers, Iyer wrote sharp critiques of the apex court’s orders, which he claimed went beyond judicial purview and were subjective views. He argued for a considered executive decision on such projects that held the potential to completely alter the environmental and ecological systems in river basins across the country.

He wished the executive to consider the larger implications and not let the court order be an excuse to justify what President A P J Abdul Kalam, too, had advocated in his broad strokes as a panacea for India’s water woes. His ability to cut through the political chaff and rhetoric that always envelopes inter-state and inter-country water sharing disputes, to look at the legal and technical concerns, found credit from within the government and outside.

From the discourse on the Indus Water treaty between Pakistan and India to the contestations between Tamil Nadu and Kerala on the Mullaperiyar dam, his scholarship helped other researchers, as well as journalists, shape their views.

Picking from his years as an audit service officer, he also wrote on providing independence and autonomy to public offices, as well as greater transparency in the working and hirings at such agencies that brought accountability to governance.

He leaves behind a tome of analysis, ideas and arguments on debates over water resources, captured in his six books and numerous academic and non-academic articles.


Ref; Business-Standard

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *