Ramaswamy Iyer, former union secretary of Water Resources for the government of India, and professor at the Center for Policy Research, and well known advocate of alternatives to big dams, passed away on September 9, 2015 in Delhi.
Upon learning of his passing I posted the transcript of his talk to AID volunteers in 1999 and also wrote a short note which eSocial Sciences published: Obituary: Ramaswamy R Iyer, 1929 – 2015
Champion of water resource policy and friend to the movements, Ramaswamy Iyer was active throughout his life writing, lecturing and filing public interest litigations till his last breath, and we certainly did not expect to lose him so suddenly.
As part of government committees, international conferences, activist meetings or public actions, he spoke with sincerity and took principled stands with courage. His credibility with government and movements alike gave him an ability to raise critical issues of water policy in circles that often dismiss social and environmental concerns. In the early years of the Association for India’s Development, as volunteers were finding our bearings concerning the meaning of “India’s Development,” he generously accepted my invitation to address our group. To a room full of wide-eyed young volunteers, he patiently explained water policy issues and shared his experiences from working with government departments and people’s movements. (Text of the talk below.) Since then he has kept in touch at meetings and over e-mails over the years, and has been generous with his time and energy, travelling to the Narmada Valley to commemorate the 25th year of the struggle even as an octogenarian.
It was in the context of the Narmada struggle that one of his courageous stands took global significance. He was a member of the Five Member Group appointed by the Ministry of Water Resources to investigate the Sardar Sarovar project after the World Bank withdrew on the basis of the Morse Committee report, sending the Narmada movement into global headlines as the first people’s struggle to challenge the World Bank successfully. The Five Member Group surprised both the government and activists by concurring for the most part with the Morse Committee report. Since then Ramaswamy Iyer has worked with a number of organizations and taking public stands on issues of water policy including dams, inter-linking of rivers and privatization. He has also worked with a number of community organizations and movements working on local water harvesting in a way that prioritizes social equity as well as ecological sustainability. Along with all of these organizations, we feel his loss very deeply. We are grateful for his writings and hope that his example will continue to inspire people to speak truth to power and pursue science with conscience and integrity.