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Viewpoint - The story of a troubled relationship

Ramaswamy R. Iyer
Independent consultant, New Delhi, India;

ABSTRACT: This is the story of my changing relationship with the Indian Ministry of Water Resources and the Central Water Commission. When, in 1985, as a civil servant of the Government of India, I became Secretary, Water Resources, I brought to the assignment fairly conventional views on big dam projects as symbols of development and demonstrations of the application of science and technology to interventions in nature for human purposes. That widely prevalent view began to change as the environmental impacts of big dam projects, and the displacement of people by such projects, became clearer, and my thinking also underwent a change towards the end of my civil service days and later after my retirement. This subjected my old cordial relationship with the Ministry and the official engineering community to considerable strain. Over a period of time, that broken relationship was partially mended, but some embers of the old uneasiness still remain and can ignite easily. The Establishment'€™s disapproval of me got intertwined with their strong defensiveness on dams, their anger against popular movements against big projects, in particular the Narmada project, and their bitter and implacable hostility to the World Commission on Dams. Thus, this personal story goes beyond the personal, and is the reflection of changing attitudes towards engineering interventions in nature and ecological and other concerns, and towards ideas of development.

KEYWORDS: Dams, development, environmental impacts, displacement of people, changing climate of opinion, World Commission on Dams