Tribute to Prof. Ramaswamy Iyer

Prof. Iyer, Former Secretary of Water Resources who passed away a fortnight ago touched the lives of many. A few share their thoughts.
Ramaswamy Iyer, former Secretary Water Resources Ramaswamy Iyer, former Secretary Water Resources

Rohini Nilekani Founder-Chairperson, Arghyam

Prof. Ramaswamy Iyer was very special to us all at Arghyam. Right when we started our work on water in 2005, we invited him to advise us on our strategy. Since then, we have been in regular touch with him and always had the benefit of his wisdom. For me personally, reading his books on water, written so precisely and with such moral clarity, helped me understand the complexities of the water sector and also helped shape the values behind our work. We will certainly miss him, as will anyone in the country who worked with him and knows just how much water sustainability will be key to the future prospects of India.

Dinesh Sharma Columnist and author of books on health and environment

Mr Iyer was a great science communicator--a rare quality in a retired bureaucrat. He could convey technical issues in language laypersons and journalists could comprehend. I think he must be credited with sensitising dozens of journalists about water-related issues in the country through his willing participation in media workshops held by organisations like the Press Institute of India during the 2000s. This has definitely contributed to improvement in quality of reporting and public discourse on water coverage in India.

Sumathi Sivam Rural Development Professional with S M Sehgal Foundation, Gurgaon

My first interaction with Sir Ramaswamy Iyer goes back to 2007, when I wrote to him, seeking advice for my MPhil research on water issues. I got a quick reply from him with a suggestion that I could do a general read up broadly on water issues and then decide. I followed his piece of advice and I read up his book 'Towards Water Wisdom: Limits, Justice,Harmony'. It was from there where I developed a strong interest to intellectually dwell on the topic of water privatisation in India. Since then, I have been reading up pieces written by him. His lucid writing style always shed light on the often ignored and sidelined social aspects of water management. In one occasion in 2010, I had the opportunity to tell him about my research work and he was quite enthusiastic to know about my field findings and he also encouraged me to carry forward with the research at the next level of research work.

S. Vishwanath Writer and Practitioner of sustainable water management systems

He had a great capacity for listening. His interventions were succinct and in old world English which was a joy to listen to. His arguments were always holistic and the big picture was his forte. We sat once in the IISc campus canteen, his son was studying there, and had a rolling conversation on urban areas and water demands. There were other students hanging around and one could see the mentor and philosopher in him hold forth. He loved a young audience.

Manoj Misra Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan

Knowing Ramaswamy Iyer ji was a revelation while losing him so suddenly has been traumatic. 

Carrying a divine countenance on a frail frame, his words were always measured and convincing to a fault. He had a unique writing style which reflected his clarity of thought. He was no nonsense in personal dealings and would not mince words when required. Despite his grave heart condition he chaired each one of our monthly planning meet throughout 2014 and took a keen personal interest in making the first ever "India Rivers Week" a success. Whenever in need of an advice or suggestion, one could always count on him to promptly respond even if to say that "I have no comments to make". 

Widely published, he worked really hard on editing his final publication titled "Living Rivers, Dying Rivers" which due to his illness could not be formally released as planned but which we hope would remain a lasting testimony to his brilliance as a thinking and caring human. May he achieve well deserved moksha !  

Parineeta Dhandekar SANDRP

Some of my memories are from his talks in Pune, where once, at a discussion on eflows, he was exasperated and said, "We don't need so many methodologies for calculating how much water a river should have. What we need is actually a cap on our own water use. Minimum abstraction, not minimum flows". That really shined the light for me.

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