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Ravi Agarwal

Edited by Ramaswamy R. Iyer
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 500, Rs. 995.00


Professor Ramaswamy R. Iyer unfortunately passed away on the eve of the release of this book, late last year. His writings have helped reshape and deepen our understanding of rivers as well as of water. In this final offering of his long list of journal articles and books on the issue, he presents a wide ranging, voluminous edited volume, which brings together, for the first time, some of India’s best water thinkers, academics and activists (p. 25) to methodically trace the state of the most important river systems across India. The title Living Rivers, Dying Rivers, itself ‘embodies’ rivers, infusing them with life, reimagining them from being mere hydrological water channels to living socio-cultural and biological entities. The book details what ails our rivers and river systems today. It also suggests remedies, a reminder that the ex-bureaucrat author continued to be highly respected in policy and activist circles. Not only are most of our rivers polluted, not many are ‘living’, and as the author concedes, and the few that are ‘might not remain living’ much longer. The problems include rampant industrialization and urbanization of flood plains, unsustainable water extraction and use, failure of pollution abatement plans, misplaced flood control measures like embankments, privatization, large dams and irrigation schemes, and deforestation, amongst others. At the very root of this kind of ill-treatment lies a basic lack of understanding of the complex ecology of river systems, and their being considered merely as fragmented water channels. Spanning a national river geography, this book is refreshingly not a top-down view. It is a ground-up reflection through the eyes of those who are locally engaged. Each chapter offers a detailed account of the reasons a particular river system is in decline. Two very important discussions are about the Ganga and the Indus. Restoring the Ganga is a priority of the current Government (with even a new Ministry dealing with it), besides the holy city of Varanasi (one of the polluting hotspots) being the constituency of Prime Minister Modi. The river is discussed in detail over three separate chapters. Rama Rauta in ‘The Ganga: A Lament and A Plea’, Vinod Tare and Gautam Roy in ‘The Ganga: A Trickle of Hope’ and N.C. Narayanan in ‘The Ganga: Pollution Abatement Strategies: A Review of GAP and Emerging Institutional Models’, write about the need to make an aviral (flowing) and nirmal (pure) Ganga especially in the light ...

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