River Basin Organisations in India: A Case for Fundamental Review

River Basin Organisations in India: A Case for Fundamental Review

By the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People


The increasing role and relevance of institutional structure to manage river basins is gaining prominence, due to failure of large scale centralised interventions in the river basins and with growing concern for community-based approach. The failures, largely guided by technocentric approach, have misunderstood the river systems and communities as being stable and that they are liable to be controlled for development.

What is clear from the origin, functions and constitution of RBOs in India is that they are all structured for planning, design and implementation of large projects. It is also clear that they do not even intend to be participation oriented or open bodies. Proper river basin organisation encompassing the needs, resources and priorities of whole river basin or even for majority part of river basin has not been done in case of a single river basin in India.

What is important is the emergence of various community - based initiatives that have been building on the community knowledge systems and e volving rational options for river basin development for integrated development, rather than technocentric approach. The paper calls for a ‘threshold approach’ in managing the river systems through RBOs. The approach is process - oriented and is context specific. The RBOs involved in managing the river systems should provide an ‘enabling environment’ for understanding the dynamic and complex river system through an ‘interactive approach’ to scale - up and scale - out participatory management. This requires the government institutions to restructure with a view to devolve powers to community institutions for evolving rational options for river basin development. Such institutions that are community - based should be ‘learning organisations’, that emerges gradually through debates and networking with different actors by devolving responsibilities to the local institutions, promote realistic options for basin development and provides a flexible framework for managing the complex and dynamic river basin system.