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Approaches towards

towards Inclusive and Futuristic River Basin Management:

Drawing upon Learning of a Civil Society Initiative in Eastern India1
Pranab Ranjan Choudhury
The Baitarani River Basin Initiative, a Civil Society initiative in Eastern India is experimenting with
Inclusive and Futuristic Basin Resources Management (IFBRM) as a development tool for sustainable
basin livelihood and resilient basin ecosystem health. The concept of IFBRM that it espouses is a little
different from the western paradigms of Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM) or IWRM
(Integrated Water Resources Management). The differences have evolved to accommodate the
different nature of embedded contexts in India as well as in the state of Orissa. It’s evolving nature
while make the approach relatively raw, the approach’s appeal seems to lie in its rationality and
freshness, at least in Indian context, where the concepts of IWRM and IRBM have failed to evoke
desirable responses. The differences of the approach lies in it being inclusive, proactive, innovative
and in rooting its fundamentals of enabling informed choices. The inclusivity approach helps to
accommodate the complexities and diversity of the Indian River Basins by going beyond boundaries
of disciplines, institutions (stakeholders) and uses. Similarly, its proactive character helps to install a
preparedness mechanism desirable for Indian basins, unlike the reactive approaches of IWRM and
IRBM (RBO) which are essentially reactions to ‘scarcity’ or ‘quality’. Some of the ‘Indian’ issues are
also very important regionally, compelling to be proactive than reactive e.g. ‘the recent flood-
catastrophe in Bihar. The diversity of Indian physical situations and traditional wisdoms compel to
escape from the rigid frameworks ‘technology’ and ‘institutions’ and to accommodate existing and
emerging innovations. This approach of looking beyond ‘business as usual’ and to apply principle of
‘business unusual’ also makes a case of IFBRM in India in place of western concepts of IRBM and
IWRM. Lack of availability of and access to desired information by Indian basin stakeholders, unlike
their counterparts, severely impedes their ability to make informed choices, a common requirement
for IWRM/IRBM and hence enabling the same becomes the starting point of IFBRM. The paper is
going to elaborate this approach taking the example of situations and issues in the Baiatarni Basin to
make a case for IFBRM in India.

Key Words
Water Governance, Stakeholders, IWRM, IRBM, Baitarani

Integrated river basin management (IRBM)2, has emerged as a consensus approach for
managing the resources of large rivers sustainably, equitably and efficiently in the last
decade (United Nations Sustainable Development 1992; Heathcote 1998; Global Water
Partnership 2000). The idea of transferring such ‘ready-made’ western solutions to India
and other developing countries holds great appeal. However, review of actual experiences
points to need of tailoring of such solution to fit the realities of Indian basins with their
different set of concerns and priorities in contrast to their western counterparts (IWMI,
200_). Drawing upon experiences from India and the context of other developing
countries, IWMI, 200_ has also pointed out the risk of introducing IWRM (Integrated

This paper was presented in a Workshop on "Innovations in the Water Sector’ organized by the Full Bright Program of
United States India Educational Foundation (USIEF) January 20-23, 2009 Pune
2 "Integrated river basin management (IRBM) is the process of coordinating conservation, management and development

of water, land and related resources across sectors within a given river basin, in order to maximise the economic and
social benefits derived from water resources in an equitable manner while preserving and, where necessary, restoring
freshwater ecosystems." Adapted from Integrated Water Resources Management, Global Water Partnership
(www.gwpforum.org )Technical Advisory Committee Background Papers, No. 4, 2000.)
Water Resources Management) as a blue print approach and has advocated for integration
of the local resources and local contexts for successful IWRM implementation (IWMI,

The concept of IFBRM (Inclusive and Futuristic Basin Resources Management), presented
in this paper, is one such tailoring attempt having evolved as a local and contextual
response in an Indian river basin. Germinated from the concept of IRBM, it has evolved
over a set of geo-hydrological and socio-economic environment in the Baitarani Basin
through interaction with the development context, policy regime and institutional
structure vis-à-vis Indian contexts. The nomenclature of this approach reflects a
conscious reiteration of the need of an inclusive, democratic and innovative river basin
institution in achieving the goal of sustainable basin livelihood and resilient basin
ecosystem health in Indian context. This IFBRM is rooted in a knowledge-based and
integrated approach which tries to connect different basin stakeholders’ across space and
time and thereby addressing their livelihood concerns for the present and future, across
the basin landscape. It is an attempt to blend concerns for environment with livelihood,
goals of local with global development, issues of resource rights and access with market
and focus of sustainability with equity. IFBRM aspires to address these multiple concerns
and objectives through an inclusive governance platform of informed-stakeholders
created through enhanced access to critical basin information.

Baitarani Basin: Analysis of the Context

Baitarani originates in the tribal dominated mining belt of Orissa and meanders through 8
districts in Orissa and marginally through one district of the neighboring state of
Jharakhand through forested, industrial, agricultural and wetland landscapes before
joining the Bay of Bengal. Baitarani has the third largest river basin in Orissa. Hilly upper
catchment of the basin, forming about half of its area is the home to its tribal population
which also includes four primitive tribal groups (PTG It is a predominant rural basin
(85% rural population) with almost half (45%) of its population of about 4 million
(Census,2001) belonging to either Scheduled Tribe(27%) or Scheduled Caste(18%).
However these socio-economic groups’ access and rights over the basin’s resources are
severely constrained 3 in spite of their higher reliance on the natural resources for
livelihoods thanks to the unfavorable topographical, historical, political and economic

Out of the total land holdings in the basin, SC and ST together own 41% of the area, though they constitute
about 45% of population. (Agriculture Census, 1995-96) However, in terms of standard acre (by converting
different types of land to the best land type following revenue conversion of the state of Orissa) their ownership
is only 36% of total area. Most of the lands owned by these communities are up and medium lands with
undulations and limited irrigability. Distribution of irrigated land ownership is also highly skewed against SC &
ST farmers who own only 15% and 5% of the irrigated lands, though they constitute 45% of the population.
There is also a greater disparity among the socio-economic classes, with 83% of landowners constituting small
and marginal farmers own only 52% of the area.
Basin’s geo-hydrology makes it a flood prone river. There have been 86 floods in hundred
year’s between1868 and 1967 (Sarangi and Penthoi, 2005) and 18 floods subsequently till
2008. In absence of flood control reservoirs in the Basin, provisions of embankments and
escapes have been constructed to contain the flood. However, quite often they have
proved otherwise

Water resources development in the basin is less optimized with low public provisioning4.
Area under irrigation is low so as the status overall groundwater development (GOO,
2003). Out of more than 30,000 small tanks/ponds in the basin, more than half are owned
by Panchayats and Revenue department.

Baitarani has become a highly polluted river (MoEF, GoI) thanks to direct discharge of
untreated effluents from mining, industrial and urban areas apart from the open
defecation practices in vogue in riparian villages. Its water quality now oscillates between
‘C’ and ‘D’ class (OPCB, 2006). However, about a tenth of the populations of 2000 villages
(0.1 million) depend upon the river water directly for drinking. (Choudhury et al, 2006)
Pollution through very high concentration of hexavalent chromium is also detected in the
basin along with threats from salinity. Massive mining courtesy rich mineral (Fe, Cr, Mn
etc.) and coal deposits in the upper and middle catchment has become pollution hazards
with the degradation of air and water quality and generation of huge mine waste, while its
contribution to local employment generation is very limited. Most of the mining and
industrial units do not observe stipulated environmental regulations concerning waste
treatment and disposal. Ubiquitous sponge iron industries have become quite infamous for
their air and water pollution records. Industrial water use at present is very low in
comparison to others, but with ongoing rapid industrialization and related mining
activities with focus on steel, threat of water scarcity and conflicts hang ominously on it.
Basin economy is primarily agrarian and primary sector dominates in terms of its
contribution as well as for its employment potential. Mining, industry (metal based) and
forestry follow agriculture in terms of their economic importance. Though the area under
agriculture is 62% only two thirds of it is net sown due to different land-use limitations.
Agriculture is mostly mono-cropped and rainfed and the present level of crop production
and fertilizer use are low. Out of the total workers in the basin, cultivators (land owners
engaged in agriculture) and agricultural labourers (workers on other farmers’ lands)
constitute a third each.. (Census, 2001)

At present, there is no clearly defined exclusive legal structure at the basin level, though
there has been a position of basin manager under Department of Water Resources
(DoWR), Govt of Orissa. DoWR is mandated for planning, development and managing
the State’s water resources5. There are many other departments who also are involved in

Irrigation potential created through major (2), medium (2), minor irrigation projects(1552)4 and lift irrigation in
the basin is 1.85 lakh ha and 0.55 lakh ha in kharif and rabi respectively
for irrigation, bulk water supply, drainage and flood control with direct responsibility for implementation,
operation & maintenance of Major & Medium, Minor (Flow & Lift) irrigation projects, exploration and
using and influencing water resources in the state viz. Rural Development, Housing and
Urban Development, Panchayati Raj, Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Resources, Forest
and Environment, Industry, Heath and Family Welfare, Energy, Disaster Mitigation
Authority, Pollution Control Board and Inland Water Transport. (GOO, 2004)
There are many legal instruments related to water, environment, land, agriculture,
forestry and fisheries available which governs and influences the way water sector
develops or operates in a basin. (Table - 1) However, the situation in field indicates lack of
percolation and impact of policies and legislation. (Table- 2)
Table 1 Policies & Legislations influencing Water Sector in Orissa
Sectors Policies & Legislations
Water related Bengal Drainage Act.1880; Bengal Embankment Act.1882; Bengal Ferris Act, 1885
Inter State Water Dispute Act 1956; Orissa Irrigation Act 1959 and Orissa Irrigation
rule 1967 (Amendment in 1999); Canal and Navigation Act; River Board Act, 1956,
The State Water Policy, 1994 & 2007; The Orissa Pani Panchayat Act and Rule
2002, State Water Plan, 2004

Land related Land Acquisition Act. 1894 (Amendment in 1994); Orissa Resettlement and
Rehabilitation Project Displaced persons Policy 1994 & 2006; Orissa Prevention of
Land Encroachment Act 1972, Rule 1985; Orissa Government Land Settlement Act,
1962, Rule 1983; Orissa Survey and Settlement Act 1958; Orissa Land Reforms Act
1960; Orissa Scheduled Areas Transfer of Immovable Property (by Scheduled
Tribe) (OSATIP)Regulation 1956 (Only for Scheduled areas)

Forest & Forest Conservation Act, 1980; Orissa Forest Act 1972
Environment Orissa Forest (Grazing of Cattle) Rules 1980, Sections 5 and 6
related Environment Project Act, 1986, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
Notification, 1994, Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974

Others Orissa Gram Panchayat Act & Panchayat Extension to Schedule Areas Act (PESA),
Industrial Policy of Orissa, 1996, State Agriculture, 2008

Table 2 Field situations vis-

vis-à-vis some
some of the key Policy provisions in the basin
Key Policy Position Basin Situation
State Water policy A large number of basin inhabitants (0.5 million people in its 16
advocates for riparian blocks) are now using the surface flows including river water
judicious allocation of which are not fit for drinking as per pollution control board data and
water and quality norms
maintenance of water.
Provision of flood Absence of effective flood forecasting system; Continued presence of
protection and drainage large number of villages on the inner side of embankments; Loss to
facilities in state water crop, crop lands and habitat due to escapes; lack of maintenance of
policy embankments, drainage structures and participation of community
there in; involvement of multiple agencies and lack of institutional

regulation of ground water, construction of fields channels and warabandis in selected command areas below the
Flood preparedness and Lack of involvement of PRIs in Flood Preparation Committee,
damage control as per state Inadequate percolation of capacity building benefits to communities;
disaster mitigation policy lack of availability of infrastructure; very limited response time
Policy of preventing land Limited land ownership and limited ownership of better and irrigated
alienation from Tribal : land by the tribal; lack of regularization of customarily owned lands on
OSATIP Regulation, 1956 hill slopes used for shifting cultivation; diversion of such lands for
compensatory afforestation, land alienation
NTFP Policy resolution of Lack of awareness about the same by the communities as well as many
the state devolving rights PRI (Panchayati Raj Institution)
to Panchayati Raj
PESA (Panchayat Lack of framing of rules to promote decentralized governance of
Extension to Schedule natural resources; lack of awareness about provisions
Area’s ACT)
Environmental Legislations Negative impact on health of mining workers, non-observance of mine
offering immunity against safety and regulations concerning environmental and human health;
pollution higher air pollution by sponge iron industries and ore transportation;
water pollution by domestic, industrial and agricultural pollution; land
pollution by mine waste

Baitarani River Basin Initiative

With this backdrop, Baitarani River Basin Initiative was launched as a civil society
experiment in 2006 at the behest of Shristi. It was an attempt to address these concerns of
indigenous communities, mining, pollution, natural resources degradation, iniquitous
resource access, bio-diversity erosion, natural disasters and chronic poverty looming large
over the basin’s landscapes and livelihoods. Existing policy regimes, ongoing
developmental actions and strategies have not been able to adequately appreciate and
address these largely cross-connected issues. Their limitations of working within their
sectoral, spatial, temporal and stakeholder boundaries have handicapped them to address
the problems, resources and stakeholders which are inter-linked. There is also a glaring
disconnection among the basin resource (including water) users, influencers and decision
makers. These basin stakeholders impacted by and affecting these changes are also
blissfully ignorant of this interconnectivity inherent to resources across a basin.
Information divide rooted in lack of availability of and access to multi-disciplinary basin
information by disconnected stakeholders has also constrained evolution of informed
choices by them. This has constrained crystallization of stakeholder dialogues and/or
forums around basin issues and landscapes. While there are passive attempt by the state to
go for basin-wide approaches (River Basin Organization as per State water Policy, 2007)
there has not been any conscious attempt to promote involvement of stakeholders from
below and principles of democratization of basin resource governance. Accommodation of
the normative concerns of livelihoods, equity, cultural identity, democratized resource
management apart from sustainability and genders also have not been attempted by the
policy frameworks nor by any stakeholder initiatives.
Evolution of Approach of IFBRM
IFBRM, argued here, has evolved largely as a developmental response from a civil society
perspective to address these basin situations. It essentially is a tailoring of IRBM approach
through integration of futuristic, inclusive and normative concerns to accommodate these
contexts, civil society aspirations and strengthening of the existing policy framework and
governance structure. The rationale behind this reorientation has emerged logically from
some principles rooted in the basin and local contexts that are broadly spelled out below.
However, considering the juvenility of the concept of IFBRM, the relative rawness and
evolving character of these principles must be appreciated. Nevertheless, their rationality
worth a serious relook, at least in Indian context, where the adoption of blueprint
approach of IWRM and IRBM have failed to evoke desirable responses. (IWMI, 200_)

Inclusive: As a response to the complexities and diversity of the Baitarani Basin which also
mirrors that of Indian situations, the inclusivity envisaged here transgresses many
boundaries. This inclusiveness is a conscious deviation from the blue print approach. It
provides space to accommodate and integrate disciplinary and institutional boundaries as
per local contexts. Disciplinary inclusiveness emphasizes integration of disciplines –first
going beyond water (hydrologist perspective) to adopt ‘Natural Resources Management’,
then blending in the ‘Governance, policy, institutions and rights’ and going to include
‘Livelihoods’. Essentially it tries to integrate the structures and functions of the ecosystem
with dynamism of human society and the overarching influence of economy and market
to look the system in its entirety to better address the situation, concerns and interests.
One way of looking towards it is to integrate the riverscape with landscape and
humanscape. This is quite akin to elaboration of Miller and Hirsch (2003) of the evolution
of integrated approach to river basin management from the traditional paradigm of
dominant engineering and technology based instrument to a broader ecosystem based
approach of management tool evolved over tensions and contradictions.

The second layer of inclusion is around institutions. Here it seeks to include institutions
from different sector viz. Govt, corporate, civil society. (Govt- water, agriculture, forest,
rural development, panchayati raj etc.; Corporate – secondary and tertiary sectors etc.;
Civil Society-NGO, Media, CBO, Academia etc) Such level of inclusiveness looks quite
ambitious, but is premised on the fact that all such institutions are involved in using,
abusing or influencing the basin resources including water. Moreover, there are some
experiments and successful experiences of such integration in India though at different
levels with different intensities as exemplified in experiments of ‘Community Block
Development’, ‘Panchayati Raj structure at GP/Block level’, ‘District Rural Development
Agency’ at district level or ‘Integrated Watershed Development’ at micro-watershed level.
While IRBM and IWRM concepts also espouse inclusivity, their levels of inclusion have
remained bounded to their blue print approach designed as per their environments of
origin. IWRM at the operational level takes a rather narrow view of the
philosophy and has largely tended to be tight-jacketed which has made these
initiatives in developing country contexts to be ineffective at best and
counterproductive at worst. Perceived pay offs and involved transaction costs have often
decided the level of inclusiveness6 under IWRM framework. (IWMI, 200_) Similarly the
concept of IRBM imposed in developing countries is largely premised on formation of
RBO (River Basin Organizations) like institutional models that are not designed to handle
the hydrogeology, demography, socioeconomics and the organization of the water sector
found in the developing world. (IWMI, 200_)
Inclusivity argued here, is also a conscious strategy of packaging normative concerns of
democratization, equity, cultural identity, gender and livelihoods into the IFBRM
approach. This approach also compliments the second principle of ‘pro-activeness’ as the
inclusion of sectors and institutions are not ‘reactive’.

Proactive: This principle in premised in planning for future and not always restricted to
reactions. It lends the major difference to this approach from IWRM and IRBM (RBO).
While these approaches have emerged out of the reaction to ‘scarcity’ or
‘environment/quality’, the situations in the Baitarani and for that matter in many other
Indian rivers are not the same, though such situations are imminent. On the other hand
there some other ‘Indian’ issues which are far more important in regional context and
compels to be proactive than reactive viz. access to drinking water, eradicating poverty or
is the ominous ‘floods’.

Innovative: This principle advocates looking beyond ‘business as usual’ and to apply
principle of ‘business unusual’. The diversity of Indian cornucopia in terms of geographies,
agro-ecologies, culture, local wisdoms and practices in resource management/governance
compel to effect an escape from the rigid frameworks or blue print approaches of
‘technology’ and ‘institutional structure’ and accommodate existing and emerging
innovations. In this context, examples galore in India and there are traditions and
institutions constantly promoting innovations around resource management and
governance paradigms. This theory of innovation also challenges the ‘as such’ imposition
of western concepts of IRBM and IWRM to Indian context.

Information-based: Situation in the Baitarni Basin as well as in India clearly portrays lack
of availability of and access to desired information by different stakeholders. Not only,
such a situation hinders in effecting appropriate management of natural resources
including water but also it affects the building of desired institutions for governance.
Absence of information severely impedes basin stakeholders’ ability to adequately
comprehend the situation and take informed decisions. Also lack of interfaces and
interactions among stakeholders due to both physical and information-divide impedes
exchange of free and fair information among them. This information-opacity clearly
distinguishes the Indian rivers including the Baitarani from their western counterparts
and accordingly the understanding of IWRM/IRBM and evolving/installation of basin
institutions should take a different trajectory. The information-based approach
consciously promotes evolution of RBO kind of institutions organically and logically from
informed stakeholder crystallizations.

E.g. Australia’s water law excludes users who irrigate less than 2 ha.
Limitations & Challenges to the conceptualization and concept of IFBRM
The state of ongoing evolving nature of this approach also lends the concept a tentative
and skeletal structure with some loose ends. This approach requires to be appreciated as
civil society aspiration, which is evolving through a continuous system of learning and
feedbacks from stakeholders, situations and ongoing and emerging changes. This
conceptualization process also suffers from not being ideally inclusive, it having the
limitation of a civil society initiative. To counter this, Baitarani Initiative has tried to
remain open, flexible and has followed processes of inclusion of all stakeholders’ opinion
through interactions, dialogues and information exchanges using different medium.
However, the enormity of diversity, social and physical distances/divides, ecological and
economic differences and the knowledge-divides among the basin stakeholders call for a
process-based, patient approach with investment of more time and resources.

Apart from the complex divides and differences among the basin-stakeholder, a lack
societal preparedness is also evident in Indian situations in accepting the concept of
IFBRM. Some of the challenges which are required to be negotiated in order to promote
appreciation IFBRM concept by basin stakeholders in Orissa context are
 Great difficulty in comprehending the concept of IFBRM by the stakeholders in
absence of live Indian examples
 Most of the stakeholders, being prisoners of the notion of administrative or
political boundaries, find it difficult to comprehend the basin boundary. The
enormity of basin’s size also makes it a difficult choice to accept. It took a
considerable time, in making watershed-stakeholders (including decision makers
and villagers) understand the concept of a geo-hydrological boundary even at the
scale of a micro-watershed. In spite of about two decades of experience in
watershed development, there has not been any stakeholder consensus on
appropriate and effective institutional framework and the same is still evolving.
 The situations of poverty, under-development, resource degradation, pollution,
water allocation and even drought and flood are being treated quite often as
localized issues and stand-alone events by most of the stakeholders. There is lack
of realization of the connectivity among these issues at basin scale by most of the
stakeholders, resulting in lack of motivation to think in terms of basin institutions.
 There are confusing perceptions in the line of ‘blind men and elephant’ syndrome
and different stakeholders have differing understanding of the basin-management
concept and differential expectations from basin-institution in absence of
availability and access to right information
 The overarching role of Govt has lead to syndrome of either dependence or
dejection by many stakeholders like community. They either believe that it is the
responsibility of only the state to do such things or with past bad experiences, lack
incentives to concentrate in this line

Role of Civil Society is very limited in Water-sector in Orissa and mostly has been limited
to water and sanitation. There is also lack of civil society players in integrated NRM and as
such there has not been much action, research and advocacy in water unlike other sector
like forest. In absence of civil society’s understanding of the situation and lack of
experience, many a debate around water in civil society in Orissa has often found to very
lopsided and ineffective.

The mainstream ‘surplus syndrome’ of lesser competition and survival stakes around water
with optimistic assumptions of state’s water endowments and lesser demand across its
geographies and sectors. There is also a continued belief in the dominant ‘technical’
discourse in dealing with water issues– especially through augmenting and conserving
water by means of irrigation and watershed technologies or ensuring quality of water
through sanitation or treatment technologies.

The present political and economic situation in Orissa has also been laced with growing
mistrust and suspicion. Three key stakeholders of the basin viz. Govt, Corporate and Civil
Society have not been able to arrive at a consensus over debates of development
particularly the way economic development should proceed. There are also instances of
growing intolerance, which often makes such inclusive debates an affair of allegations and
counter allegations in absence of clear information.

The Positionality of Baitarani Initiative in promoting IFBRM

As a civil society initiative, Baitarani Initiative has got inherent limitations of resources
and authority vis-à-vis the state in effecting IFBRM. Therefore, it takes up the role of
facilitating informed choices, catalyzing organic crystallization of basin institutions
through enhanced stakeholder voices and of promoting innovations in technology and
institutions towards realization of its goal. As a civil society initiative, it defines its role to
be more social (equity) and environmental (sustainability) to compliment and supplement
the political and administrative role and constitutional authority/ trusteeship of the state
along with the economic role of the corporate. With the state’s responsibility to safeguard
interest and welfare of people and the ecosystem and that of corporate to steer inclusive
economic growth in the basin, through investments, this initiative seeks to compliment
information and innovations for inclusive and pro-active (futuristic) basin resources
management with support from enabled stakeholders’ institutions.

Adopting this IFBRM approach, Baitarani Initiative has proposed a structure of basin
governance as part of a ‘Study on Institutional Options for Improving Water Management
in India’ (Choudhury et al, 2007)conducted by International Food Policy Research
Institute, Washington. The approach and structure has also been shared with Department
of Water Resources, Govt of Orissa. This inclusive structure encompasses representations
of multi-stakeholders for effectively addressing the multiplicity and complexities of
present and future basin issues. The present policy regime in the state doesn’t offer
adequate space to support such a framework, and hence there is need of an informed
policy advocacy. But, before that, there is need of wider stakeholder consultations on this
IFBRM approach as well as on the proposed structure and function of the basin
governance institution. Considering the merits of basin scale approach, concerns and
challenges of present and future and the promise of such a novel development paradigm,
research and debates seem the need of the hour to effectively tailor IRBM for Indian
basins. May be this small experience and loud thinking in the jacket of IFBRM would
provide some warm space in that direction.

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