Dr. B. R. Ambedkar: Tribute to a leader of the masses

Dr B R Ambedkar as the pioneer
Of National Water Resources and Water Development Policy 

Part -I

Atulkrishna Biswas

As Member (Labour), Viceroy’s Executive Council, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar held from July 20, 1942 to June 29, 1946. These four years eleven months witnessed the social visionary’s intense nation building activities. This essay, as a tribute to his 127th birth anniversary, attempts at focusing the phase of his activities, over which widespread ignorance prevails.

Paying glowing tribes to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, while he inaugurated the Maritime Investment Summit 2016 in Mumbai on April 14, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, the father of the Constitution was also the architect of the water and river navigation policy.[1] Definitely he struck a strong note in highlighting the little focused role Ambedkar assiduously played as a builder of modern nation. This might be the reason why he, at the same time, took a sharp dig at India’s high-profile ignoramus, occupying the centrestage of intellectual domain that "Many of us may not know that Babasaheb created two powerful institutions related to water, navigation and power. They were: The Central Waterways, Irrigation and Navigation Commission and The Central Technical Power Board. Dr Ambedkar is also the architect of the water and river navigation policy in India." [2]

The tragedy, let it be emphasized out at the outset, is that a powerful lobby at work has been labouring to divest Dr. Ambedkar of his unique accomplishments in the field of development of India’s national water policy and resources in total disregard for extant voluminous official records. The countrymen are in the abyss of darkness because of calculated intellectual denial for the visionary’s rightful recognition Dr. Ambedkar merited in academic as well as public discourses.

A 307-page Commemorative Volume captioned ‘Ambedkar's Contribution to Water Resources Development’ in 1993 to mark his birth centenary was reissued by Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation by publishing in 2016. Uma Bharati, Union Minister of Water Resources in her message to the volume observed: -
Dr Ambedkar evolved a new water and power policy during 1942-46 to utilise the water resources of the country to the best advantage of everybody and the Tennessee Valley Scheme of USA was an ideal model to emulate. He rightly visualised that only multipurpose project can be a fine prospect of the control of the river, a prospect of controlling floods of securing a fine area for perennial irrigation with resultant insurance against famine, much needed supply of power and uplifting the living standard of poverty-stricken people of India.  [3]

Her focus on the holistic approach for development and management of India’s water resources by Dr. Ambedkar would shock the countrymen as to why so much darkness enveloped the area.  Union Minister’s message added: - 

Dr Ambedkar was instrumental in evolving multipurpose approach for water resources development on the basis of river valley basin, and introduction of the concept of river valley authority which are summarily now-a-days termed as Integrated Water Resources Management.

The river valley projects which were under the active consideration of the Labour Department during 1944-46 were Damodar River Valley Projects, the Sone River Valley Projects, the Mahanadi (the Hirakud Project) and the Kosi and others on river Chambal and rivers of the Deccan.”

These projects were conceived, commented the Minister,” essentially for multipurpose development with flood control, irrigation, navigation, domestic water supply, hydropower and other purposes. The Damodar River Valley Projects and Hirakud Multipurpose Project are standing monuments in the memory of this great visionary.” [4]

Lest the nation continues to shower apathy on Dr Ambedkar’s contribution, Miss Bharti did not forget to underscore as well that,

The Inter-State Water Disputes Act, 1956 and the River Boards Act, 1956 are a well-thought vision of Dr Ambedkar to deal with the matters of the interstate rivers. The former provides, in the words of its preamble, “for the adjudication of disputes relating to the waters of inter-state rivers and river valley. [5] 

Prof. Sanwar Lal Jat, Minister of States for Water Resources joined his Minister to pay tribes saying that Dr. Ambedkar was the pioneer to draft new water policy and laid down the foundation for development of multipurpose projects for independent India.
He had, in fact, been the guiding spirit behind Damodar Valley, Hirakud and many other projects in those days. [6]

Confrontation between Viceroy Wavell and Dr. Ambedkar, a rare spectacle!

Here we can refer to an epic confrontation, Dr Ambedkar, Member (Labour) had with Viceroy Lord Wavell, the Supreme Authority of the Empire in India. This was documented by the doyen of Indian journalism, Durga Das in the following words, 

A chief engineer was needed to head the commission to draw up plans for flood control in the Damodar Valley Corporation in Bihar. Wavell favoured the choice of a British expert who had been adviser on the Aswan Dam project in Egypt. Ambedkar, however, wanted an American who had experience of the development undertaken by the Tennessee Valley Authority. He argued in support of his demand that Britain had no big rivers and its engineers lacked experience in building big dams.  [7]

Forceful logic and weighty eloquence of fearless Labour Member silenced the Viceroy and he had his way. The same journalist also observed that “Ambedkar was perhaps the most erudite member of the Executive Council and was a powerful speaker.” [8]

In the circumstance, the first technical expert for the DVC from USA inducted by Dr. Ambedkar was W. L. Voorduin, with profound experience of Tennessee Valley Authority. Appointed to head the DVC, he reported for duties in no time and in August 1944, Voorduin submitted his ‘Preliminary Memorandum on the unified Development of the ‘Damodar River.’

Indian Information, April 1, 1946 reported that Ross M. Riegel and Fred C. Schlemmer, both leading engineers, also from the Tennessee Valley Authority, reached India on a mission to advise on the plans being made by the Central Technical Power Board for the Maithon, Alyar and Panchet Hill Projects. Both of them were in India for eight weeks, “their services having been made available to the Government of India by the Tennessee Valley Authority, with the approval of the State Department, Washington. [9] A meeting presided by Dr. Ambedkar held on April 25 and 26 in Delhi attended by representatives of the Central, Bengal & Bihar Government recommended for starting construction of the [first] Tilya Dam at Rs. 55 crores. [10]  

Dr. Ambedkar as the Executive Member (Labour), addressed five conferences between November 15, 1943 and November 8, 1945---two on the Damodar Valley Project at Calcutta (January 3 and August 23, 1944), Multipurpose Development of Orissa’s Rivers (Cuttack, November 8, 1945) and two on Electric Power (Delhi, October 25, 1943 and February 2, 1945). [11]

The Central Water, Irrigation and Navigation Commission established in the year 1945 is what is now called Central Water Commission at Centre. The Central Water Commission, under Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Government of India is the spearhead of formulation, guidance and implementation of Government’s national policy for water.

Essence of water resources and development  

M. S. Reddy, Chairman, Central Water Commission dealt in perspective in 1993 what Dr Ambedkar was responsible for---

the emergence of a definite all-India policy with regard to the development of water and electric power resources in India; [2] the creation of the Central Waterways, Irrigation and Water Commission and the Central Technical Power Board, now known the Central Electricity Authority, as the administrative apparatus and technical bodies at the Centre to assist the States in the development of irrigation and electric power respectively; [3] introduction of the concept of River Valley Authority or Corporation for the integrated development of th rivers in the regions; [4]  introduction of the concept of multipurpose development of river valley basin for the first time in India; amending entry “74” in the Constitution and bringing part of it to the Union List and introducing article 262 regarding the adjudication of disputes relating to waters of inter-state rivers or river valleys; and [5] initiation of some important present-day river valley projects, particularly in Damodar, Sone and Mahanadi river basin. [12]

Attempt at piracy of Dr. Ambedkar’s achievement?

A biography has recently staked a claim to the effect that: In accordance with the Government’s industrial policy, the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works (at Chittaranjan, West Bengal) the Hindustan Aircraft Factory (Bangalore), the Sindri Fertilizer Factory, (Sindri, Bihar) the four most successful and gigantic ventures, were conceived and organized by Dr. (S. P.) Mookerjee. [13]

Emphasizing further, the biographer underlined that: The multipurpose Damodar River Valley Project, which was modelled after, but was far more complicated than the Tennessee Valley Authority, is another outstanding achievement of Dr Mookerjee. Its need had been particularly felt after a devastating flood on the Damodar River in 1943. [14] 

This claim with respect to DVC seems to have been made without any shred of evidence in support to prove Dr. Mookerjee’s role and claim for accomplishment. 

It is a matter of record Independent India’s first Council of Ministers including Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee headed by Jawaharlal Nehru took oath of office on August 15, 1947. Anybody would be confused as to how was it possible to lay claim for credit on DVC which went ahead good three years before Dr. Mookerjee was sworn in as a Minister. This sounds like putting the proverbial cart before the horse and therefore, untenable per se.   

The aforesaid citation would leave none in any shadow of doubts about the role Dr. B R Ambedkar played in National Water Resources and Water Development Policy. In the teeth of unassailable facts, the claim for Dr. Syma Prasad Mookerjee by his biographer attempted to create confusion in the minds of readers and scholars.

This only substantiates the essence of time-honoured proverb correct: “Success has many fathers but failures have none.”


1. News 18 April 14, 2016, ‘Dr Ambedkar Also the Architect of Water, River Navigation Policy: Modi.’
2. Ibid.
3. Commemorative Volume on Ambedkar’s Contribution to Water Resource Development by Ministry of Water Resources, Water Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Central Water Commission, New Delhi, 2nd Edition, 2016.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Durga Das, India—-From Curzon to Nehru and After, Collins, London, 1969, p. 236.
8. Ibid.
9. “T.V.A. EXPERTS TO ADVISE ON DAMODAR VALLEY PROJECT” @ Indian Information, April 1, 1946, quoted in Writings and Speeches of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Vol. 10, Government of Maharashtra, Bombay, p. 403. 
10. Ibid., p. 682.
11. Commemorative Volume on Ambedkar’s Contribution to Water Resource Development by Ministry of Water Resources, Water Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Central Water Commission, New Delhi, 2nd Edition, 2016, pp. 233-274.
12. Commemorative Volume on Dr Ambedkar by Ministry of Water Resources.
13. Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Life and Times, Penguin Viking, 2018, p. 247.
14. Tathagata Roy, op cit., pp. 248-249.

Dr. Atulkrishna Biswas, the writer, a social anthropologist and analyst, is retired IAS officer and former Vice-Chancellor, B. R. Ambedkar University, Muzaffarpur, Bihar.

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Apr 14, 2020

Dr. Atulkrishna Biswas

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