Latha Anantha

Dr. Latha Anantha is a name familiar to those of us who have either been associated with the Indian water sector, or those who have worked with her at grassroots level as part of the Athirappilly dam movement. A naturalist to the core, she had dedicated her entire life for the cause of environment, especially for flowing rivers and for conservation of Western Ghats. Chalakudy River had a special place in her life and work. Founder of River Research Centre and part of the Chalakudypuzha Samrakshana Samithi (Chalakudy River Protection Council), she was part of many collectives including South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP), Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India, International Rivers Network, and so on.

Latha had a dream that many of us shared: of free flowing, healthy rivers. She spent a lifetime in the area of conservation in the Western Ghats, and left a lot of work for us to carry on. Ensuring e-flows in rivers and river basin management were subjects close to her heart. She strongly believed that it is important to bring into mainstream civil society discussions how our dying rivers can be restored, for they are the lifeline of our planet.

An agricultural scientist by training, she ventured into rivers during her internship under the aegis of ecologist Dr. Sathis Chandran Nair.

She founded River Research Centre in Kerala’s Thrissur district. She was a pioneer and a spirited advocate for restoring the flow of rivers. She spent years studying and carrying field work in river basins for developing a framework on river basin planning that will work in Indian conditions. She selected Chalakudy basin as a sample river basin in Western Ghats region for evolving a basin level revival and management plan. She conceived and gave life to various programs and activities:

  • River Bank Mapping and Sand Auditing of Chalakudy river and Karuvannur river under the guidance of Revenue Department and Centre for Earth Science Studies, Thiruvananthapuram

  • Watershed restoration and management supported by NABARD – going on in Bedadka GP in Kasargod district

  • Ecosystem Alliance Program – an initiative of the Save Western Ghats Movement ( SWGM ) to develop ecologically senstivie planning process in selected regions of the Western Ghats in Kerala and Tamil Nadu

  • Schools for River – a program to sensitize school students towards their rivers and forests ongoing in six schools

  • She also spearheaded collaborative projects focused on livelihood enhancement of indigenous people in the Chalakudy River Basin. The rationale was to help native people assert Community Forest Rights through finding meaningful ways of engaging with their ancestral domain and the resources therein, and helping them be better stewards of the forest and the river.

Way back in 2003, she had organised a national symposium against river-linking project.

She was the recipient of the first Bhagirath Prayas Samman for her “exemplary capacity for combining sound research with the mobilization of community, political and state agencies, and for ushering in a unique methodology of consensus- based conservation of rivers in the country’”. She was also Ashoka Fellow (2012) for her work on protecting rights of those dwelling on the banks of River Chalakudy in Kerala.

She was resource person on watershed development at Kerala Institute on Local Administration and in several grama panchayaths in Kerala during 9th and 10th decentralised planning periods. She also provided inputs to several government led committees and panels. Some of them include:

  • - Inputs to the Western Ghats Expert Panel Report (WGEEP ) set up by the MoEF in 2010

  • - Member, committee set up to Amend Sand Mining Act 2001 by the Land Revenue Commissioner , GoK in 2004

  • - Inputs on National Environmental Protection Agency ( NEPA) guidelines to MoEF 2009

  • - Actively participated in drafting process of Kerala State Water Policy draft in 2006

  • - Kerala State Land Use Policy drafting 2009

  • - State Organic Farming Policy drafting 2009

  • - Inputs to the EAC and FAC on the hydro power projects planned in Teesta river basin in Sikkim

She served as the South Asia Advisor for International Rivers for many years. During this phase she developed a deep interest in the concept of e-flows. She tried to drive a River Basin Driven Campaign to Preserve the Ecological Flows of rivers. She worked towards establishing the criteria for e flows and understanding downstream impacts, and exploring what sort of institutional frameworks will work in the Indian context.

She served as National Steering Committee Member of Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India (2006 onwards), a network of water and river professionals who are engaged in conflict resolution around water and river issues in India. The Forum in its first phase from 2006 – 08 had brought out a compendium of water conflicts in India.

The Forum has been operating through state centers and themes viz., Kerala, Odisha, North East and one on floods. The Kerala Centre headed by Dr Latha looked into reservoir re-operations as a strategy to improve downstream flows in a dammed river. Details of the study are available;

The policy brief on the same prepared by her is available:

Perhaps what Dr Latha will be most remembered for is her undying crusade against the Athirappilly Dam on Chalakudy River.

“Dams are not benign nor do they last forever! The rivers in India are losing their irreplaceable ecological functions. ‘Flow regime’ is central to the maintenance of habitat heterogeneity and the diversity of river species. Dams are disturbing this most critical environmental aspect,” Latha observed in 2013.


Dr Latha authored several study reports and books.

Latha Anantha and Parineeta Dandekar, ???year. Towards Restoring Flows into the Earth’s Arteries A PRIMER ON ENVIRONMENTAL FLOWS

a chapter devoted to e flows in the Forum Publication

Book chapter in Ramaswamy Iyer’s Living Rivers, Dying Rivers (year of pub)

Planning beyond Borders – Can Ecology Become the point of convergence for Teesta Basin? A report on the water sharing dispute related to Teesta River Basin, 2013

‘River Basins – Ecosystems in Peril’, 2013. Paper contributed in Environment and Society- The India Challenge. A Festschrift in honour of Prof M K Prasad, India Tech Books and Media. Bangalore (2013)

Report on Monitoring of Fish Diversity in Rivers of Kerala, 2013. Undertaken for the Kerala State Biodiversity Board

Policy Brief – Resolving Upstream – Downstream Conflicts in River Basin - as part of Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India, 2012.

Report on Action Research – Linking Lives –Reviving Flows: Towards Resolving Upstream – Downstream Conflicts in Chalakudy Basin - as part of Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India, 2012.

Co – author, Tragedy of Commons – Kerala Experience in Inter Linking of Rivers. Published by RRC and SANDRP, 2004.

Project under Kerala Research Program on Local Level Development ( KRPLLD) under Centre for Development Studies (2002 – 2005) - Micro watershed level assessment of resource use in agriculture focusing on banana plantations in two micro watersheds in Karuvannur River basin, Thrissur district