A Phenomenal IAS Officer
Parameshwaran Iyer is an extremely motivational and inspirational Secretary of Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, and is leading the Swachh Bharat Mission along with the National Rural Drinking Water Program. He is known for his initiatives in the “Swajal Program” and other programs such as the “Swachh Bharat mission,” that have played a crucial role in improving the water sanitation levels in not only India but also countries such as Vietnam, China, Egypt and Lebanon.
Param Iyer worked for the World bank when the Swachh Bharat mission was being discussed, and wished he could come back to India to initiate the movement. It was fate; he moved back to India from Hanoi to be a part of the mission of making India free of open defecation, and turning the prime minister, Narendra Modi’s vision into reality, by playing the role of the secretary of the department of drinking water and sanitation. This was achieved by being able to stimulate loyalty in his young staff, and admiration amongst his seniors by being a “phenomenal officer” as said by Kant (CEO of NITI Aayog). Iyer chases his ambitions with determination, and a handpicked team that he himself curates. “He is constantly on the move, travelling to remote areas, monitoring, evaluating, strategising delivery on the ground. He is a rare officer who can deliver challenging projects of immense size and scale like the Swachh Bharat Mission,” said Kant. His work in the swachh Bharat mission ranges greatly from getting into a twin-pit and cleaning dried excreta, to advertising, where he got Akshay Kumar to head the campaign.
Through the initiatives taken by Iyer, which he refers to as a “dynamic process,” 55 crore people have been brought out of open defecation, while also spreading awareness about the use of toilets, increasing usage by 90 per cent. When the mission was launched in 2014, India’s rural sanitation cover was only 39 per cent, with the goal of bringing it to 100 per cent in five years, Iyer began his initiative and achieved before time, with more than 10 crore toilets built.
However, there is gap in the data, where the exact figures are not known, mainly due to respondent bias, where people who already have a toilet say they don’t in the hopes of getting a new one, Iyer explained. Nevertheless, he was able to understand the Indian community, by realising that a behavioural change is needed more than a lifestyle change, thus being able to instigate the movement, he said “This is a community-driven programme so when the triggering takes place, everyone in the community is there. And when they understand why it is important, they start doing it – cleaning the toilets – themselves.” He has now shifted focus to sustaining the work achieved and prevent slip backs, while overcoming challenges such as lack of infrastructure to construct toilets, lack of water and public attitude regarding toilet usage.
Iyer carried out the movement so well that he was singled out by the prime minister himself on his radio broadcast "Mann Ki Baat” in 2017 and in a function in 2018. Iyer now also has another project given by the prime minister, called the Jal Jeevan mission, involving provision of piped water supply to all households by the year 2024. Since it requires 1.5 litres of water to flush in the newly constructed toilets, people are using water in containers, however, through this new mission, a new focus towards provision of running water being created.
Water conservation and restoration are also part of the work Iyer has done. He is trying to ensure that urban building codes have a built in rainwater harvesting system. The Jal Shakti Abhiyan focuses on rainwater harvesting, rejuvenation of traditional water bodies, reuse and recharge of ground water, afforestation, and watershed conservation. He is also trying to create incentive for the prevention of groundwater extraction along with preventing encroachment and renewing traditional water bodies. He says thus will form a system to sustain groundwater and also prevent disasters like flooding.
Iyer is a hero in our country, and has made drastic changes bringing about welfare in India. He is a great man for our nation and hasn’t received the recognition he deserves for his tremendous work. Several initiatives that he has taken up include the Swachh Bharat mission, Jal Jeevan mission, Jal Shakti Abhiyan, have all been able to identify the need for sanitation in our country, and fulfil the need at an accelerating pace.