ON SATURDAY, Parameswaran Iyer — the Government of India secretary who is in charge of Swachh Bharat Mission — posted a couple of photos in a social media site. The caption says the complete story. “Great to be emptying a toilet pit in Gangadevipalli, Warangal @swachhbharat… It's perfectly safe and clean to empty a twin pit toilet. The @swachhbharat team joins Gangadevipally village today.” The images caught the imagination of many people in social media. The IAS Association quoted one of his Tweets to say: “Amazing. This is true leadership. Secy to GoI getting down to clean a toilet pit. #SwachhBharat #RoleModel.” Not just that, many in social media sites…have appreciated the officer who his friends and colleague call as Param. A popular TV anchor calls it the “image of the day” adding that “top Indian bureaucrat leading by example. Param Iyer cleans a toilet in Warangal to spread a msg on hygiene #SwachhBharat”.
In the last few months, Iyer and his team have visited many a place across the country to make the Clean India drive a success across the country. Earlier this month, he has applauded the chief secretary of Assam and his team “for encouraging and rewarding clean villages”, and then giving kudos to the administration of Nagpur and Palghar districts of Maharashtra for observing "Coffee with CEO" once a week with sanitation champions. Roping in Iyer for heading the Clean India mission itself was an innovative idea. A 1981 batch Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS Iyer took voluntary retirement eight years ago. But he was brought back from the World Bank to take charge as drinking water and sanitation department that also handles the Swachh Bharat mission. In a post dated February 4, 2016, BoI titled the post: “Parameswaran Iyer: How this ex-IAS and new drinking water and sanitation secretary may give a Vietnamese twist to Swachh Bharat Mission”.
Iyer’s appointment was on a contract basis for two years.
As an IAS officer before his voluntary retirement, he worked in the union ministries of defence and textiles in1980s, and was then collector and district magistrate in UP’s Bijnor district. But he developed expertise in water and sanitation when he worked with the United Nation’s World Food Program (1998-2006). There, he was a senior water and sanitation specialist. He was then a director-ranked officer on deputation. But he decided to work abroad. And in June,2009, he took voluntary retirement after the DoPT reminded him of his failure to join back the service.
In the World Bank, Iyer worked on water supply and sanitation issues. Before returning to Government of India, he was based in Hanoi, Vietnam. Earlier, he was posted in Washington on Egypt and Lebanon and prior to that in the Bank’s Water Anchor.
Let’s end this post with what Iyer wrote in a blog for the World Bank's official site in November 2014: “The biggest lesson learned so far in Vietnam and other countries is that eliminating open defecation is not driven by construction of toilets. It is driven by changing behavior at the community level based on quality, evidence-based interventions. What is also clear is that approaches must be tailored to the specific context with careful consideration of local factors such as ethnicity.”