Parameswaran Iyer has made a name for himself as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handpicked choice to lead the Swachh Bharat Mission which led to India becoming Open Defecation Free (ODF). He was the exclusive choice of Our Prime Minister to lead the Swachh Bharat Mission under the Government of India’s newly launched Lateral Entry scheme in the higher echelons of Indian Administrative Services.
Iyer was working with the World Bank Group before joining as Secretary of the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in 2016. His earned accolades during his brief stint of four years, when India achieved the goal of becoming ODF free. He resigned in 2020 and again rejoined the World Bank Group.
Recently he has published his autobiography titled ‘Method in Madness: Insights from My Career as an Insider Outsider Insider” which covers his life as an insider-outsider-insider in his career spanning over 40 years.
He writes in great detail about his career. He has dedicated one of the chapters, titled ‘All it takes is one Woman’, in his autobiography to BSP Supremo Behen Kumari Mayawati. Iyer writes in detail about a World Bank funded water supply and sanitation project in the (Undivided) UP Hills and Bundelkhand region, which were the most water scarce regions of the State.
In the Chapter devoted to Behenji, he writes how as a formal process his team was supposed to take approval from the State Cabinet for the 60 million USD project loan from the World Bank. At that time (1996), Behenji was Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and Iyer was supposed to present the Project in front of her in a meeting.
He writes, “At that time, in 1996, Ms Mayawati was the CM of UP and, from what little I knew of her working, ran the State and her Cabinet in a firm manner. I was, therefore, a little apprehensive when my boss, Indrani Sen, suggested that I, the relatively junior Project Director, make the project proposal presentation to the cabinet chaired by the CM. There was good reason to be nervous, since we were proposing to accept a key condition of the World Bank: sharing of the capital cost of the water supply schemes by the Swajal Village communities, as well as taking full responsibility for the operation and maintenance.”
Iyer mentions how in the Cabinet meeting there were only two women, one Ms Mayawati, the CM and the other his boss Indrani Sen. Almost everyone in the meeting was apprehensive of the project and even warned Ms Mayawati that they might lose the next election if the project is approved.
Iyer writes, “The CM had said nothing until now but after the last Minister’s rejection of the cost recovery principle, she finally spoke. To my utter surprise, she said, ‘None of you understand the plight of women in our villages. They spend their whole life fetching water from long distances, while the men waste all the family’s money on liquor and gambling. A small contribution by the community to the cost of the scheme is fine since piped water to the village will significantly reduce the drudgery of the Women and girls. Project approved.’ I was very relieved and made a mental note of how the CM had stuck to her instincts and, disregarding the potential political fallout, taken a major policy decision to introduce the element of cost recovery in the rural water supply sector. This was the first instance in the country of cost sharing by the user community for a large-scale rural water supply and sanitation project, and it would have a major cascading effect in times to come. The Swajal project loan was signed with the World Bank in the middle of 1996.”
The Planning Commission, GOI (now NITI Aayog), has named the Swajal Project as one of the most successful governance initiatives in Indian states.
Anshul Kumar is currently pursuing MA in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, JNU.