The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) promised to bring open defecation in India down to zero, and the government had also guaranteed that it would build enough toilets in every village and city to completely eradicate the problem of open defecation.
Many of us will agree that open defecation leads to the proliferation of diseases, and it is thus, advisable, to make India completely open-defecation free.
However, one man working for the Swachh Bharat Mission knows that the subject of open-defecation is not as black and white as it seems. For many, it is a part of their lifestyle, that they cannot change overnight. The problem of maintaining toilets that were built by the authorities also keeps people outside the washroom walls.
Meet Parameswaran Iyer, a former IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer who currently leads the Swachh Bharat Mission for the government.
Mr Iyer had worked with World Bank from April 1998 to September 2007 in Hanoi, Vietnam. From 2012 onwards he was the lead water and sanitation specialist for the World Bank and was instrumental in bringing two leading programmes on the ground there.
Before taking up a specialisation in Vietnam, Mr Iyer had also worked in Washington on Egypt and Lebanon and in the Bank’s Water Anchor.
When he realised that he had to accept that many people prefer to defecate in the open rather than in toilets, Mr Iyer brought his experience in Vietnam to practical use. In 2014, he had written about the need for behaviour change before a lifestyle change, on the World Bank’s site.
“The biggest lesson learned so far in Vietnam, and other countries is that eliminating open defecation is not driven by the construction of toilets.
It is driven by changing the behaviour at the community level based on quality, evidence-based interventions. What is also clear is that approaches must be tailored to be the specific context with careful consideration of local factors such as ethnicity,” he wrote.
Mr Iyer’s experience with the World Bank, across several countries, will certainly help India, to go a step further in the cleanliness mission.
This is a rare case of the Indian government appointing an IAS officer working with the World Bank for their initiative, and Mr Iyer has certainly upped the hopes of Indian citizens. He was appointed as Union Secretary for the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in 2017 on a two-year contract basis.
A senior government official told Livemint, “It is clear from the two-year fixed contract, that the government has decided to give him a free hand to steer the programme. It also gives a clear signal that if the government does not get the desired results from the internal talent pool, it will not hesitate in getting them from outside.”
With a combined experience of about two decades in this sector, Parameswaran is sure to be a beaming light of hope for the dream of a clean India!
Featured image source: Twitter.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)