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HomeIndiaDrinking water secretary & PM’s trusted officer Parmeswaran Iyer quits for ‘personal...

Drinking water secretary & PM’s trusted officer Parmeswaran Iyer quits for ‘personal reasons’

Credited for successfully implementing Swachh Bharat Mission, Iyer’s resignation comes nine months before his second extension ends in April 2021.

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New Delhi: Drinking Water and Sanitation Secretary Parameswaran Iyer, considered one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s favourite civil servants, resigned Monday.

A former IAS officer and a sanitation specialist, Iyer is credited for successfully implementing Swachh Bharat Mission, one of PM Modi’s pet initiatives to make rural India open defecation-free (ODF).

Known to lead by example, the picture of Iyer getting inside a twin toilet pit and emptying it with his hand in a Telangana village in February 2017 best defined his approach to his job. 

The act won accolades from Modi, who in his monthly radio programme ‘Mann ki Baat’ called it “remarkable”. It was under Iyer that rural India achieved ODF status last year. 

According to a DoPT order, Iyer’s resignation has been accepted by the government with effect from 21 August 2020.

ThePrint called Iyer a number of times, but they went unanswered.

Sources close to him, however, told ThePrint he resigned because of “personal reasons”. 

“His children are in the United States. He wanted to spend some time with his family. He had requested to be relieved of his charge sometime back also, but it was not accepted,” a source said. 

The source denied that Iyer has resigned because he will be appointed to a Constitutional post. However, there are rumours that Iyer might join the World Bank. 

ThePrint sent an email to the World Bank for confirmation, but there was no response until the time of publication of this report.

Also read: Modi’s favourite Parameswaran Iyer belongs to the cult of super IAS officers like TN Seshan

‘Not much left for him to do’

A senior bureaucrat in the government, who did not want to be named, told ThePrint that after the first round of Swachh Bharat Mission got over, there was not much left for him to do.

He said that in the second term, the PM launched Har Ghar Nal Se Jal, another ambitious programme to take piped drinking water to each and every rural household. 

Bharat Lal, additional secretary in the department of drinking water and sanitation under the Jal Shakti Ministry, who is also considered very close to Modi, was made the in-charge of the programme. 

“Bharat Lal has been running the mission competently. Of course, Iyer as secretary was overseeing everything but unlike Swachh Bharat Mission, he was not in the pilot’s seat anymore,” the bureaucrat said.    

Iyer’s resignation has raised eyebrows in bureaucratic circles, especially as it comes nine months before his second extension gets over in April 2021.

Like his resignation, Iyer’s appointment as the drinking water and sanitation secretary in February 2016 had created a buzz. 

Back then he was working as the lead water and sanitation specialist in the Hanoi office of the World Bank when the Prime Minister’s Office got in touch and brought him back to head the ambitious Swachh Bharat Mission in rural India. 

He was among the first specialists to be hired by the Modi government. 

Iyer had resigned from the IAS in 2009. He first joined the United Nations as a senior rural water sanitation expert and from there moved to the World Bank. 

In conversation with ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta at the ‘Off The Cuff’ in Bengaluru on 4 December last year, Iyer had said that his ministry’s focus is to sustain ODF and prevent any slip backs.

He had mentioned that challenges are three-fold — lack of infrastructure to make toilets unavailable, lack of water in toilets, and public attitude towards the usage of toilets. 

Iyer, known for quick decision-making, was also made the head of one of the 11 empowered groups set up to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and its fallout.

As the head of the group for ‘Facilitating supply chain and logistics management for availability of necessary items such as food and medicine’, Iyer’s team had the important task to ensure that essential supplies across the country were not disrupted after the nationwide lockdown was announced on 24 March.

“Under him, the group took a number of timely decisions to fix supply chain that got badly affected after scores of trucks carrying essential and non-essential commodities got stuck at highways and state borders,” said a secretary, who is part of one of the empowered groups.

Also read: Two of Modi’s trusted officers will now head empowered groups to tackle Covid-19 crisis


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