Parameswaran Iyer, CEO, NITI Aayog

Parameswaran Iyer, the man who spearheaded the government’s Swachh Bharat Mission, has been appointed as the new CEO of NITI Aayog with effect from 1st July 2022. The 63-year-old top bureaucrat is nicknamed the Toilet Man for his immeasurable contributions to the Swachh Bharat Mission.

Born in Srinagar and educated at The Doon School in Dehradun, young Parameswaran attended St Stephen’s College in New Delhi. Tennis was – and still is – his passion, and studying at St Stephen’s, he had represented India at the Junior Davis Cup Tennis tournament. Young Parameswaran was serious about pursuing a career in Tennis. But his father, a retired Indian Air Force officer, reasoned with him the need to have a regular, stable job.

Out of college, Mr Iyer applied for a couple of jobs in the private sector, including top companies. Somehow, fortune did not seem to favour him. He finally landed a job at the iconic Oberoi’s hotel. But Mr Iyer quit the job in ten days as he was tired of cutting vegetables there. There was also a brief stint as a sub-editor with The Indian Express.

His big career break finally came as he passed the civil services exam and joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). A large part of his administrative service was spent in the water and sanitation department, perhaps grooming for the big task that lay ahead. The 1981-batch, Uttar Pradesh-cadre IAS officer also had successful stints at the United Nations and the World Bank, yet again in the field of water and sanitation.

He took voluntary retirement from the administrative service in 2009, and went to the US to live with his family. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first Independence Day address to the nation in 2014, stressing on hygiene, cleanliness and toilets, grabbed Mr Iyer’s attention, and he was keen on returning to the country and associating himself with Mr Modi’s cleanliness mission.

Two years later, Mr Iyer rejoined the administrative service through lateral entry and became secretary in the Union Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation. He was given charge of Mr Modi’s pet programme – the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan – aimed at making India free of open defecation by October 2019.

The task at hand was highly challenging. But his passion for sanitation drove Mr Iyer to build dedicated teams across States and districts and spread awareness about the big goal of an open defecation-free (ODF) India by October 2, 2019. At the centre of the mega cleanliness campaign was the twin-pit toilet, which would act as an onsite waste management system that converts human waste into manure. Mr Iyer and his team succeeded in building over 10 crore toilets across the country in three years and finally reached the big ODF goal on time. So dedicated and committed to the goal was Mr Iyer that in 2017, he even entered a toilet pit in a village in Telangana to remove the compost and demonstrate that the task was entirely safe.

Now, Mr Swachh Bharat is on another mission as the CEO of NITI Aayog. The erstwhile Planning Commission is tasked with big programmes, including the government’s targets of doubling farmers’ income and making the country a $5-trillion economy. The NITI Aayog will have to draw up clear strategies to achieve these goals, and Mr Iyer’s expertise would possibly make the think-tank’s tasks easier to achieve.

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