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“Jal Jeevan Mission is being referred to by many to resolve similar issues in other parts of the world”: Shri Parameswaran Iyer

IIMB’s Jal Jeevan Mission Office hosts Indian Civil Servant Shri Parameswaran Iyer for a special address on ‘Designing and Implementing Large Scale Development Programmes’

7 February, 2024, Bengaluru: “India has had stellar accomplishments in actual delivery on ground of several large-scale projects in health, financial inclusion, sanitation, and many more. There are four key lessons, which I call the ‘Four Ps’, coming out of the Swachh Bharat Mission, which we learnt from the success of the projects in the face of diverse challenges. First, the political leadership lending such strong support; public financing for a public good; partnerships involving panchayats, NGOs, etc., and people’s participation leading to sustainability of the measures. It is crucial to align the Four Ps in a country like India with several states with lots of diversities. The Swachh Bharat program was about changing behavior of the people. Galvanizing more than 700 districts in the country for a mindset change was of critical importance. The design and implementation of programs at scale in a country like ours need coordination among, and cooperation from, the Centre, state and local bodies”, said Shri Parameswaran Iyer, Former Secretary, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Government of India, addressing an audience at IIM Bangalore earlier today.

The Jal Jeevan Mission Office (JJM) at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore hosted Shri Parameswaran Iyer for a special address on, ‘Designing and Implementing Large Scale Development Programmes’. Jal Jeevan Mission Chair Professorship, which has been established at IIM Bangalore by the Government of India, conducts research, capacity building, as well as outreach activities related to utility development and water economics. In order to address the challenges faced by the drinking water and sanitation sectors, Jal Jeevan Mission-Professor Chairs have been set up in reputed academic institutions.

Prof. Gopal Naik, Jal Jeevan Mission Chair Professor and Chairperson, Centre for Public Policy (CPP), IIM Bangalore, set the context of the session and introduced the keynote speaker. “Today, the guru of the Swachh Bharat Mission will discuss his approach in delivering and implementing large-scale public policy projects in a short period of time.”

Shri Parameswaran Iyer also shared his experiences in implementing projects related to water management, starting from the Swajal Project of yesteryears. “I learnt that water is a broad context – it is either too much, too little or too polluted. After setting up the Ministry of Jal Shakti, the focus of policy makers of the Government was on how to integrate water resource management. We thought of tap water and that is when the genesis of Jal Jeevan Mission came about.”

At that point the challenge involved individual states having their own programs, he pointed out. “It was decided to launch centrally sponsored schemes and to incentivize states. The idea was to provide relief to people, mainly women, fetching water on a daily basis. So, tap water was the solution and Har Ghar Jal, a scheme initiated by the Ministry of Jal Shakti of the Government of India under Jal Jeevan Mission, came about. It was decided where clean ground water is available, we would use the same; where water is contaminated, we would use surface water. The key concept became Functional Household Tap Connection (FHTC). It is a staggeringly big mission and has made phenomenal progress. At this point, the challenge we faced was usage of water, water conservation, and how to manage water institutionally. Here, I will quote that water is best managed at the lowest appropriate level.”

Terming the rural utility model as a sustainable model, he added that, “We decided that operation and maintenance costs should be managed at the local level. We needed to look at sustainable models of management for such an ambitious program. The Centre and states came together, immense funds were invested, and the project transformed the lives in rural India. There were 18 million tap connections under FHTC. The entire functioning was done in a transparent way. Actually, getting clean tap water in houses in turn helped serve the cause of the Swachh Bharat Mission as well.”

Highlighting that currently water is one of the eight global challenges listed by the World Bank, he said, “Jal Jeevan Mission is being referred to by many to resolve similar issues in other parts of the world.”

Summing up his insightful talk, Shri Parameswaran Iyer termed the A, B, C, D, E and F of implementation as Align, Belief, Communication, Democratize, Evaluate and Follow through.

The talk was followed by a Q&A session. While replying to a question from Prof. Aditya Shrinivas of the Economics area of IIMB on how to ensure sustainability of the Jal Jeevan Mission, Shri Iyer replied that the three crucial elements would be source sustainability, operation maintenance and waste water drainage. “Going forward, using wastewater as a resource should be the focus, along with source protection, catchment protection and reuse”, he added. He also said that the challenge in implementing in India some of the policies that have met with success in other countries include cost, technology and adverse environmental impact. 

Responding to a question on what motivates him, he said, “It is the opportunity to bring change on ground and make a difference in enhancing the quality of lives. Being in the Civil Services gives you that platform to seize opportunities.”

The speaker: Shri Parameswaran Iyer is currently Executive Director at the World Bank in Washington DC, representing India, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. Prior to this, he was CEO of NITI Aayog, India’s national Public Policy think tank. An Indian Administrative Service officer of the 1981 batch, he was also Secretary to the Government of India in the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation when he led the implementation of the national flagship $ 20 billion Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) from 2016 to 2020. The SBM focused on behavior change at scale and delivered access to safe sanitation to 550 million people. He had also authored two books, ‘The Swachh Bharat Revolution’ and ‘Method in the Madness’, both published by HarperCollins.

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