Rohini Nilekani moderates a discussion on delivering large-scale transformational programs, impact on the ground, and the implementation of such programmes in a large and diverse country like India. The discussion draws on the learnings from the Swachh Bharat Mission, the world’s largest successful behaviour change programme, which drew over 55 crore rural Indians out of open defecation. The discussion covers “Method in the Madness: Insights from the career of an insider-outsider-insider”, the memoir of Parameswaran Iyer recently published by HarperCollins. In the book, he reflects on the unique path he has tread – from cracking the prestigious Indian Administrative Service to becoming a globe-trotting World Bank technocrat, to playing the role of a coach to his professional tennis-playing children, to finally returning to India and implementing the Swachh Bharat Mission.
0:00:12.4 Speaker 1: Hello, good evening, and welcome to today’s session at the Bangalore International Center. This is a hybrid session which means that there is a socially distanced and masked audience along with three of our panelists at BIC joined by audiences and moderated via Zoom. Today’s session is Insider-Outsider-Insider: Delivering in Government. Joining this panel moderated by Rohini Nilekani are Parameswaran Iyer, LK Atheeq, and Sunil Yajaman. Before I hand over to Rohini, for those of you who are joining us on Zoom, the full bios of our panelists will be shared via the chat box, do post your questions in the Q&A box. With that over to you, Rohini.
0:01:05.1 Speaker 2: Thank you, Namaste. Namaste to my panel and apologies that I’m not there in person. As always, thank you so much to BIC for hosting all these marvelous conversations. And it’s good to be back here in the moderator seat with such a great panel. We are here to mostly discuss this book, which Parameswaran Iyer whom we call Param. Param Iyer has written Method in the Madness, which sounds like a generally good title for almost anything today. And we have Sunil Yajaman with us and LK Atheeq, as well, their bios will be coming up for you to see. We are going to talk for about an hour with my panel and then, as always, we are going to open it up to you, our audience for whose sake we do all these programs. So thank you so much, Param, for inviting me to be the moderator and I’m looking forward to our conversation together. So I’m going to immediately turn it over to you, Param, to say, you… I must say you brought out this book very, very quickly. So had you been sort of writing it all along? Or how did you get it out so quickly talking about everything, including till the last days where you handed over? So tell us about, first, just about this book producing it. Are you… I mean, had you always been writing? What was the experience of the book? Why did you feel compelled to write it? And how did you bring it out so quickly? Over to you, Param.
0:02:43.2 Speaker 3: Well, thanks a lot, Rohini. And thanks for bringing some method into this panel discussion. And thanks very much to BIC and Ravi and everyone else for organizing it. And to Atheeq and Sunil for joining as well. It’s a good question you asked about the book and how it came about. Actually, so I had kept a diary particularly of my stint as road manager to my daughter Tara, who was a professional tennis player. So I had a pretty detailed diary. And I was thinking at one point, the diary of a road manager, I would bring out, so I had that. And then I used to keep notes generally throughout my career; jot down little incidents here and there. But what really happened was… So my wife Indira, it was her idea. She said you’ve had a little unusual career, to say the least. I mean, people work in government, sometimes they work in international organizations. But I also had a two-year stint as a road-manager-cum-coach to both my kids actually who played professional tennis. So she said, you should think about writing your story, or our story as a family.
0:03:54.3 S3: But the opportunity presented itself during the lockdown. So 24th March, when everything shut down, and my travel essentially got stopped. And I used to travel at least once a week sometimes twice, to the states, to the field; come many times to Karnataka, I’ve joined Atheeq and Vishal visiting villages, Swachh Bharat, also the Jal Jeevan Mission, so that got shut down. Then, of course, fitness, I continued doing on a treadmill, but that early morning golf was also stopped. So I followed my father’s lead when he was a young Pilot Officer in Srinagar where I was born. He taught himself French by getting up at 4:00 AM in the morning and listening to that Linguaphone, they used to call it gramophone records, learning French. So I did the same thing and I put in a two to three-hour stint early morning 04:30 AM to 07:30 AM.
0:04:47.1 S3: And then, of course, I started going to office because we were dealing with the logistics of essential items and medicines in that empowered committee which I was chairing, but I still managed to put in the hours and did this for about three months during the lockdown then managed to continue. So it took about six months to get a first draft out. But I think it was that discipline the early morning, getting the two hours of writing which helped. And then, of course, Harper Collins was very good, they were very prompt. And after leaving end of August last year, all the editing and I had a first draft out; that took another four or five months. So it was pretty quick. But my experiences, this whole, it was good; the Swachh Bharat experience, the mission mode. So I did the book also in mission mode. So it was good fun, actually, the whole experience.
0:05:38.3 S2: Yes, I must say you seem to have had fun writing the book because there are dashes of humor along with very serious insights that you also bring out, which almost look like Business Management insights. And you actually put little boxes where you pull them out. So it’s an interesting combination of writing about your family, your work, the personal, the professional, and drawing out your insights. So before we turn to the others, again, a little more about why you felt compelled to write this book, and what do you hope to achieve from the book? Was it just to tell a story, or do you hope for something more, and then I’ll open it to your colleagues.
0:06:20.1 S3: Sure. I think it was a couple of things, as you mentioned. One was, of course, to tell the story, but I think also to share those experiences and Nandan was kind enough to write an endorsement for the book. And I think that one of the things he touches upon, insights which come from a long career and the experiences one has gone through both in the government, outside the government, but also as a road manager and a coach. So I think all of us in the civil service in particular, but I guess in all careers, we have a lot of interesting experiences, and I thought that it would be good to share them with… Particularly for young professionals people embarking on a career, some of the lessons I learnt, some of the mistakes I made, so I was keen to share those. And then I thought it’ll also be good to put in some practical pro tips, as you mentioned, and so I tried to sprinkle the book with pro tips, and I learnt them from all kinds of different people. One of them is from my kids tennis coach in the US, a friend called Vesa Ponkka, who came up with this classic line I remember, which said, “I treat everyone fairly, but not equally” and it took all of us a little bit of time to understand that.
0:07:35.7 S3: But then I’ve learnt from my bosses, from juniors, from everyone, so I thought it would be interesting to share some of those tips which typically you may or may not learn in business school, as Nandan has mentioned on the front cover of the endorsement. So I think that was the other incentive. And also I thought before I forget the Swachh Bharat story, which was very, very recent in my memory, I thought that would also be interesting to many people how to kind of… What are the lessons you learn when delivering large-scale programs, and as Nandan did this huge UID program and he told that story? So I thought it might be interesting and there are a lot of lessons to learn from the experience which I had with people like Atheeq and Vishal who were actually implementing the program on the ground. So number of reasons, and I thought it was good to get it out sooner rather than later.
0:08:29.5 S2: Yeah, you did that and that’s very important because the topics are still so fresh, right? But before I go to Atheeq Ji, just flesh out that because I was going to bring that up, the fair but not equal treatment; just give an example from your own situation again.
0:08:47.8 S3: So this was very interesting. So my kids were training to be professional tennis players; Sunil has managed the Indian junior tennis team. They were training in this academy in Maryland near Washington DC. So there were a bunch of about 30 kids all aspiring to become professional tennis players, but the degree of effort which each kid put in was different, the motivation was different. So typically, they were trained for five hours a day, two hours on the court, but three hours of fitness, and this coach, the head coach Vesa, he would watch very closely to see what was that degree of effort kids were putting in and it varied. There were some kids who were put there by their parents who would do the minimum effort and there were others who would put in 100% effort. So he believed that he would give everyone an equal opportunity to train and to put in that effort, but kids who put in more effort, he would spend more time with them, because getting time from Vesa who is one of the best coaches in America, was very, very difficult. So he would spend more time with people who put in more effort, and so that’s a lesson I learnt. I think it applies everywhere, in the public sector, the private sector, you treat everyone fairly, so you give everyone a chance, but people who put in more effort who do better, naturally you need to give them a little more of your time and they need to be appreciated and they need to be recognised, so that’s the pro tip coming from tennis.
0:10:17.7 S2: And I assume you did that with some of your young team members whom you mention in the book that because they responded well, you were able to give them more mentoring time and keep them inspired.
0:10:30.7 S3: No, exactly. And so we applied that principle both in the ministry, but also in the states and in a sense in the program, so states which were doing better in Swachh Bharat, they got more of our time, more technical assistance and also more funds, so it was a kind of a results-based. So that principle, I think that competitive spirit and that it was a friendly competition, I think that was important, the kind of race to ODF, so states doing better got more of our time.
0:11:01.0 S2: Right. Well, of course, we’ll be coming back to talk much more about your career, your book, your insights, etcetera, but let me turn now to Mr. Atheeq, if I may call you Atheeq Ji. You have worked in the World Bank, you have known Param for a long time. Would you like to share your thoughts about quickly the book, but then also your knowledge of Param and your own experiences of going to the World Bank, coming back… Being in the civil services, going to the World Bank, coming back. Just touch upon those things a little bit, please.
0:11:45.8 Speaker 4: Thank you, Rohini. Atheeq is fine. Mr. Iyer’s book is a fascinating account of both his life as well as the program. A program I’m very familiar because we have implemented it together under his eye. Since 2018 I have been doing this, in fact, as soon I joined this department, within three, four months, we on, I remember November 1st, 2018, Karnataka declared ODF, and I had been constantly in touch with Mr. Iyer. In fact, his energy is really infectious. One day he said that I’m coming to… I want to go to Bijapur, but I’ll come to Gulbarga. I went to Gulbarga, he landed in Gulbarga from Hyderabad drove midnight, and [0:12:34.9] ____ says tomorrow morning, I thought we’ll go after breakfast. He said, “No we’ll leave at 6 o’clock.” And, I came out at 6 o’clock, at 5:45 AM he is pacing around. It’s very embarrassing for a junior officer to come late [0:12:46.8] ____ when a senior officer is there. I have known Iyer sir for a long time, I think 2010 when I was in PMO, once we had met. Then I was at the World Bank and that time, you were in Vietnam.
0:13:00.7 S3: Right.
0:13:00.8 S4: So whenever we were in DC he used to make it a point to put a mail to me that, “Atheeq, I’m in DC, can we catch up?” And we used to have lunch. So, I have seen Mr. Iyer’s career and this one line he writes in his book says that when he left the World Bank to be the road manager for his daughter’s career, so the… His boss said that Mr. Iyer if you want to come back I’m sure we’ll employ you but don’t forget that you will be at the… You’ll be starting from the end of the line. And when I was in the World Bank and I saw that some of his colleagues were senior and he had come back and joined, but that’s quite an amazing moment. I don’t think many of us will think of suddenly leaving a job at the World Bank to follow your daughter’s tennis career. That I thought is a very, very significant learning that I got from the book.
0:14:00.1 S4: About my own experiences, I come from a small village or town in Karnataka, studied in Urdu medium school. And from there, I found it fascinating that I suddenly was… I found myself in the Prime Minister’s office and then in the World Bank. So it gave me a lot of exposure, it exposed me to public systems around the world. At the World Bank, I was India’s representative on the Board. And at the board, you come across the project… Development project proposals from different countries, from Africa, from Latin America, from the Middle East and North Africa, and from Far East, Vietnam, and other countries. So you learn that the challenges that the world faces, particularly the developing world faces are very similar. There is serious crisis of government capacity around the world, and in fact, there was one proposal from Ghana or something we found that one of the objectives was to make sure that everybody retires in time. I just found that very fascinating that why is it so difficult to make sure that everybody retires at the age of 60 or 65 whatever it is.
0:15:09.0 S4: So, in the… We used to have a pre-Board briefing and then we called the people who prepared this project I asked, “What is this objective that you have kept?” They said that “There’s no database of government servants in this country.” So people used to retire whenever they want. So there are people who are 70 who are still continuing. And if suppose the boss suddenly decides that, “No, no, you’re 60 and you have overstayed, you go.” So government capacity is a very serious issue that I have seen. This international exposure gave me that opportunity to look at it. And then coming back, I am in this sector, water, and sanitation, the sector that I have been engaged with since 2003. And working with people like Mr. Iyer has been a great learning.
0:16:00.0 S2: Thank you. We’ll come back to you later. So, Param, before I go to Sunil, what Atheeq mentioned is very important. Many times, there were forks in the road, and you made certain decisions that were quite bold. One was, of course, playing tennis, and then you decided, no, let me have a so-called proper career, then you got into civil services. Then, again, you decided to take a fork in the road, you were in the World Bank, then again you decided to help your children. Now, these are slightly… And then you again came here, and now you’ve gone back. So you’ve taken several… What… You’ve talked about it a bit, but let’s hear it in your own words. At those decision points, what goes through your mind?
0:16:46.4 S3: Sure. I think you put it very well, Rohini. There have been a lot of twists and turns and forks in the road. And one of the things I learnt early was it’s really important to kind of seize the moment. Carpe diem, in fact, Sunil was running an organization called Carpe Diem, and that also gave me the idea to name one of my chapters. So, opportunities present themselves. And I think it’s important to kind of seize the moment, to seize the day and take that decision and you don’t have much time. So, I’ve never really… And you have mentioned that in the book, I’ve stumbled into my specialization, which is water and sanitation. I hadn’t really planned for it, but… So I think one of the lessons I learnt was that you can do a lot of planning, but typically when… Things will change, there will be disruption and it’s important then to see what are the opportunities we need to take and what we let pass by. And so that’s one sort of lesson I’ve taught myself, which is why. But the other thing was the exposure you get in different sectors in different organizations, I think is really important.
0:18:05.7 S3: The IAS itself gives you a unique opportunity to move from kind of job to job, but that it’s… It has got its own problem. We are all generalists, and I’ve always felt that it’s important, at some point, maybe after 10 to 15 years, and I don’t know whether we’re going to discuss that, it’s important to get into a kind of a broad area of specialization to get some in-depth knowledge. I think that gives you a competitive advantage. In my case… But the timing is very, very important for everything. And so when Tara decided, my daughter, that she wanted to play professional tennis, that couldn’t be postponed. It had to be done then. And so we couldn’t say, okay, let’s do it after three years because that was… The time was right for her to enter professional tennis, and so I was her road manager.
0:18:52.5 S3: So, I had to decide right then and Atheeq put it very well, my boss then in the Bank, a gentleman called Jamal Saghir, he was very reluctant to let me go. He had just given me an open-ended job in the bank. So he said, “Listen. You know, you’re doing fine, you need to stay on, and why don’t you do this later?” And I said, “Jamal, I’ve gotta do it now.” So he said, “Fine, then you resign.” So I resigned from the bank. And actually that, those two years I spent traveling with Tara and Venkat, our son, and sharing that burden with my wife and my dad who was handling the India leg was absolutely unique. That’s something I’ll never regret. Then after that, when they went back to college, both of them did really well, but they had these minor injuries. So then I thought, “I’m getting back to the government because that’s where I belong.” And I went back to the Mayawati government in UP. And then my family was in Washington, I had… They put me into jobs where I had no expertise whatsoever, that happens in UP a lot. So I was put into higher education. I’d never done it before. Had a bit of…
0:20:00.1 S2: Forest department also, I think.
0:20:00.6 S3: And Forest, and then Forest…
0:20:02.1 S2: You had to chase man-eating tigers.
0:20:04.7 S3: Chasing man-eating tigers and then I was totally broke. We had run out of money…
0:20:08.9 S2: Yeah.
0:20:09.0 S3: And I was alone in Lucknow, my family was in Washington. So I applied for another job. I was fortunate to get it, and then I took volunteer retirement from the IAS and I left and came back. So, I think the timing for all these things is really important.
0:20:24.4 S2: Right. Before I go to Sunil quickly, because I’m gonna ask him the same question, not too many Indian fathers do stuff like this, okay? I mean, I apologize. It’s not to criticize Indian fathers, but not too many fathers would make this choice to get off their career bus, especially when the pathway is so clear, and do something like this for a couple of years, three years for their children. Most people would have said, “No, I’ll hire someone else to do it.” Or, “My wife will do it.” So, was it some influence from your own parents or from people in your family, or was it something you imbibed from the West? In the west, a lot of parents take the sports careers of their children very seriously. Where did that come from, because it’s unusual and inspiring?
0:21:16.6 S3: Sure. Actually, tennis in our family runs, because my mother was college champion in Queen Mary’s in Chennai. And her… My grandfather was a South Indian tennis champ. So tennis has run in the family. And my father is a fitness freak, he is today, touch-wood, at the age of 91. He does 8-10 kilometers every day, he has run several marathons. And also, he put in a lot of effort into my kids’ tennis, and he…
0:21:43.0 S2: Yeah.
0:21:43.3 S3: Toured with them. But the reason I did that was the timing was… My wife had done most of the hard work. She would travel… She’s from the Indian Revenue Service.
0:21:52.8 S2: Yes.
0:21:53.2 S3: And when I got transferred, she moved around with me, and she was the kind of method in the overall madness. And she did a lot of the tennis traveling as well. So I thought, “This is now my time.”
0:22:06.8 S2: Your chance, your turn.
0:22:07.4 S3: It’s my turn. But apart from anything else, it was great fun, I enjoyed that stint. So many people say, “You made a sacrifice, you and your wife, you spent a lot of time.” I thought it was great fun.
0:22:18.5 S2: Right.
0:22:18.5 S3: I enjoyed my stint as a tennis coach and road manager. It was a fascinating experience.
0:22:24.7 S2: Right. Good. So that’s a good segue to Sunil. Sunil, tell us about Param, his children, tennis, which is also your abiding passion and the book, and how much he writes about tennis, about his children in the book. Talk about both him, tennis and the book.
0:22:46.9 Speaker 5: Yeah, hi. Thanks, first of all, for BIC to host this, and Param for inviting me to be a part of this. I think it’s a privilege to be here, Mr. Atheeq. And I read his book and I was keenly looking forward for the book, and I had actually booked for the book on Amazon well in advance, so I got it on date. I think when I read the book, I’ve known Param for about 25 years, and his… Tara was probably about 12, 13 years old at that time. And that’s the first time I met them when I was at Delhi and I was the national coach with the All India Tennis Association. And she was one of those talents which we had picked up and she was in our talent pool when we were trying to work on the youngsters at that time. We had about 15 kids in our pool, and Tara was one of them. And the other notable tennis player that we can probably know that she was also in the group, was Sania. And I think Sania and Tara were great competitors and, coming to both of them and especially to Sania and Tara apart from those 15, I think whatever they’ve achieved, I think it’s mainly because of the commitment and dedication and sacrifice that their parents have put to them.
0:24:06.7 S5: I’ve very closely seen what Param has done, he was in the front. And I’ve also seen what Indra has done from behind, and I think that was a great… It was… Tara and Venkat were very lucky to have parents like them. And when I read about his book before knowing him… I know I read about his history when he started off in the IAS. And I think I can relate to what he’s written with tennis. I think with his… Param himself, I don’t know. He was a damn good tennis player. He’s a wonderful tennis player, and he’s traveled across India, played a lot of tournaments. And I think, he continued to do that even in Swachh Bharat. I mean, those were times when he used to… Probably Param would elaborate on that, and he used to go play tennis in small towns across the country and be there. And it was difficult, traveling and staying there in those places. He replicated that in his Swachh Bharat role, and he was doing the same thing. So I can actually relate, and knowing sports build a character and a personality for anyone, I think he’s the best example and I can totally relate to that.
0:25:21.1 S5: And coming to Tara, I think she was one of our brightest prospect for Indian tennis. And we were lucky she… I still remember at the age of 15, Tara in 2003, probably, she was the youngest player to make it to a final of a Grade-1 in the International Tennis Tournament, Juniors… ITF Juniors in Manila. And she and Sania played the finals, and it was a very close match, and Sania, I think, was about 17 at that time and Tara was 15. And I very fondly remember and the focus that Tara had or even Venkat had, I think it’s basically they’ve got it from the genes, knowing Param and Indira, and I’m very honoured and privileged to know his dad also very well. At the age of 91, I think he must be probably the fittest above 60 person in India today, even today at the age of 91. Yeah, so I think…
0:26:21.1 S2: So we missed another star very, unfortunately, in Tara, I think.
0:26:27.8 S5: Unfortunately…
0:26:30.3 S2: Very unfortunate, and I’m sure she’s doing perfectly well in an alternative career, but surely it was very disappointing when you lose your first dream. Yeah, when you have to wake up from your first dream. But Sunil I did want to point you to this. You said that both in Sania’s case and Tara’s case, their parents were encouraging them, which is wonderful and marvelous, and especially when they are fathers. But don’t you think there should be much more public support for young sports players, after all, Serena and Venus I don’t think they would have come to where they are without the amazing public support from the state in terms of courts, equipments, scholarships, whatever the American government and the state governments there give. What is lacking in our public infra, there may be many more Sanias and Taras out there, right, so what is missing and how can we fill that gap, and Param you can step in too, but Sunil?
0:27:31.0 S5: It’s a fantastic question Rohini and which we have been talking about this. I was in tennis as a… It was my career…
0:27:41.1 S2: Yes, yes you were with KSLTA also?
0:27:43.2 S5: I’m right now with KSLTA.
0:27:45.0 S2: Yeah, the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association which you are with now? Yeah, please go ahead.
0:27:50.0 S5: I’m the joint secretary, but tennis was a career for me for 25 years. And after 25 years, I wanted to do something else in life, just a change, get away from professional tennis. But tennis always remains with us, so I continue to be. And six years ago, I accidentally got sucked into a corporate life and I work for ACT now. And unfortunately, Tara ended up with injuries, bad injuries, so that curtailed her career. And I think otherwise, she had the potential to probably reach the top 20 in the world, in the women’s. And well, you mentioned about Serena and Venus, and let me tell you, in 2007 Tara played the WTA event here in Bangalore when Serena and Venus also played here in Bangalore. So coming back to your question, Rohini, I think that’s a big problem with sports. I can talk about tennis, but I think it’s generally for all the sports in this country. I think it’s important that we build a sports culture. Okay. In the US or Europe, you have every school which has a wonderful infrastructure, there are community courts, [0:29:00.1] ____ the government has just built infrastructure for sports persons. So we don’t need stadiums per se here. But I think you know if every district can have two… Every taluk can have two tennis courts and a few badminton courts and a cricket ground, football ground, I don’t think it’s impossible to probably get more Sanias and Taras in the coming year, I think infrastructure is the biggest thing.
0:29:27.9 S2: Param you want to step in there, maybe we need another sports mission with a goal of every child playing some sport, something like that. Your thoughts on this before we move to other topics?
0:29:42.3 S3: I totally agree. And I think that there is a mission, it’s called Khelo India.
0:29:46.3 S2: Khelo India, yeah.
0:29:47.0 S3: And I think the attempt is good. To kind of decentralise what Sunil said, you know, to create sports infrastructure at the local level, I think that’s critical. We also need to develop, world-class coaches. People like Sunil and others who understand the game and make it a career worth having. So the right coaches, the right infrastructure facilities, but in then it’s still always going to be family, you know, family, whether you take the Amritraj family or the [0:30:16.0] ____ Christian family, and in my case, my sisters also play tennis. I think the family is gonna be very important, but the association, the state, if you can create the infrastructure, the facilities, and also I think there needs to be a little more encouragement for sports apart from cricket. You know, cricket, of course, is a national craze, and it needs to continue to be supported, but other sports like tennis is seen as a little more of an elite sport. It’s a little more expensive. But I think, well worth investing in all sports and getting kids from a very young age to participate, and I think that will produce a lot of champions.
0:30:54.9 S2: Yeah, so there are so many things to discuss, and I do want to spend some time on the Swachh Bharat Mission which was your biggest project that you took up in your career, and in fact, a very large government project of its kind anywhere in the world. But before we come to SBM, what I’d like to ask you is, you came from… You were in the IAS and you went to World Bank, and then you were almost like an outsider when you came back. But you came in as a Secretary, right, from where you were, which is kind of such a coveted position for so many civil service people, and so it almost was like a lateral entry coming from outside again. First is, did you face, if you can honestly answer, was there a lot of resentment, “Who is this person coming from outside happily sitting in the US, and now he’s being brought into India to do this thing?” Did you face any of that? And if you did, how did you overcome it?
0:31:57.3 S3: Sure. Look, there was a bit of resentment. But you know, there’d been many cases before. Nandan was a lateral, he was a cabinet minister, of course, but of course, Secretary to Government of India is the highest level of a civil servant.
0:32:11.6 S2: Yes.
0:32:14.0 S3: And so I think there were couple of reasons why… I don’t think there was any widespread resentment, partly because you know we go by seniority in the IAS, and there’s a rigid hierarchy of which batch you belong to. So when I came back, I was technically a lateral entrant, but my batch mates had just become secretaries to the Government of India. So I wasn’t jumping the queue in the Civil Service hierarchy, so to that extent, I don’t think…
0:32:40.6 S2: If you had stayed, you would have come there anyway.
0:32:43.8 S3: Yeah, exactly. So if I’d been empanelled as in the regular process, I was not jumping the queue, but I think that to some extent, there were a few murmurs in the beginning, and that “Having the best of all worlds, you’ve served in IAS, and you’ve worked in the World Bank now you’re coming back in. You haven’t kind of sweated the small stuff like everyone does going through these different, quite rigorous selection processes, etcetera.” But I think that in the end, people appreciate…
0:33:19.6 S2: In fact, you mentioned that the Prime Minister himself asked you whether you’re the same guy who had run away, and gone away and come back.
0:33:27.7 S3: Exactly. That was a little bit of a…
0:33:30.9 S2: Shocker.
0:33:31.0 S3: Scary moment. In the book, I talk about that.
0:33:32.6 S2: Say it in your words because… Yeah.
0:33:34.1 S3: Exactly. So when I came back, a good friend of mine Amitabh Kant so I went to have lunch with Amitabh and we are old friends from college. And he said, “Have you called on the PM?” I said, “No, I’ve met senior officers in the PMO, and now I’m doing my work.” He said, “No, no, request for an appointment.” So I requested Rajiv Topno who was the private secretary with the PM, he is now in Washington.
0:33:58.6 S2: Washington, yes.
0:34:00.3 S3: Rajiv said, “Yes sir, we’ll arrange an appointment.” But in a couple of weeks, it didn’t take place. Then Civil Services Day 2016, which is April 21st. There’s this at home in the evening in Rashtrapati Bhavan. I’m sure you’ve attended a few of those as well, Rohini.
0:34:16.4 S2: [0:34:16.4] ____ No, I’ve not. Not at all.
0:34:20.3 S3: Okay. So I was there and my good friend and batch-mate in the IAS, Hasmukh who was the Revenue Secretary…
0:34:26.5 S2: Mr. Adhia, yes.
0:34:27.4 S3: Adhia, who had been Principal Secretary to the PM in Gujrat. We were hanging out together and having a cup of tea, and everyone had gathered around the PM at the other end of that hall in Rashtrapati Bhavan, this huge banquet hall. So I told Hasmukh, I said, “Hasmukh, introduce me to the boss.” He says, “Fine,” so we walk across the hall, and the PM was there with the Cabinet Secretary and Omita Paul who was Secretary to the President, they were all standing together. The President and Vice President had just left, and I think the PM was about to leave, so Hasmukh walks me up to the PM and he says, “Sir, Parmeshwar is my batch-mate. Aur ye abhi wapas aaye hain World bank se.” So the PM with a bit of a grin, he says, “Haan. Aap wahi hain na, jo IAS se bhaag ke chale gaye the?” So I was a little taken aback. And then he smiled and he said, “Nahi, nahi, aapne appointment maanga hai, aapse hum jald hi milenge.”
0:35:26.7 S3: So I walked off with Hasmukh and I said, “How does he remember all this stuff, someone is asking for an appointment?” and Hasmukh says, “He remembers everything.” And within, I think, a week, I got the appointment. That was my first one-on-one meeting with him, where he asked me, “Why did you leave?” And I told him about the tennis, and he shared his experience about sanitation in Gujrat, and he was really nice. He’s a very good listener, and then his last words to me will be something I always remember, he said, “Jaiye aur Bharat ko swachh banaiye.” And I have written about that in the book. So that was my first encounter with the Prime Minister.
0:36:04.1 S2: And that’s a large mission to undertake. So based on that, and you talked about Nandan being there, they have VijayRaghavan there, there have been a few others who have been lateral entrants, experts brought in from outside. You have been in Washington for so long. You have seen the revolving door, Presidents bring in their people. They go back in the corporate sector, come back. What is your opinion before we move to the Swachh Bharat thing, on the revolving door idea of bringing more expertise into government, do you think the time is right? People always talk about it, but we don’t see dozens and dozens and dozens of people coming into government like that. What is your opinion on this?
0:36:51.7 S3: No, I’m all for it. I think it should be opened up. I think that the civil servants have got phenomenal experience or couple of things, I think that they have specialists in district administration, development administration, particularly first 10, 15 years, and many officers then move into broad areas of specialisation, and I think there are many specialists within the IAS cadre as well. I think it’s also important to open it up and it’s been… It’s happened, Nandan was there. Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia was there. [0:37:22.0] ____ Balraj Kumar was there 30 years ago.
0:37:28.5 S2: Arvind Subramaniam we’ve had so many people…
0:37:30.7 S3: Dr. Manmohan Singh as Atheeq is pointing out was in the…
0:37:34.3 S2: Yes, correct.
0:37:35.8 S4: Dr. Shahi was there in energy.
0:37:38.3 S3: Shahi was there in energy, so I think it’s been…
0:37:40.0 S2: That’s very few people.
0:37:42.0 S3: And yeah, now… But I think now increasingly, I think this government is taking it quite seriously, and although 10 Joint Secretaries coming in as lateral entrants is not much, I think that the idea is good to bring in technical and other expertise into government, but I think it’s also important to allow IAS officers and civil servants generally, to get exposure outside themselves. I think it should be a two-way street where not just going to international organisations, I think they should go to the private sector, obviously, there need to be some ground rules on conflict of interest and so on. But I think that movement in and out is actually bringing in a lot of new ideas, particularly from outside, which is I think required, and I think this government is quite serious. In America, it’s a different model. In America, it’s a spoils system. One administration comes in, they bring in…
0:38:35.6 S2: With all their… Yeah.
0:38:36.0 S3: With all their particular ideology of that particular party. Here it’s quite different, and I think is that [0:38:41.9] ____ crop fertilisation which is gonna make a big difference, but I have to say one thing at the end, in my job in the Swachh Bharat Mission, the fact that I had been in the IAS, I think that was the critical factor, it made all the difference. And…
0:39:00.0 S2: Yeah, Param you weren’t really an outsider to the civil service.
0:39:02.6 S3: Exactly.
0:39:03.1 S2: So you were a half, 50-50 outsider.
0:39:06.3 S3: I was a 50-50 outsider. Frankly, if I had not been in the IAS and had the network and understood the system, you know no Chief Secretary was gonna take a phone call of a [0:39:15.8] ____ who came in who didn’t belong to the system. So equally, I leveraged my knowledge, my contacts, my understanding of what works in districts and states that made a huge difference. So I think in subjects like sanitation, water, which are state subjects, it’s quite important to have someone who has worked in the state who understands the system. And it’s a different thing to being in commerce or in a central sector where you don’t… You’re not dealing full-time with the states, so I think, again, bringing in people laterally who are… It depends on the sector, it depends on the subject as well.
0:39:56.3 S2: Yeah, but do you think your Civil Service colleagues would be as enthusiastic as you are, and Atheeq you’ll also have to answer that. I think your suggestion that it should be a two-way traffic, that a civil service professional should also be able to go outside and get experience in the corporate sector, of course, you’ll have to be really careful about conflict of interest, would that make them more open to receiving insiders in? Because I do know that Nandan also found it an uphill battle. It was not easy to get in and work with Civil Service colleagues. So do you think the Civil Service is now ready to say, we cannot know everything because we have only this much experience and there is expertise outside and this is for our nation, so we should welcome them in? Is that culture going to shift? The government’s ideas may shift, is your Civil Service going to shift?
0:40:53.1 S3: Look, it’s going to be difficult, and to be very frank, I think there is a bit of, not resentment, but there’s some apprehension here that we have been slogging in districts and states, we have the experience. So any change will always bring about some level of apprehension, but I think the message is going across, and I think that the civil servants are quite confident. They’ve got this phenomenal leadership experience, so I don’t think that they are too worried, but I think certainly now they’re starting to think about specialising themselves, because I think this is the way it’s going to happen, so they’re getting used to it, and I think they will adapt very quickly.
0:41:36.7 S2: Right, so they will themselves develop expertise in one particular sector so that they would be the natural selection when missions like SBM or the next one, and the next one come up. Atheeq your comments on this, before we come back to my favorite topic, which is the Swachh Bharat Mission.
0:41:53.8 S4: I think my straight answer to the question whether we should get expertise into the government is yes, but I think the point here is not of numbers, but of actually competence, and I don’t subscribe to this idea that generalist, specialist too much because one of my seniors at PMO used to tell that being a generalist itself is a specialisation. You have the capacity to manage, we have the experiences in the government the health… Doctors heading a health department, they face several hurdles in dealing with the administration because they’re experts. And so if you have a competent person, in the past, we have taken so many examples who have come into the government and they have succeeded, each one of them have faced difficulties in any organisation they will. It is not very peculiar to the Civil Service that we are tribal.
0:43:00.8 S4: Most organisations, most groups will behave in that particular fashion. So if you have a competent officer or a competent person outside the government, you take that person in through a process, and it is not up to the Civil Service to oppose it or something. The government has a political [0:43:19.0] ____, they will bring in the people, but this large-scale recruitment of Joint Secretaries from private sector, etcetera, has been tried, how many of them have succeeded, how many of them have gone some places? I think there would be a problem. So if you have an exceptional talent, Mr. Shahi who headed energy sector used to be a long-term Chairman of the Bombay electricity company. So you can get in, but you have to have those caution, etcetera.
0:43:51.6 S4: And in the [0:43:52.0] ____ service resentment is there, in fact, when Mr. Iyer came back in all our… In fact, sir I will slightly disagree with you that there were no resentment, there was. In all the WhatsApp groups of the batches, we each one of us have a WhatsApp group of ’91 batch, ’90 batch, etcetera. Furious conversation, in my own WhatsApp group there was furious conversation. Then I put a message because I have known Mr. Iyer for a long time, we’ve worked together earlier at the World Bank, I said that he is an expert in sanitation and he has got a long experience. What’s wrong in appointing such a person in charge of water and sanitation sector? A barrage of criticism I faced for having said that. But having said that all this is again, as Mr. Iyer has rightly said in his book…
0:44:40.9 S3: Good to have friends like Atheeq.
0:44:43.9 S4: It [0:44:45.0] ____ is short-lived, the moment you start delivering it, I think most of the criticism will go away. So we did not demonise the civil service saying that they are opposing, etcetera. You bring in the experts, you bring in the best, but be very careful whom you are choosing, that would be my advice.
0:45:01.3 S2: I think that’s a good answer. And also it behoves on the person who has come from outside. Again, I would say Param was not really from outside, but whether it was Nandan or anybody else. When you come in, you have to learn to leave your arrogance at the door, right? Because you have to create a collegiate atmosphere around you, and you have to respect the knowledge of the civil servants around you. So it also depends on the behavior of the person who comes in at that lateral level. So I’m sure as you describe often in your book, you had to create the space for others, you had to allow them to innovate, you had to sort of bring in that culture of collaboration. So we don’t have that much time. I don’t know where all the time went, but we have 15 minutes left before I have to open it to my audience, your audience. So can we talk about the Swachh Bharat Mission which was your biggest challenge, one of the largest such programs in the world with a very short time span in which you had to get 500 million more people to… You had to stop open defecation throughout the country. To remind our viewers instead of me talking about it, can you briefly describe the mandate and the mission that you are entrusted with as part of your whole team, of course?
0:46:13.6 S3: Sure, Rohini. So look, this was a huge challenge, because in the world when this program started, when the Prime Minister made that very bold announcement on 15th August 2014, that in five years, on the 150th birth-anniversary of Gandhiji, the country will become open defecation free. So there were 600 million people in India who were practicing open defecation, which was 60% of the world’s one billion open defecators. So if India didn’t solve this problem, then Sustainable Development Goal 6.2 wouldn’t have been achieved. So it was a massive… The scale was huge. Lot of work had happened on sanitation, in the last 70 years, but it was never really received that level of political leadership. So it was a massive challenge, five years to achieve it, and the major challenge was changing behavior. Of course, a lot of toilets had to be built as well. So more than 100 million toilets were built, but the focus was on behavior change. So it was a huge challenge. It had to be done all the way down at the village level. And I was dealing with rural sanitation, so 550 million people in rural India had to change their behavior, and the sanitation coverage then was about 39%. It had to go to 100%, or close to 100% in a short period of time. Massive challenge.
0:47:35.0 S3: But, you know, again, just to make a quick point, what Atheeq said, this was done, primarily… No, it became a people’s movement, but officers like Atheeq and Vishal, and young collectors, young officers who took up this challenge, that was the backbone of this program. And you know, I’m from the UP cadre, where we’ve got this famous saying, “The formula for success is PM, CM, DM,” and then VM is the Village Mukhiya the Sarpanch. So these were the people who made it happen, and that backbone of Development Administration at the grassroots level, the leadership, the innovation of the young collectors, the CEOs in Karnataka and other states. I mean, those people inspired us, and they were the people who made it happen, and without those… So we talk of team Swachh Bharat in the scale 700 collectors, or chief executive officers, school children, 250,000 Sarpanches. And so it had to be… Scale had to be dealt with scale, and in a short period of time, I think a lot of energy was brought in at the local level. And for us in the Government of India, it was about travelling, motivating, encouraging friendly competition, and of course, frankly, we had the wind at our back, we had the Communicator-in-Chief, the Prime Minister. This was his flagship program, and we made sure that we leveraged the Prime Minister’s leadership big time, at a political level, a administrative level, and at the local level.
0:49:10.7 S2: Yeah, so Param you always talk as if SBM was an unequivocal success. But I do want to push back a little on that, as you know, through Arghyam I have worked and we have talked often during the mission times also, that I’ve worked through Arghyam on the water sector for 16 years now, and all the government numbers show something like 90% success, 98% success, and yes, you did a third-party evaluation, but you just have to walk around a little bit around the country and even now, to know that it’s not really… It’s very difficult, nobody is blaming the government, but why so much defensiveness? I feel like we are an agrarian economy still quite a bit, even though it’s not…
0:49:57.3 S2: See still, about 500 million of our people are involved in labour on farms, so they… You know their lifestyle better than I do, they have to get up at the crack of dawn like you, they have to go into the fields, they have to stay in the field and come back to their homes much later. So even if there’s one, and thanks to SBM there are really that many more latrines, and just having a latrine obviously is going to increase usage, but so many people in a family using one toilet at the particular time that one needs to go to before one goes to the field. So there is no harm in admitting that you cannot have complete success whether it’s this government or any government. So there’s a little… A lot of pushback, and even in your book, you say that… You called the critics “half-glass walas” so I just want you to explain that a bit. Why not come out and say that we did our best, a lot happened, but obviously you can’t reach your full thing, and there is a lot more to do?
0:50:57.1 S3: Sure. No, look, it’s a valid point. And as you said in the book, this… You know the work on sanitation or on any sector will always have to continue, there will be gaps, there were gaps, and it is really important to keep working at it. And so we started that program called ODF Plus, which is focusing on [0:51:14.3] ____ sustainably building the capacity in communication. So I think we recognise that and so no one was claiming, fine, the country declared itself open defecation free, but it’s at a point…
0:51:29.6 S2: I mean, a brilliant thing there… Sorry to interrupt. The brilliant thing, I think, whether it was the Prime Minister’s idea or who… I don’t know exactly whose idea, it was, was to allow people to self-declare themselves as ODF free.
0:51:41.9 S3: Exactly.
0:51:42.5 S2: So, the incentive was thrown back at the people, and they had to declare. So if they declared then we had to declare. So, I thought that was quite brilliant. But sorry to interrupt you, but please go ahead.
0:51:53.9 S3: You’re exactly right. So, every village sat in an open meeting and declared themselves open defecation free. There was a process of verification, done independently large-scale surveys, and for the most part, they found that actually, that’s what happened. And particularly in areas where there was much more community cohesion, it became a matter of pride. There was a Gaurav Yatra in a village when they declared themselves open defecation free. There were gaps, there will continue to be gaps. The half-empty-walas… So, in fact, we reached out to them, and as you’ve mentioned in the book. So, when I joined, again, criticism… There were a lot of people who appreciated the work and there were critics as well.
0:52:37.0 S3: And my job was to reach out to them. So, I reached out to a couple of them, I have described, and one of them was Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who was [0:52:42.4] ____ quite critical about the program, saying that you’re just focusing on building toilets and there’s no emphasis on behavior change. So, I went and met him. He was the president of the CPR at the time, and we started talking about the program. I said, “Listen, we are making a good-faith effort. This is what we’re trying to do, and why don’t you tell us how we can improve what we’re doing?” And we got into the… He said, “Listen, you guys are talking about behavior change but the focus seems to be only on construction, and how do you make that shift?” So, we had just started focusing on village-level motivators. And the PM gave them this great name of Swachhagrahi.
0:53:23.5 S2: Swachhagrahis, yeah.
0:53:24.7 S3: Swachhagrahis. So, Pratap really like that idea. He said, “If you can have one village motivator on average per village, they’re trained in community approaches to sanitation, then you’ve got a compelling story to tell because you’ve got boots on the ground, these people are interacting with the community, convincing them why it is important to have a toilet if your neighbor doesn’t have a toilet it is still affecting you. The whole community is affected. It’s got economic benefits, it’s got health benefits, etcetera. So, I thought that was a great idea, and we’ve put in much more effort into creating and training local Swachhagrahis. So, that was an idea we took from one of the early critics who later became a supporter. So, I think we might have been a little defensive, I have to admit. That’s what happens sometimes when you get a lot of criticism, which later is sort of dissipated, but there were some hardcore critics and you know sometimes it is political as well, right.
0:54:21.1 S2: Yeah.
0:54:21.2 S3: You know this is a program where the Prime Minister has put his weight behind. So, sometimes people would go out, as I mentioned in the book, look at a couple of villages and then extrapolate that by saying that this whole thing is not happening, which was not true. So, whenever we got reports that, okay, there are problems, we would… I would ring up Atheeq and say, “Atheeq, there’s a report coming from Gulbarga, can you look at it?” And Atheeq would look at it, come back, and say, “Yes sir, there’s a problem, we are now fixing it.” So, I think it was an honest effort, there were some gaps, there will continue to be the need for effort to be made, and I think, but overall, we were quite confident that the results were pretty robust.
0:55:00.9 S2: One of the things perhaps to think about is the whole… I didn’t hear you talk too much about the very undeniable issue of caste and manual scavenging when it comes to our issues of swachhata in our country. Do you think when you were talking of behaviour change, perhaps you needed to look more at those issues, and if so, is there one thing you would do differently in Swachh Bharat Mission, in hindsight, even though it was just recent hindsight, and this issue of caste, which was not really touched upon. We still have manual scavenging, even though our laws abolish it. We still have single pit latrines where somebody… Nobody wants to do their own dirty work in India, somebody below you has to do it. So, that issue of culture which is, you cannot ignore, was not really talked about much in Swachh Bharat Mission. Any comments? And then we’ll move on.
0:55:58.0 S3: No, I think that’s a good point. In fact, so we set about it in… We were quite aware of this. In rural India, this is less of an issue. In fact, one of the things we did was when the village mapping was done, to make sure that all members of the community, irrespective of caste, were drawn into the conversation in the village. When they did the village mapping to find out which are the areas, which are the sort of bastis which have less covered, and we wanted to make sure, and Bihar did this very well, that unless the Dalit basti was covered first, they wouldn’t proceed to other places. But I think one of the important things on caste was, the whole twin-pit technology, and one of the reasons why I entered that toilet pit was precisely to break that stigma, and the whole twin-pit technology where when one pit works the other is closed, and when one fills up you divert to the second pit and you wait for a year and a half, and you can actually take out the compost because it’s safe and pathogen-free, that was precisely done to break the stigma of cleaning up toilet.
0:57:08.6 S2: Taboo.
0:57:08.6 S3: Because people at… The taboo, where people are used to, people from a particular community coming and cleaning the toilets. So, that was one of the reasons, and we were quite confident that in the village mapping and you know Atheeq can talk of the experience in Karnataka, that this was an inclusive process for the most part, where everyone was drawn in and unless all households had access to a toilet the village could not declare itself open defecation free. So, to a large extent, the issue of caste was addressed through that community cohesion and the entire village being included in the ODF movement. And this of course was in rural India, urban is a little different because the whole issue of manual evacuation of septic tanks and so on is more an urban phenomenon and that I think, it also…
0:57:56.3 S2: Even the municipalities themselves use people for removing, sucking… For going down into those manholes, even though technologies are available to do it [0:58:05.2] ____.
0:58:07.2 S3: Right. I think there is a big thrust now to have mechanical evacuation. It’s still a problem. I think there’s much more awareness now and much more of course needs to be done.
0:58:16.3 S2: Yeah, I would say that I don’t think anybody can deny Param, that those five years of the SBM, of course, there were many deficiencies and sometimes the government doesn’t always admit, that things were not as rosy as you sometimes paint, but nobody can take away that there was a mission focus that more toilets than ever did get built, even if not all of them are being used, and there is no question that the demand is higher than ever for sanitation and Swachh Bharat. So in that sense, you certainly succeeded. Tell me before I ask Atheeq about this, is the pressure to declare success higher if you are an outsider or even a half-outsider?
0:59:00.1 S3: I don’t think so. I think that…
0:59:01.1 S2: No?
0:59:02.8 S3: I don’t think the pressure is any more or less whether you’re an insider or an outsider. I think that it was important to deliver on the mission when we had this phenomenal opportunity. It was a window of opportunity which would have been wasted if we didn’t put in 100% effort and energy, because one of the lessons I’ve learnt globally, and now everyone uses those four Ps. These were the lessons we learnt, which we sort of declared in Delhi in 2018 when we had an international convention. The minister of Nigeria came here and learnt about this program and started the “Clean Nigeria” movement. So what were the four Ps? Political leadership, public financing… The government invested $20 billion in a public good like sanitation. Partnerships. This was not a Sarkari program, it’s working with people like yourself, Arghyam, doing outstanding work, NGOs, grassroots organizations, and then it has to be a people’s movement, like people’s participation.
1:00:00.8 S3: Now, this window of opportunity, so everyone… A health minister would tell me, “Listen, can you get your Prime Minister to talk to my President? Because my Prime Minister is not interested in this topic.” I worked in Vietnam, the Vietnamese Prime Minister didn’t even like the term “defecation.” So this window of opportunity was… We needed to seize that moment when we had both the political leadership as well as the public finance. I’d met Mr. [1:00:28.0] ____ Jaitley so many times. They started believing that it was important to invest in it. Like now, there is a big move to health expenditure to go up to 2% of GDP, which is important. So I think that five-year window, it was critical for everyone to be all hands on deck and to achieve it. So I don’t think there was any pressure, but it would have been a wasted opportunity if we had not delivered on this program.
1:00:57.0 S2: Yeah. No, I certainly think we have a template, as you said, with the four Ps to have more such large scale very campaign and mission-oriented things, because God knows, there are many more problems to solve, even just in water and sanitation and all speed ahead to the Jal Jeevan Mission, which hopes to bring more drinking water sustainability, lifeline water sustainability to every single household in India. Before we turn to questions and then a final round, quick words from both Atheeq and Sunil, please. Atheeq, on the water and sanitation thing which you have spent so much time on your career. Any insights for us? And then Sunil, on maybe public-private partnerships, what can the private sector do to support government programs such as SBM or anything else? Please go ahead, Atheeq first, please?
1:01:50.5 S4: On Swachh Bharat, the criticism that you raised has lot of merit because ultimately, we started with the baseline and then the baseline we covered. But doesn’t mean that there were people who were not left behind and there were still exclusion. So therefore there are some pitfalls of any mission-driven project where we want to… You’re focusing on results, you’re focusing on targets. So there would be some incentive for people to cook figures from the ground level…
1:02:31.3 S2: Yes.
1:02:31.4 S4: There are third-party validations.
1:02:33.5 S2: That powers incentives get formed, yes.
1:02:36.5 S4: But there are also issues of certain serious constraints. Space is one big constraint.
1:02:45.2 S2: Yes.
1:02:45.8 S4: Water is one constraint that…
1:02:46.8 S2: Water is a bigger constraint, yes.
1:02:49.6 S4: A lot of politicians who criticize us when we go to the field, or the journalists also, where is the water? When there is no water, what kind of toilets are you building? But that sometimes we find it is exaggerated because one or two pots of… Small pots of water is enough to flush a toilet, but space is a big constraint. We find that there are lot of… In our villages in Karnataka, particularly in north-eastern Karnataka, the whole Kalyana Karnataka belt, where still there are gaps in coverage where people don’t have enough space either in their front door or in their… There is no… Hardly there is any backyard for them.
1:03:31.8 S2: Yeah.
1:03:32.6 S4: And, where do they build a toilet? That is one big issue. And then…
1:03:36.0 S2: And where do they put the pits even more importantly? Where will the waste go? Yeah.
1:03:43.0 S4: We have to find solutions for that kind of a problem. Having said that, sometimes… And also they say that if there is… First, you go in for a behaviour change, then we’ll build a toilet. It’s really a chicken and egg issue because if you keep on giving lecture about behaviour change but there is no toilet to use…
1:04:02.2 S2: Yes.
1:04:02.4 S4: Then, that also is of no… Or you build a toilet and then say people use it as a storehouse. That is the criticism that we face. So sometimes you have to create infrastructure. Simultaneously you should look at behavior change. There are issues and you have to continue to work towards it, and one big factor is ultimately income levels. People are poor, and… Not that the rich… Sometimes even the rich also do not use it… Non-poor, let me say. Non-poor also do not use it. In fact, once I had gone to a village in Bagalkot, long time back when I was in this department in 2003, 2005. I went to a house, this guy had a colour TV, has a Hero Honda, he didn’t have a toilet, and this is a fairly big house. I asked him why… Do You have a toilet? He said, “Illa. I don’t have it.” Then I said, “Why not?” He says “I have given an application to Panchayat, they are not sanctioning and therefore, I do not have.” So you have money to buy a Hero Honda bike, you have money to buy a colour TV, but you don’t want a toilet? So that’s a huge culture issue here. People don’t think it is necessary.
1:05:11.6 S2: I think the connection, the idea that you go out into the wide-open instead of a constrained space still carries a lot of meaning for people, especially in the rural areas, all that is changing. But the culture shift still has to be complete, but do you not believe, because you all work right in the field, that the younger generation has completely internalized this idea that toilets are important not just for privacy, dignity, security, but they’ve also understood the health angle. Do you think we have made that transition, at least with the younger generations? The health angle in the last year has come to the fore even more than safety, security, dignity, privacy, etcetera. Right?
1:06:00.8 S4: Younger generation and women have actually internalized this idea, I think to a large extent. The men and slightly the older generation men continue to be a problem. Actually, also there is another problem is that sometimes this is a large family, we tend to build one toilet, that is again, because of our pressure, they build it, sometimes they don’t build two toilets even if there is space, also what generally they do is, the women tend to use it and the men still try to go out. Therefore the campaign for a behaviour change has to be continuous.
1:06:35.6 S2: Yes.
1:06:37.3 S4: We have actually created a brand, we have created demand. This kind of a focused approach was necessary. Without this, it would have been a gradual approach because total [1:06:46.3] ____ campaign was started in 2003, and that was also based on an idea that actually the WSP, Water and Sanitation Program of World Bank, in which Mr. Iyer was there long back, so that created… That gave this idea that just building toilets is not adequate, not enough, you need to have open defecation-free status.
1:07:10.3 S2: Yes.
1:07:11.1 S4: Because even if 10% of the village defecates, then the pathogens travel in the entire village and therefore you’re not achieving any results. So the [1:07:18.9] ____ open defecation free slogan was given in 2003-2005 but 2014 onwards it became a brand, a lot of advertisement was done, lot of film personalities were used. Those are the lessons you can learn from this. Actually, so that you bring in lot of focus. With that [1:07:39.8] ____ of criticism is there, but then this had to be done in my opinion.
1:07:44.2 S2: Thank you. We’re running out of time, Sunil we’ll give you a quick word and go to the audience, please?
1:07:50.8 S5: Yeah, I think where you’re speaking about public-private partnership, I think the private, many of the corporates are more than willing to come and partner with the government on various projects. I think the drive has to come from the department. I think in book, Method in the Madness, Param has actually shown how he worked with the Tata group and pulled them in and they worked with him on this Swachh Bharat mission. So I think it’s great, I mean there’s a saying that in a company, one works for a boss, rather than an organization, the loyalty and the engagement, the energy from the boss. So even here, I think with people, Mr. Atheeq and Param, if there is a definite will and a genuine thing to do something, I think definitely the private companies will partner with the government, whether it is Swachh Bharat or even sports. I know it’s happening in infrastructure projects a lot, but I think it can definitely be moved to the other projects.
1:08:52.9 S2: Thank you, I’m gonna take some questions which have come up here Param, for you, that, unfortunately, even a pandemic is not leading to increased public financing in Health and Preventive public health. What do we need to raise the priority on public health?
1:09:10.6 S3: Sure, look, I think it was Rahm Emanuel who said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” I think that the pandemic has certainly put the spotlight on health, big time, and the need to increase public expenditure. In fact, in a group of secretaries, which about four years ago, one of the major recommendations in that inter-sectoral group was clearly increasing expenditure on health, but it’s not just the expenditure, it’s gotta be better utilized, and I think that’s one of the reasons why better systems, better capacity has to be created. Fortunately, I think India is well-positioned. We have got the best electoral system in the world, we’ve got the capacity to roll out vaccinations better than anyone else, so at least as good as others.
1:10:00.6 S3: So I think… And this health insurance scheme, Ayushman Bharat came in. But I think even more important is the wellness program, which is now being rolled out, the sort of preventive side. So in many ways, [1:10:12.3] ____ we saying water sanitation or hygiene as a kind of pre-vaccine vaccine during the pandemic. Handwashing with soap is now, everyone is talking about it, something we spoke about many years ago. I think that the pandemic will certainly put the focus on health expenditure, and I’m pretty confident that it’s going to happen. So, but we shouldn’t let this opportunity go to waste and I think efforts, advocacy for this need to continue, but I think the government is quite aware of this, and I think it will happen in due course.
1:10:50.6 S2: We have another question saying, “Which position do you really prefer, insider or outsider?”
1:11:00.9 S3: It’s a good question. In fact, in the bank, we had a little event where they were discussing my book. So, they were saying the insider-outsider-insider, is it with reference to government or the bank because I’ve…
1:11:13.1 S2: Yeah.
1:11:14.2 S3: I’ve been in the bank three times, I’ve been in the government three times, and it’s difficult to say, but I had… I think that the experience I had, I don’t know how I would classify the experience of being the road manager. I don’t know whether that was an insider or outsider. That was right up there, and I don’t think anything beats the experience of working in the field in government, on the ground, whether this is Swajal program or in the state government or Government of India. So if I have to choose the career I had as an IAS officer, that would always be over and above the experience, I have in the bank.
1:11:54.3 S2: And so are you having withdrawal symptoms now? I know right now you’re in India, but you have to go back. Are you having withdrawal symptoms, and what do they feel like?
1:12:04.2 S3: Yeah, so the withdrawal symptoms are slowly withdrawing. But I can tell you, that I definitely miss the action in India, particularly because it’s a virtual world in Washington where the bank has been shut down for the last one year. It’s probably gonna take another six months before anything opens up, so there’s no travel, you’re doing all these Zoom conferences day and night. And this is where the action is, so I definitely miss the action.
1:12:34.4 S2: Right. Raghu does your… I can’t see your live audience.
1:12:35.8 S1: Yeah, we can… We have two questions from our audience as well…
1:12:38.8 S2: Yeah, and then I have one final one. So please go ahead.
1:12:43.4 S1: Arun Pai first and Sanath next.
1:12:46.3 Speaker 6: Yes. Live audience question. I’ll speak through the mic… Through the mask, COVID appropriate behaviour. The stereotype about us Indians is that we are rule-breakers and we are proud of it. So any mass behaviour change program where you want to touch all of India is complex for whatever it is. So my question to you is before you embarked on SBM, was there any myth about Indians that was busted, where you had a pleasant surprise that it was a myth? And on the converse side, was there some very strong assumption you held about how to change our behaviour, which was totally demolished, and you had to basically go back to the drawing board? I’m just curious to know about both sides. Thank you.
1:13:25.8 S3: Look, it’s a… That’s a very interesting question. I think that before I came in, there was some… There was clearly doubt with this massive challenge, changing the behaviour of 500 million people plus in that window, how feasible it is. So that was a doubt which I had myself, and everyone else told me, “Listen, this is Mission Impossible.” So doing behaviour change at scale, there was some skepticism about that. But one thing I learnt was that you have to deal with scale with scale. And so bringing in school kids, Rohini mentioned the younger generation, particularly the girls. When I went to Bihar, and so another thing I thought in these states like Bihar and UP and Orissa it’s gonna be really difficult, whereas, in southern states like Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, it’s going to be easier. I found that in states where which were lagging behind, I was quite pleasantly surprised to see a huge enthusiasm. So, we went to East Champaran, where Gandhiji started the Indigo movement 100 years ago, and in a school there in a block called Turkaulia Block, we had schoolgirls coming out, marching in the streets and saying, “Mujhe shauchalay chahiye.” So they demanded it.
1:14:55.3 S3: So, we had schoolgirls, school kids putting pressure on their teachers, on their parents, and that mobilisation of school kids, I think was not a surprise, but it was a huge factor in sort of bringing about behaviour change. And again, conventionally, something which had been tried for many years, which didn’t really work; there’s a term in the business if you know, it’s called CLTS, community-led total sanitation. Now, this had been tried, but it hadn’t really worked. Why hadn’t it worked? Because you didn’t have the political leadership. So you had islands of success, you had ministers who were pushing it, but when you have that level of political leadership from the top, that makes all the difference. So no hesitation in saying, this has nothing to do with any particular Prime Minister. When the Prime Minister put his weight behind the program, that was decisive, and we hadn’t realized how powerful that was. So I was a travelling salesman, and I would go to a state and meet the Chief Minister, and they knew that this was the Prime Minister’s program and resources were coming. So they put their weight behind it. I didn’t realise how powerful was that push which we got, which made all the difference. So I think those were the couple of… That was… I was very pleasantly surprised, but we were, we immediately started leveraging that level of leadership.
1:16:22.8 Speaker 7: Hello Mr. Iyer, and the panel. Actually, I had the question on which role did you prefer, insider or outsider, but it’s already answered. I think you prefer the insider more, right? So yeah. So in fact, my second question is on the two case studies of Mysore and Bangalore. Alright. I just want you to throw some light as to why always Mysore is on the top 10 of Swachh Bharat, but Bangalore, which is just 130 kilometers, although it’s gained an ODF status, but it’s still not garbage-free, it’s still dirty. So who do you blame? Is it the people, or is it the governance or the administration?
1:17:04.7 S3: Look, there are a number of factors, and I know you’re referring to the competition, the Swachh Survekshan where Mysore, I think the first time was number one, and it’s always in the top two or three. I think it depends on… There are number of factors, right? It’s the culture of the city, it’s people’s involvement, it’s the NGOs there, it’s the grassroots movement, and sometimes being in the capital city, it can make a difference because there are other priorities always. So again, it really depends. Look at Indore for example. In Madhya Pradesh, Indore has consistently been at the top. I think once you achieve a certain level of success in a particular urban local body you’re talking about, then the people take it up as a challenge. So I know that in Indore, I don’t know so much about Mysore, but Atheeq will know more. I know in Indore, it’s a matter of pride for the city that they always want to be number one.
1:17:58.7 S3: So once you get that level of commitment, the roots grow deep and it becomes a citizen’s movement, and that’s precisely what was attempted in the Swachh Bharat Mission, whether it’s urban or rural. Once people start [1:18:11.7] ____ using it they get committed, then it becomes a bit of a social revolution. And I think that’s what happened in many cities. It probably happened in Mysore but maybe, Atheeq you know more about specifically why Mysore has always been in the top three and Bangalore…
1:18:24.4 S4: I think, simple answer would be that the size itself. Mysore is a five lakh people city, and Bangalore is a 12 million city, so huge challenges. The sheer size brings in so much of challenge, and perhaps that’s the only thing I can say. But if I want to get into a bit of a pop sociology, I don’t know, because smaller cities tend to be, the point that you had made, tend to be a little more… They have a sense of ownership. Once actually, the Sarod Maestro Amjad Ali Khan had met me when I was in PMO. He said, “Bhai, Delhi is like a platform, railway platform. Log aate hain, baiththe hain, thodi der baadh koi train aati hain usme baith ke chale jaate hain. Uske baadh kahin kachra chod ke bhi chale jaate hain.” Because the platform doesn’t belong to them. Sometimes large cities bring in that kind of a slightly anonymous character to the community because the community doesn’t really feel that it belongs to them, perhaps that is the one. But I would largely blame it on the size and the challenges that the size brings with it.
1:19:30.6 Speaker 8: Hi. It was a great panel. To your point, Mr. Atheeq that we do not have enough land, my question or my observation is that I see a lot of these small temples and places of worship come up every now and then, and I really question myself, do we in the 21st century, in 2021 with this pandemic, need another place of worship? Can we not have a toilet instead of that place where that place of worship is being constructed, and can that not be monetized because I know places of worships get donation and income tax, you know, subsidy and all of that? What are your thoughts on that? And another, very quickly, a question to the entire panel, What about the maintenance of public toilets in a city like… A Tier 1 city like Bangalore? There is one public toilet right near the Kodihalli Bridge, which is just next to the garbage dump. And it’s pathetically unusable. So, what are the views on maintenance of public toilets so that they’re actually usable by people like me, and not just, say, someone who is really poor, and they still might go there, but not me. So, views on those two, please. Thanks a lot.
1:20:56.5 S4: People make choices, so… And we are here in the business of influencing their choices, but we do not presume that we can completely dictate their choices. We find that in the villages, the huge demand for temple construction. Who am I to contradict them? So, therefore, it is up to them, but here, because Prime Minister actually called, I think once, a toilet as a temple. We also use the word…
1:21:29.4 S3: Izzat Ghar.
1:21:31.0 S4: Izzat Ghar. It’s like a… You can even call it as… We should treat it like our temple in the modern India. But then we can’t really fight these things… And it takes its own time. We are here to really promote toilet use, and lack of space is a real issue. And it is not a temple vs toilet, but lack of space is an issue which 50, 60, 100 households in a large village of 2,000 houses face. How do you solve it? We have some certain solutions for that. One solution that we have found is that if there is some public land, you build a series of toilets, but not community toilets. If it is a, again, common toilets as you rightly pointed out, maintenance becomes an issue.
1:22:19.8 S4: So, what we have done in some places is that we have built, let’s say, 20 toilets, row toilets, and then we lock them. We mark them as, this toilet belongs to this family, and this toilet belongs to this family. Hand over the keys to that family and it’s a slight… A small trek away from their house, that kind of a thing has worked. So, those are some of the solutions we find for spaces. As far as maintenance of community toilets is concerned, it is a challenge. And then as far as possible, even though in Swachh Bharat there is a component of community toilets, sanitary complexes, we have been building them rather cautiously. Unless there is a mechanism for proper maintenance, unless the Gram Panchayats takes the responsibility of maintaining those toilets, we are not building it. But in a city like Bangalore, I’m sure there are ways of making these toilets maintainable.
1:23:15.1 S3: Sure, and, you know, let me just add. I think maintenance of community sanitary complex is a big issue. So, you may not know, but in the 15th finance commission, for the first time, has actually earmarked… They did it last year and they have done it again this year; last year 30,000 crores were earmarked… Were transferred to states and earmarked for water and sanitation, focused on maintenance of community assets such as community sanitary complexes. But again, you know, so that will help to sustain all these gains. In the city, of course, there are different models, and these need to be tried as Atheeq mentioned. Pay-as-you-go, you have the Sulabh Shauchalaya model, which has been pretty sustainable and it’s not very expensive as well. So, in a Tier 1 city like Bangalore, that’s a model which really needs to be tried. I’m sure people wouldn’t mind paying a very small amount to use toilets, and so at least that will help to sustain it, and in many ways now, this needs to become a business, particularly in urban areas. More challenging in rural. So, whether it’s community sanitary complexes or other services, as long as it’s affordable, I think that’s one way we need to move forward.
1:24:29.6 S5: Just to chip in, just one more point, Param and Mr. Atheeq, the young lady asked the question about maintenance. I think that’s where, as Rohini was saying, the public-private partnership can come in. [1:24:40.9] ____ And if the maintenance part of these toilets, especially in urban areas, can be handed over to corporates. And if that can be covered in the CSR, I’m sure many corporates would be willing to take up and maintain these products.
1:24:53.8 S3: That’s a great idea. That definitely needs to happen. And it’s happening in a few places but not at scale.
1:25:01.0 Speaker 9: Namaste, sir. This is Vishal, I’m the Mission Director Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin, Karnataka. Sir, you were kind enough to tell us how the system, everybody from the administration picked up, that’s possibly due to three reasons, sir. One is your risk-taking ability, second, that drive that you have, the third and very importantly sir, you were talking to me. I guess you were even talking to the deputy commissioners or [1:25:25.4] ____ CEOs, but I really think you must have gone to the sub-district level also. When somebody at that level has that drive, that inclination, things actually work. So for many insiders like us who are actually working in the field, that was a great support. So thank you for leading that, thank you.
1:25:41.8 S3: Thanks, Vishal.
1:25:43.9 S5: Well, the same [1:25:44.9] ____ well in sports also because Dr. Vishal was the DC in Gulbarga, and with his help we had… We brought in an International Tennis tournament to Gulbarga. And it helped so much for our Indian players and the sport to be promoted in a place like Gulbarga. If the will is there from the DC, I think a lot of things can happen. Thank you, Dr. Vishal.
1:26:05.2 S4: And for a secretary to Government of India to speak to people in the district, etcetera is rather rare. It is not very commonplace. There are, what, 40,50 secretaries to Government of India? Very few people speak to people in the field.
1:26:21.6 S2: Okay, we are almost out of time, but Param I do want to give you one last opportunity to tell us, quite simply, at a personal level. Not so much at the mission level or at all the projects that you handled at the World Bank etcetera. At a personal level, as we close this session, what have been your biggest triumphs, what has been at least one of your failures, and to broaden that out, to tell us about how you view success and failure.
1:26:58.2 S3: That’s a tough one, but I always come back… You’re talking of success and failure, and because we are all a tennis crazy family, we follow Wimbledon very closely. And one thing I learnt, I mentioned in the book as well; when I went to the district and my first collector roped me into a Teen Patti party, I lost a lot of money and it was half my salary. I was a bit shaken. But coming back to… That’s a very minor loss, but there will be setbacks, and the last thing a player sees when they play on the center court is that famous lines from Kipling’s “If -“, the poem where it says: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same;” So I think there will be failures, there will be successes when at a personal level, I think that every one of those setbacks in retrospect are minor setbacks but at that time they’re very real, is you’ve got to take it in your stride.
1:28:08.0 S3: People will… At that point of time, it seems like the end of the world. For example, when Tara was playing, she had this knee injury and there was a time when one of the doctors said, “She won’t be able to sustain this training,” she of course came back. Of course, Tara was the person who was the most shattered, but then she came back from that, she did the physical fitness, and so all of us… So there are these setbacks sometimes. As you said, she wanted to become a top 20 player, like Sunil said she had the potential, but then she moved on to something else. There are going to be these challenges, you will win some, you will lose some, you’ve gotta take it in your stride. And if I had to do anything differently now, in terms of the tennis training, both for Tara and Venkat, we probably would have done much more work on injury prevention, than maybe we overdid the training, the fitness, and everyone does it at different times, and you see top stars like Yuki Bhambri and others who have suffered with recurring injuries.
1:29:17.1 S3: In the sports arena, I think we would have probably have done a little differently, we would have staggered it, maybe put in more emphasis on injury prevention as opposed to playing more tournaments. So I think that’s one change we would have made. In terms of the career choices I made, really no regrets; I was quite lucky. In many ways, the decision was taken out of my hands, when I quit the IAS my family was in Washington. We were totally broke. It was a good time to leave. There was no real churning in terms of whether to do or not to do, and I’ve always enjoyed whatever job I had; whether it was a Task Team Leader in the World Bank working in Lebanon or leading the Swachh Bharat Mission. I think you’ve really got to enjoy your work, it makes you much more successful. So overall, no regrets.
1:30:06.4 S2: Thank you, Param. From you we got that, win or lose, continue to enjoy the game. And you also talked about prevention, there’s a beautiful Sutra from Patanjali Sutras: “Heyam-Dukham-Anagatam.” Those misfortunes that can be avoided, should be avoided. It’s a really good metaphor for our times, especially with the pandemic. Prevention is the best cure. Thank you for your time, and to remind our audience, we were talking about this book and other things, thank you for being with us. Thank you, Param. Thank you to my panel, and as always, thank you to BIC. Everyone, please stay safe. Good night.
1:30:50.7 S3: Thanks a lot, Rohini.
1:30:50.8 S4: Thank you. Thank you, Rohini. Thank you, everybody.
1:30:53.5 S3: Thanks Rohini. Thanks, Ravi. Thank you, BIC.