Women bureaucrats 'overlooked' for key posts

Written By Unknown on Minggu, 03 Maret 2013 | 22.23

MUMBAI: Inspired by the entry of Malti Tambey Vaidya in the then-prestigious civil service around six decades ago, a large number of women subsequently began joining the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).

But over the years women have been increasingly feeling that they have been rarely considered for plum assignments in the male-dominated service.

Vaidya, in the mid-1950s, had become Maharashtra's first woman IAS officer. For decades, women bureaucrats maintained a discreet silence about being sidelined. But when Vilasrao Deshmukh took over the reins of the state in 1999, a section of leading women bureaucrats knocked on his door saying that if they were on par with male counterparts they should not be ignored for key appointments. They felt that Deshmukh, who was known for administration, would consider their plea and appoint them to high-profile posts.

"We were expecting that Deshmukh would consider us for appointment to top posts, like chief secretary of Maharashtra or Mumbai municipal commissioner. We were disappointed when he rejected us for both key assignments. Unfortunately, even Deshmukh's successors did not feel that we were capable of holding such key assignments," said a former additional chief secretary (ACS).

The former ACS said that from 1953 onwards there were very few women in the IAS. However, after 1965, Maharashtra began witnessing a steady increase in the number of women joining the civil service. In fact, a section of women bureaucrats inducted from 1965 to 1970 reached the level of secretary to the government of India and made their presence felt at the national level.

Shanta Shastri, who joined the IAS in 1965, was instrumental in formulating the health policy. She was followed by Kumund Bansal, who was responsible for the universal education policy. In 1995, Chandra Iyengar drafted the landmark women's policy, which was later adopted by the Centre.

Unfortunately, neither Bansal nor Iyengar were considered for either the chief secretary or BMC commissioner posts. "In my opinion, all women bureaucrats were on par with their male counterparts, but were deliberately sidelined," said the ex-ACS. "The Congress party is headed by a woman, Sonia Gandhi. Till recently, the President of India was a woman, Pratibha Patil. But women bureaucrats from Maharashtra were ignored."

She claimed that when western Maharashtra witnessed massive floods, then Sangli collector Manisha Patankar-Mhaiskar ensured that the loss to life and property were minimized. Later, when Mumbai experienced its worst-ever rains in July 2005, women bureaucrats made their presence felt during the relief and rehabilitation work. On June 21, 2012, when fire engulfed Mantralaya, women were among the half-a-dozen bureaucrats working round-the-clock to ensure no stone was left unturned.

"We are on par with our male counterparts, but injustice is still done to us. It's time that chief minister Prithviraj Chavan appoints senior women bureaucrats to key posts," she said. However, the promotions to the rank of additional chief secretary didn't go unnoticed. "Last year, of seven ACSs, four were women. It was an achievement," she said.

Of course, there is a vertical split among women bureaucrats themselves. While a section feel an injustice has been done, others say there has been a sea change in the view of chief ministers over the past decade. "Some of us have served as home secretary, additional municipal commissioner, public health secretary and revenue secretary. We are sure that in the near future one of us will be appointed as chief secretary or BMC commissioner," said a senior woman IAS officer. Another area of discontent among women bureaucrats is the non-appointment to posts after retirement. In the recent past, barring Neela Satyanarayan and Chitkala Zutshi, both retired additional chief secretaries, no other woman bureaucrat has been considered for a post-retirement assignment. Satyanarayan is state election commissioner, while Zutshi is a member of the state revenue tribunal. A former principal secretary's message was simple: "Give us equal opportunity."

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