THE senior bureaucracy in Maharashtra is up in arms after Additional Chief Secretary (ACS Finance) D K Jain (1983 batch) was appointed as the new Chief Secretary, superseding four other senior bureaucrats from the same batch. It has peeved them so much that two of the senior most bureaucrats of the 1983 IAS batch, Medha Gadgil (ACS Relief and Rehabilitation) and Sudhir Shrivastava (ACS Home), have proceeded on a month long leave after Jain took charge on the state’s formation day on May 1, which is celebrated as the Labour Day and is a holiday.
One of the two senior bureaucrats, who have proceeded on leave while speaking to gfiles on the condition of anonymity, disclosed that they intend to drag the matter to the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) once they finalise the draft of the petition challenging Jain’s elevation. If they place their grievances before the CAT, it would be the first instance in Maharashtra’s history that the appointment of a Chief Secretary would be challenged before the tribunal.
Besides, Gadgil and Shrivastava, the other two bureaucrats in the seniority list are Sunil Porwal (ACS Industries) and UPS Madan, (ACS and Metropolitan Commissioner), Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA).
This time, however, the controversy has acquired a political undertone.Gadgil, despite being the senior-most bureaucrat from the 1983 batch, was overlooked in favour of Jain. Among the reasons that are being bandied about, the one that her architect husband Anant Vitthal Gadgil is the sitting Congress Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) in the upper house of the state legislature in the BJP-Shiv Sena government led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis went against her has gained maximum traction.
HOWEVER, sources in senior bureaucratic circles seem to suggest that a powerful non-Maharashtrian lobby, both in the state and in New Delhi, pushed hard for the appointment of Jain as the new Chief Secretary. Another rumour doing the rounds is that the non-Maharashtrian lobby wanted Jain at the helm of affairs as the land acquired for a mega oil-refinery in Nanar in Ratnagiri district of the Konkan region is mostly owned or belonged to non-Maharashtrians.
This is not the first time that the government of the day has bypassed the seniority rule. In May 2007, Johny Joseph (1972 batch) was appointed as the Chief Secretary by the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance government, superseding senior women IAS officers that included the then Chairman of the Mumbai Port Trust Rani Jadhav (1970 batch), Charusheela Sohoni, Secretary GoI, Animal Husbandry Department, A K Dua and Chitkala Zutshi, all from the 1971 batch. It also overlooked the seniority of the then ACS Home, A P Sinha (1970 batch). The second instance was in 2009, again during the Congress-NCP led government, when J P Dange (1973 batch) was elevated to the post of Chief Secretary superseding the then ACS Home, Chandra Iyengar.
But what has agitated many in administrative, political and social circles is that in 58 years since its formation, a progressive state like Maharashtra has not had a woman Chief Secretary. More than that, many find it disturbing that Maharashtra, which has a long history of women’s emancipation, women’s rights and women’s education, has not found a worthy, meritorious and capable woman bureaucrat to head the state administration. Zutsi from the 1971 batch is the only woman bureaucrat to have come closest to being appointed to the top administrative post before she lost out to her junior peer Joseph.
Politicians of all shades, whether they belong to the ruling party or the opposition, never miss a chance to show reverence to the great social reformers such as Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj and others, and take great pride in pitching Maharashtra as a progressive state. In 1994, the Maharashtra government led by Chief Minister Sharad Pawar, became the first state in India to come out with a policy specifically aimed at empowering women. It had mooted the policy for reservation for women in body politic. Even the current BJP-Shiv Sena government led by Fadnavis has come out with a policy aimed at encouraging women entrepreneurs with soft loans to start business enterprises.
It is 170 years since Mahatma Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule started the first school in the country exclusively for girls at Bhide Wada in Pune in 1848. Since then, social reformers from Maharashtra have shown the way for woman’s upliftment. One of India’s first female physicians was Anandibai Gopal Joshi (1865-1887), who studied medicine in the US. Unfortunately, she died when she was just 21. Ramabai Ranade (1863-1924), wife of social reformer Mahadev Govind Ranade, was a prominent women’s rights activist.
CAPTAIN Saudamini Deshmukh was the second woman in India to command a Boeing 737 in 1988 and Airbus A320 in 1994. Not to forget, Pratibha Rao Patil, who also hails from Maharashtra, became India’s first woman President in 2007.
Yet, Maratha politicians on either side of the political divide, who call the shots in state, have not been able to overcome their conservative mindset when it comes to dealing with women administrative officers. The argument that has been usually put forward is that they find it difficult to summon women officers for work at late hours or find it uncomfortable in dealing with them over administrative matters.
On the other hand, state’s like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Jharkhand, Manipur and Rajasthan have had women Chief Secretaries. A few notable examples include K Ratna Prabha (1981 batch), who was appointed as the Chief Secretary of Karnataka in November 2017, Minnie Mathew became the second woman bureaucrat after Sathi Nair to be appointed as the Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh in 2002. Even a state like Haryana appointed Meenaxi Chaudhary as its first woman Chief Secretary in 2005. She was followed by Shakuntala Jakhu, who became Chief Secretary in 2014. Nalini Netto (1981 batch) is currently the Chief Secretary of Kerala.
Others on the list include: Padma Ramachandran, Kerala (1991), Sheela Balakrishnan, Tamil Nadu (retired in 2014), Kushal Singh, Rajasthan (2009), S Malathi, Tamil Nadu (2010-11), Sathi Nair, Andhra Pradesh (2002), Rajbala Verma (retired in 2018) and Girija Vaidyanathan (1981) and Rajani Ranjan Rashmi (1983) in Manipur.
It is not only women IAS officers who have been sidelined or overlooked for top bureaucratic postings in Maharashtra. Dr. Meeran Chadha Borwankar, the 1981 IPS batch officer, was not considered for the top post of the Director General of Police (DGP) in 2017. Borwankar was overlooked despite supervising the high-profile hangings of Ajmal Kasab and Yakub Memon and was the chief investigator in the infamous Jalgaon sex scandal in July 1994.
Maharashtra politicians have often cited various Supreme Court of India judgements such as the TSR Subramanian case, the Prakash Singh case (April 2014), J C Jetli (IAS, 1990 batch) or the Vineet Narain case (December 1997) to put forward their arguments while justifying the practice of superseding. If nothing else works, they fall back on the old argument how the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1973 appointed Justice A N Ray as the Chief Justice of India, superseding Justices I M Shelet, Justice K S Hegde and Justice A N Grover.
AS one woman bureaucrat pointed out that when it comes to promotions for top bureaucratic postings the rule book is thrown at them, overlooking competence, merit and seniority. To this day, the politicians who never miss any opportunity to project Maharashtra as a progressive state are yet to shed their conservative mindset when it comes to appointing a woman bureaucrat at the helm of affairs in the state.
The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has taken a note of the gender imbalance that exists in Civil Services and has tried to address the issue head on. A notification issued by the UPSC in March 2017 for the Civil Services Exams (CSE) said: “The government strives to have a workforce which reflects gender balance and women candidates are encouraged to apply.” It seems the skewed ratio of one woman officer for 20 male officers compelled the UPSC to acknowledge gender imbalance in Civil Services.
According to available statistics, the number of women clearing the CSE and getting commissioned into various services steadily increased between 2001- 2010. In 2001, out of the 455 women candidates who appeared for the CSE Mains Exams, 179 qualified for interview and 88 were recommended for induction into various services. By 2010, the total number of women candidates appearing for the CSE Mains Exams increased to 1,418, out of which 449 made it to the interview stage and 203 were selected for commissioning into services.
It appears that there has been a perceptible change since 2012 when Vandana Chauhan claimed eighth rank in the All India Rank (AIR) in the CSE. The 2015 CSE results marked a watershed moment when the top four AIR were claimed by women candidates. Ira Singhal, Renu Raj, Nidhi Gupta and Vandana Rao topped the AIR rankings that year. In 2016, Tina Dabi was the CSE topper.
Experts and sociologists believe that for progress, equitable development and a balanced workforce, gender equality in Civil Services is equally important, because women represent 50 percent of the population. Some have been lucky to enjoy the support of their families, but others like Chauhan, hailing from a poor famer’s family in Uttar Pradesh, had to overcome the conservative mindset of the society to reach where she is today.