Currently, a number of influential women secretaries are at the helms of various departments, but key ministries like cabinet secretariat, home, defence and finance don’t have any women secretary. Though two women diplomats, Chokila Iyer and Nirupama Rao, reached the top to become foreign secretary, the highest post for an Indian Foreign Service officer, no IAS has ever made into cabinet, defence or home secretary’s job.
The women secretaries from 1975 batch IAS include woman and child development secretary Neela Gangadharan, school education secretary Anshu Vaish, textile secretary Kiran Dhingra and sports secretary Sindhushree Khullar. All are armed with decades long experiences in administration, top class educational degrees and rich network among political leaders. Sindhushree Khullar, for example, did her masters in public administration from Harvard University while she was on the job. Anshu Vaish had a degree in developmental administration from a UK university.
But all of them will retire before current cabinet secretary Ajit Kumar Seth’s two-year term ends in May 2013. And if the earlier trends are factored in, Seth’s term will be extended at least till general elections of 2014 making it impossible for 1976 batch IAS officers too, to reach the top.
The top women officers of 1976 batch include higher education secretary Vibha Puri and land resources secretary Anita Chaudhary. Ms Chaudhary of Haryana cadre was once considered to be a big bet for home secretary’s post, but she would retire before incumbent RK Singh’s two years term ends next year. Ms Chaudhary had a three year stint in the North-Block and went up to the position of special secretary in home ministry.
Among the 1977 batch IAS, Vilasini Ramachandran and Sangita Gairola have been elevated to the full-fledged secretaries. Mrs Ramachandran who had experiences in finance ministry is now drinking water secretary, and Mrs Gairola from Rajasthan has just become culture secretary.
In addition to luck and influence, the factors that work at securing the coveted cabinet secretary’s post are age, high ranking in merit-cum seniority list and at times prior experiences in key ministries.