|IAS probationers of 2013 batch|
Singh himself was the Prime Minister. But first, here is an excerpt of the PM’s speech delivered on Friday: “I am very happy that a very large proportion of probationers now happen to be women. Women occupy 50 percent of the space of population of our country. And there can be no development which does not pay particular attention to the well-being of our women. And therefore it is a very good development, that in recent years, more and more women are joining the central services, and among these the IAS is the most privileged.”
This sounds genuine. But the fact remains that for many more years, no woman bureaucrat could become cabinet secretary, India’s top bureaucrat by rank and pay. “The reason is more of technical in nature than competence and capabilities of corridor’s top women,” BoI wrote in an article in March 5, 2012. In fact, it was a narrow miss for 1972 batch Kerala cadre IAS Sudha Pillai who was then the senior most IAS in 2009, but she was denied the opportunity when the government decided to give an extension to the incumbent cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar. Prime Minister could have probably put his foot down and made history in Indian bureaucracy by inducting a woman officer at the top. But he did not. Maybe, he realized that Chandrasekhar had a good relation with TKA Nair, the then principal secretary to PM. And probably, neither Nair nor Singh was sure how Mrs Pillai would be as cabinet secretary.
Mrs Pillai had an outstanding track record in bureaucracy, and no one would have objected to her becoming the cabinet secretary. She was later compensated by giving the coveted post of Member Secretary of the Planning Commission with the rank of a minister of state. Her husband and also batch-mate GK Pillai was made Union home secretary for two years.
In terms of salary, cabinet secretary receives Rs 90,000 per month against Rs 80,000 of other Union secretaries. In terms of perks, the officer lives in an earmarked bungalow at Prithviraj Road, one of the posh localities in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi. But that’s not the reason why every IAS officer aspires to become the cabsec (colloquial term used for cabinet secretary). In cabinet meetings, cabinet secretary sits next to the PM on the left site, even nearer to where principal secretary to PM sits. Also, in appointments of top bureaucrats and their allocation of ministries or departments, he has a major say. In other words, if a strong personality becomes the cabinet secretary, he or she could potentially become the most powerful bureaucrat in the country.
Despite three women Indian Foreign Service officers -- Chokila Iyer, Nirupama Rao and Sujatha Singh – have clinched the post of foreign secretary, the top diplomat’s position, no woman IAS has ever become cabinet secretary. To be fair to PM Singh, Mrs Rao and Mrs Singh became foreign secretaries during the UPA regime. For Sujatha Singh, it was not a cakewalk to become the top diplomat's post despite she was the senior most, as PMO reportedly wanted S Jaishankar, the then India's ambassador to China and an officer junior to her for the top post.
Significantly, no woman IAS has become home or defence secretary either. In fact, secretaries in the ministries of home and defence along with cabinet secretary and foreign secretary get a two-year fixed tenure, as these posts are considered more important than the rest.