The UPA government has set the stage for the country’s first woman Lok Sabha Speaker, Meira Kumar, but sealed the prospects of another woman, a civil servant, from breaching the glass ceiling.
An IAS officer of the 1972 batch, Labour Secretary Sudha Pillai was among the seniormost civil servants of the country and in the zone of consideration for the Cabinet Secretary’s post.
But a terse one-line statement by the Prime Minister’s Office extending the incumbent’s tenure ensures Pillai would miss the chance to make history.
“The Government has approved the extension of tenure of the present Cabinet Secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar by a period of one year from June 13, 2009,” the PMO statement said.
Chandrasekhar completes his two-year term on 13 June.
Pillai is the second woman civil servant to have missed the top post in the bureaucracy by a whisker. Reva Nayyar — a Haryana cadre officer — was the first woman bureaucrat to be in the running for the cabinet secretary’s post in 2006.
A one-year extension to the incumbent then, B.K. Chaturvedi, had killed her chances; she retired as the secretary in the department of child and women development.
The ceiling was breached in Rashtrapati Bhavan nearly two years ago when the Manmohan Singh government nominated Pratibha Devisingh Patil as India’s first woman President.
In the civil services, the Indian Foreign Service is the only All India Service to have breached this ceiling. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had appointed Chokila Iyer as the country’s first woman foreign secretary in 2000.
The IFS could repeat this performance: India’s Ambassador to China Nirupama Rao is in the running for the Foreign Secretary’s post when Shiv Shankar Menon steps down in a few weeks.