Within weeks of a secretary-rank Indian Foreign Service officer Veena Sikri alleging gender bias in her supercession, the External Affairs Ministry has said that no woman officer had been denied her due on the basis of gender.
A 1971-batch officer, Sikri was among the 16 officers superceded by Shiv Shankar Menon when the government appointed him foreign secretary. Two of them resigned from the service; Sikri stayed on but complained against the gender bias.
Sikri was the second woman officer to have missed a top position in the bureaucracy despite figuring high on the seniority list since last year. An Indian Administrative Service officer Reva Nayyar was on the verge of crashing through the glass ceiling and making it to the Cabinet Secretary's post. An extension of the incumbent BK Chaturvedi, however, killed her chances.
A Delhi resident, Dev Ashish Bhattacharya, suspected a bias against women officers and filed an application under the right to information for a list of woman officers who had been denied their due because of gender bias in the government over the last five years. He also asked the women and child development (WCD) ministry what it was doing to safeguard their interest.
"As far as the Ministry of External Affairs is concerned, no women IFS officer has been denied her due in the last five years on the basis of gender," the foreign ministry's central public information officer told Bhattacharya in its response last week.
The WCD ministry also responded, pointing that it was incumbent upon the authorities in the government to ensure that women officers do not suffer any gender bias. It was also pointed that the WCD minister Renuka Chowdhury had last year drawn the attention of the Cabinet Secretary to the "prevailing gender inequality in the services and posts" that needed to be addressed immediately.
In this letter, Chowdhury had asked the Cabinet Secretary to ensure that all women in the services are necessarily given exposure and made to rotate in all core sector ministries/departments as an enabling process and capacity building.
"It would, therefore, be in the fitness if an appropriate plan is prepared and the women civil servants are posted in all the key sectors of government as a routine," she said.
Bhattacharya said the ministries of home, law and justice and personnel are yet to respond. He added that he intended to move another application at the Cabinet Secretariat to ascertain what action had been taken on the minister's letter.