A 1987-batch IAS officer, Vini Mahajan, on Friday became the first woman bureaucrat in the history of Punjab to be elevated to the top post of the state’s Chief Secretary.
With her elevation it is also for the first time in Punjab’s history that both the civil and police administrations in the state are headed by an IAS-IPS couple. Mahajan is the wife of state DGP Dinkar Gupta.
She took charge as the new Chief Secretary on Friday replacing Karan Avtar Singh, who has now been posted as Special Chief Secretary, Governance Reforms and Public Grievances.
The orders announcing Mahajan’s elevation were awaited for over a week. Considered close to the CM among the state’s bureaucrats, Mahajan was tipped to be the CS for the past couple of days.
While some had claimed that her husband Dinkar Gupta’s assignment as DGP may come in the way of her being elevated, it was counter-argued that an officer could not be denied an opportunity because her spouse was holding an important position the government.
Karan Avtar Singh’s premature ouster
While Karan Avtar Singh was set to retire on August 31, Mahajan has succeeded him two months prior to that. CM Amarinder Singh had backed him to the hilt last month when he was embroiled in a row for alleged “misbehavior” with Cabinet ministers. The ministers had sought that he should be ousted. The CM had, however, thrown his weight behind him.
Sources in the government said that Singh is likely to be absorbed in the government after his retirement in August.
He is learnt to have applied for the post of Chairperson of Punjab Water Regulatory Authority. The committee that would finalise the appointment is to be headed by the Chief Secretary. Sources added that being Chief Secretary himself, Singh could not have selected himself, so it was only natural for him to step down from the post of CS in advance.
But while Karan Avtar Singh is tipped to be the Chairperson of Punjab’s Water Regulatory Authority after his retirement, party MLA Amrinder Singh Raja Warring thanked the CM for ousting him. He wrote on his Facebook that he had demanded Singh’s removal as CS.
Mahajan supersedes five IAS officers
The new Chief Secretary, Vini Mahajan, meanwhile, has superseded five IAS officers senior to her in the pecking order and has affected the chances of elevation of a batch-mate, Viswajeet Khanna.
While Mahajan is a 1987-batch IAS officer she is youngest of all six colleagues and retires in October, 2024. The five IAS officers, who Mahajan she has superseded, include a 1984-batch K B S Sidhu, and four 1985-batch officers — Arun Goel, C Roul, Satish Chandra and Kalpana Mittal Baruah.
Decks for Mahajan’s elevation were cleared on the day the government posted Viswajeet Khanna as Financial Commissioner (Revenue) after removing K B S Sidhu from the post a few days ago. The senior-most officer in Punjab now, Sidhu, it is learnt, was being favoured by the Congress high command to be the next Chief Secretary. Several senior party leaders, sources said, had been calling up the Chief Minister to elevate him.
Amarinder, who had earlier also withstood pressure to pick Dinkar Gupta as the DGP instead of Transport Minister Razia Sultana’s IPS husband, Mohd Mustafa, did not buckle under pressure this time too.
Sidhu is set to retire in July, 2021. After Sidhu, a 1985-batch officer Arun Goel also retires in December, 2022 and C Roul retires in December this year. Both the officers were not in the reckoning to be the Chief Secretary as both are on a central deputation.
Another 1985-batch officer Satish Chandra, who is currently Home Secretary, too would retire in September, 2020. Kalpana Mittal Baruah also retires in November, 2020.
Viswajeet Khanna, who is now on the second top-most post of civil administration as FCR, a 1987-batch officer, retires in June next year.
He was also a strong contender for the post. He was being watched closely as he belongs to Patiala and reportedly has a connection with the erstwhile royal family. His presence in Chief Minister’s parties for past quite some time was being seen as his chance to be the next CS. But with Mahajan’s elevation, he is set to be out of reckoning now as he retires next year.
Impressive track record
Mahajan steps into her new role on the back of an impressive track record. She was the first woman Deputy Commissioner in Punjab when she was appointed as DC, Ropar, in 1995.
Being the only Punjab cadre officer currently in the state who is empanelled to hold position as Secretary, Government of India, Mahajan was till now serving as Additional Chief Secretary, Investment Promotion, Industries & Commerce, IT and Governance Reforms and Public Grievances. She has been playing a crucial role in steering the state government’s response to the Covid crisis as Chairman, Health Sector Response & Procurement Committee.
While talking to media after taking over, she said that she would strive to make the state regain the position of being the best governed state in India. She said, “Punjabis are hard-working people. The state has been the best state on various counts. I will strive hard to ensure that there is total coordination between the officials so that the state could regain its lost glory.”
She added that amid Covid crisis, “where CM was handling the state well,” she would work towards making the economy also get back on track.
An Economics graduate from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, and a post-graduate from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Calcutta, where she was placed on the Roll of Honour and later also received the Distinguished Alumnus Award, Mahajan was pivotal in the state’s success in attracting over Rs 20,000 crore new investment every year during her tenure in Investment Promotion and Industries & Commerce portfolios.
A government statement said that it was with her at the helm of the department that Punjab participated for the first time in the World Economic Forum at Davos in 2019, and held a highly successful Investor Summit, with focus on MSMEs, in December 2019.
It added that it was under her able leadership, that the department saw massive improvements in infrastructure in the focal points, and new mega ‘Industrial Parks’ were also taken up. Also, a centre of excellence and several incubators were launched for promoting and mentoring start-ups, and recently, as part of governance reforms in the state, a completely new Public Grievances Redressal Policy was launched with her efforts.
Further, during her term as Additional Chief Secretary Revenue, Punjab became the first state in the country to roll out the National Generic Document Registration System, the statement added.
Vini Mahajan had also served in the office of former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh from 2005-2012, and handled, matters relating to finance, industry and commerce, telecom, etc. She was part of the core team of the central government that put together India’s domestic response, during the global financial meltdown in 2008. She had also participated in the global response through the G-20 mechanism.
In Punjab, she has served in various capacities, including MDPIDB and as the first Director, Disinvestment. She was appointed as Chief Administrator of the new Anandpur Sahib Development Authority in 1997, and also CEO.
Mahajan, the statement said, has received numerous academic awards, including the National Talent Search Scholarship. She was a Hubert Humphrey fellow based at American University in Washington DC in 2000-2001. According to the government statement, she had got admission to both IIT and AIIMS, Delhi in 1982 after she finished her Class 12 grade from Modern School, New Delhi.
Her father, B B Mahajan, was also an IAS officer of the Punjab cadre. Topper of the 1957-batch, he held important positions, including FCR in Punjab, before retiring as Secretary, Food, Government of India.
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