The captain who steers Mayawati’s new ship

By Sharat Pradhan


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Lucknow : That her new stint as the Uttar Pradesh chief minister is going to be different became amply evident the day Mayawati chose an entirely new team of bureaucrats for her core team.

Mayawati has shunned her earlier caste-dominated approach and broken the bureaucratic shackles to appoint Shashank Shekhar Singh, who is not from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), as captain of her new administration.

Shashank Shekhar Singh's appointment was not just because he was among the few bureaucrats who was ignored when former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav ruled – apparently because as he refused to be baited into giving a tutored statement to nail Mayawati in the Taj Corridor corruption case.

An upright officer who became Uttar Pradesh's first cabinet secretary after having been in that grade for 17 long years, Singh is widely known as a man of action, a doer and a hard taskmaster.

His appointment was also a major deviation from Yadav's act of entrusting the chief secretary's job to two officers who had been voted among the state's three most corrupt in the IAS ranks by their peers and who were removed only following the Supreme Court's intervention.

A former army officer, commissioned in 1970 and ranked as an ace helicopter pilot, Shashank Shekhar Singh originally came on deputation to the state government, where he got absorbed as director of civil aviation way back in 1980.

He worked his way up the ladder. In the mid-80s, then chief minister Veer Bahadur Singh made him secretary of the civil aviation department, much to the chagrin of the cadre-conscious Indian Administrative Service (IAS) lobby.

That was the turning point, and Shashank Shekhar Singh never missed an opportunity to prove his mettle. His task commenced with the creation of new and revival of some old and abandoned World War II airfields in Uttar Pradesh that included present day Uttarakhand.

He served in various capacities including as principal secretary of the tourism department, where did his bit to tap Uttar Pradesh's rich yet untapped tourism potential.

He was selected as chairman-cum-managing director of Indian Airlines when Vishwanath Pratap Singh was the prime minister but was not relieved by the state government to take up the assignment.

However, during president's rule in 2002, then Uttar Pradesh Governor Romesh Bhandari made him his principal secretary, a highly sought after slot.

When Mayawati assumed office for the third time in 2002, she detailed Shashank Shekhar Singh as the state's industrial development commissioner, overseeing at least half a dozen full-fledged departments headed by principal secretaries.

He also remained ex-officio chairman of Noida and Greater Noida. He was among the rare heads of Noida or Greater Noida never accused of any irregularities.

When IANS drew his attention to the so-called Rs.7.5 billion Taj Corridor scam in which Mayawati has been named a beneficiary, the officer shot back: "I don't see any scam. All that loud talk about the government proposing to build giant shopping malls in the backdrop of the Taj was simply a figment of imagination of a section of the media. As time went by, it was blown out of proportion.

"I don't understand what gave birth to this figure of Rs.7.5 billion? The total money disbursed towards that project, meant to protect the walls of the Taj from the changing course of the Yamuna waters, was only Rs.170 million."

Shashank Shekhar Singh is involved in charting a blueprint for large-scale infrastructure development in the state.

These include creation of an international airport-cum-aviation hub in the vicinity of New Delhi's over-crowded Indira Gandhi international airport.

"This airport would be somewhere along Taj Expressway, the state's first ultra modern, 90-minute road link between Delhi and Agra," he said.

Assisting Mayawati and Shashank Shekhar Singh would be IAS officers and a World Bank consultant. Mayawati's agenda is clear: transform Uttar Pradesh, now a sick state, into "Uttam Pradesh", the ideal state.