by Narendra Kaushik
IT was peer pressure that brought Rita Sinha—than Rita Kudwa—into Indian Administrative Service (IAS). She was pursuing masters in geography from Punjab University and her professor, AB Mukherjee, was very keen on her getting into academics after it.
“I found teaching dull. I had no clue about IAS as well. I appeared in the UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) examination because many of my seniors and classmates also sat for it,” she says. In 1973, the UPSC recommended her for Indian Foreign Service (IFS), but being the only child of her parents—Colonel SK Kudwa from Karnataka and Prem, a Punjabi woman—she opted out of it and instead chose the IAS.
On July 8, 1973, she joined Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA). Her husband Alok, also from 1973 batch (they married after completion of their training), joined the academy a few months later as the then government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took time to ensure that he had no fascination left for communist ideology. Alok was allotted West Bengal cadre while Rita got into Uttar Pradesh State. She could not have switched over to West Bengal because the State did not post husband and wife together. He instead opted for Uttar Pradesh.
During her on-field training in Dehradun, she conducted a study on child labour and gathered data from the district. The subject brought about her first brush with ruling politicians in Chakrata when she got posted there as a Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) between April 1974 and May 1976. She immediately cracked down on a couple of villages and seized bullocks, ploughs and seeds from Rajput landlords who kept bonded labour. She reminisces the labourers sang songs and made merry while ploughing the fields in her presence during the day.
But at night her detractors turned the tables on her. They had a meeting with local MLA Gulab Singh who, in turn, secured them audience with the then State Chief Minister Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna in Lucknow. Next morning, Sinha found a telex message on her table informing about her transfer to Roorkee sub division. Luckily, District Magistrate of Dehradun, MA Ansari, strongly objected to the order and got her transferred back. She not only succeeded in freeing bonded labourers from the farms of Rajput landlords, but also raided MLA Gulab Singh’s house and freed them from there. This time around, Singh had no guts to oppose the legal action.
Sinha completed her tenure of less than two years and got promoted to Additional District Magistrate (ADM) in Moradabad on May 12, 1976. Her mandate included subsidising purchase of Murrah buffaloes for farmers. The water buffalo breed would yield 14 to 15 litres of milk in a day and thus add to a farmer’s income. But, during a follow up she found that the milk yield dropped to almost half in almost all cases after the purchase.
To arrest this, she introduced an award for best-kept buffaloes and involved veterinary department to treat foot-and-mouth and other diseases in the buffaloes and suggest nutritious fodder. The then Agriculture Production Commissioner liked her initiatives and ordered their replication in all districts of the State.
On July 31, 1977, Sinha was appointed Deputy Secretary (appointments) in the State secretariat at Lucknow. She reported to the Chief Secretary. Her workload was so heavy that she would carry files wrapped in a double bed sheet to her residence and get up early in the morning to clear them. She would issue a paper slip (signed and stamped) to her peon for transport of the files.
One day, her peon was on leave and she decided to carry the bed sheet to her car. But a secretariat guard stopped her at the gate because there was no paper slip with her. She told him that she was the Deputy Secretary who would issue the slips, but he was unmoved. She ultimately had to fetch a paper slip (duly stamped and signed) from her office. This time, not only did the guard allow her to exit with the files but also greeted her with a salaam.
On May 31, 1979, she joined her husband Alok in Pauri Garhwal district. While the former worked as District Magistrate, she discharged the duties of Deputy Development Commissioner. She found it difficult to implement development schemes because women ploughers did not have agricultural land in their name and would not get loans from banks.
In those days, an overwhelming majority of young males from the district were in army. Uttarakhand, then a part of Uttar Pradesh, she points out, had highest per capita income in those days thanks to ‘money order’ economy.
On July 13, 1987, Sinha was deployed in Noida Development Authority as OSD (Film City). Her assignment was to create a film city in the planned metro. But she realised after visiting the film city in Mumbai that Noida was no place for it. Unlike the Mumbai film city, it had no junior artists, no cameramen, no antique furniture showrooms and other paraphernalia required for film shootings. It was around this time that then Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary Kalyan Krishnan visited the city. She was called for the meeting.
When she expressed her difficulties, Krishnan simply told her that ‘as a good bureaucrat’ she must ensure that the film city comes up.
She subsequently approached T-Series’ Gulshan Kumar for an interface with the biggies of Bollywood. Sinha had eight plots at her disposal and took great pains to market these to filmmakers like Yash Chopra, FC Mehra, Atluri Puranachandra Rao, Marwahs and others. This included shifting of electric poles at night, pumping out water from the plots and arranging for bhumi pujan (ground breaking ceremony) at the eleventh hour.
She even interchanged a filmmaker’s plot with administrative land because the latter believed the number of the plot was not lucky for him. To ensure that film stars like Rishi Kapoor, Jitendra and Jaya Prada do not get mobbed in property offices, she would get the registration done in her office. A sub-registrar extracted his pound of flesh for the process and got photographed with each of the film stars who visited her to look for a plot.
In February 3, 2004, Rita Sinha was appointed Principal Secretary by Mulayam Singh Yadav government and given charge of culture, banking and tax and registration departments. Amar Singh, who was then very close to Yadav, wanted her to allot plots of land to his hotelier friends for Commonwealth Games 2010. He told her to devise a criterion based on reputation and balance sheet profits. She replied reputation was an ‘intangible’ and allotting plots on its basis could get them on the wrong side of the law.
As a result, Mulayam took away tourism charge from her. Singh had his way with her successor. But the plot allotment got challenged in the Supreme Court, which ordered a CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) inquiry. In a testimony with the investigative agency, Sinha named Singh for the irregularities.
Sinha’s last posting was as Secretary, Department of Land Resources, under the Rural Development Ministry. She designed the Land Acquisition Amendment Act 2009, worked out Relief and Rehabilitation Act and launched National Land Record Modernisation (NLRM), which is now an integral part of digital India. She retired on July 31, 2010, after serving for over 37 years. Sinhas stay with their only daughter Niharika and grandchildren in Delhi NCR.
As told to Narendra Kaushik
FIRST STIRRINGS / rita sinha
VOL. 11 | ISSUE 10 | Jan 2018