Himachal fair to fairer sex

Shimla : Call it a coincidence, but many top slots in the Himachal Pradesh administration are occupied by women.

Be it the gubernatorial chair held by Urmila Singh or bureaucratic posts, women are calling the shots. Even the state’s largest civic body, Shimla Municipal Corporation, is headed by a woman, Madhu Sood.

The December 2010 panchayati raj elections in Kamru village of Kinnaur district had unanimously elected an all-woman panchayat, comprising seven members. The panchayat has 1,100 voters, mostly tribals.

“The village was facing an acute water shortage for many years, but no earlier panchayat, headed mostly by men, took interest in solving the problem. On assuming charge, our first priority was to provide water,” said Rattan Manjari, vice president of Kamru panchayat.

She said work has started for laying the waterpipes. Likewise, a rainwater harvesting tank has been undergoing construction for irrigating fields.

“Now we are going to launch a women’s awareness campaign with other woman-dominated panchayats to enable women, especially the uneducated and old, to get dignity in society.”

Shimla Municipal Corporation mayor Madhu Sood believes women are more successful than the male counterparts in running the affairs of civic bodies.

“Since a female is more sensitive to civic issues like cleaning of streets and maintenance of parks and open spaces, she can deliver the services better,” she said, adding “women are also less prone to corruption than men”.

Urmila Singh is the fourth woman governor the state has had since its inception in January 1971. She succeeded the late Prabha Rau in January 2010.

The two others, besides Rau, were Sheila Kaul and V.S. Rama Devi.

Likewise, chief secretary Rajwant Sandhu preceded Asha Swaroop on her superannuation. Sandhu resigns by the end of this month.

Speculation is rife about the possibility of the state getting a third successive woman chief secretary, as Harinder Hira is the seniormost bureaucrat in Himachal right now.

“To empower at the grassroots, we were among the few states to reserve 50 percent seats for women in panchayati raj institutions, except the post of vice-president, which is open. Today over 1,600 panchayats (out of the total 3,195) are governed by the fairer sex,” Chief Minister P.K. Dhumal said .

He said in December last year the government launched a mother-and-child-tracking scheme in which each pregnancy cases would be registered. This was aimed at checking female foeticide.

But when it comes to giving representation to women in parliamentary elections in the state, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has never fielded a woman candidate since the state achieved statehood in 1971.

The Congress has put up women candidates four times. They were Pratibha Singh – twice for the Mandi seat (2004 and 1998) and Chandresh Kumari – twice for the Kangra seat (1984 and 1989).

Congress veteran and leader of opposition Vidya Stokes, 84, has been active since a time when representation of women in politics was almost negligible.

However, in the 2009 general elections, neither party had put up a single woman candidate.

As per the provisional census, the population of Himachal Pradesh is 6,856,509, of which 3,473,892 are men and 3,382,617 women.

Also, Lahaul and Spiti has set an example with a sex ratio of 1,013 females per 1,000 males in the 0-6 age group – the highest in the country at the district level.

Census director Balbir Tegta says there has been a big jump in the literacy rate of women in the state. It was recorded at 76.60 percent in 2011 as against 67.42 percent in the previous census.

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