Remembering Neela Satyanarayan - no nonsense diplomat who feared no one

Maharashtra's first woman State Election Commissioner and retired IAS officer Neela Satyanarayan died battling COVID-19. She was 72.

A great human being, and a no nonsense bureaucrat, Satyanarayan was always ready to listen and find a solution to any problem. She was a writer, poet and thinker and on top of it she was an officer who gave 100 per cent to her job.

I have known her for over 25 years. As Principal Secretary Textile during the first Shiv Sena-BJP government led by CM Manohar Joshi, she handled the contentious issues related to textile mill lands. Despite pressure, she took a consistent stand that the workers affected by closure of mills must get justice, but not at the cost of Mumbai's development.

She was brave enough to tell the CM and ministers that if the government fails to attend to the problems of textile mill workers, it may result in adverse consequences. And, she was not scared to write her observations in the files. The government then set up more committees, including the Charles Correa committee, to study the mill land issue and suggest recommendations which will not just benefit mill owners, but the workers in particular.

As the Director General of Information and Public Relations, she took efforts to increase the connect between the various government departments and the Press. That was quite essential to get an access to the source.

When she was additional Chief Secretary Revenue she had to interact with former revenue minister Narayan Rane on a regular basis. Although, Rane being an able administrator with a full command on his department, Satyanarayan had the guts to tell her boss that she will not succumb to pressure and write on the file what is permitted as per the stipulated norms. During her tenure as additional CS, she never hogged headline for wrongdoing, rather received praise from ruling and opposition members for redressal of grievances keeping the public interest in mind.

Although termed as side posting, Satyanarayan as the MD Film City Development Corporation emerged as a strong advocate of film and cultural development. Her role there subsequently came quite handy to pen script for Hindi and Marathi films.

After retirement, the State Election Commissioner post was waiting for her, literally. The Congress-NCP government appointed her as the first woman State Election Commissioner. Although it was completely different from her previous posts, Satyanarayan established a good rapport with all political parties.

After her tenure ended, she devoted her time to her family and also took up writing. As an officer sensitive to current issues, she wrote articles for newspapers and authored several books and poems.

During the coronavirus lockdown, we used to speak almost everyday. She was concerned over the spurt in the cases and the problems faced by the public. Before her passing, she had penned her lockdown experiences.

We have lost a great human being and a people-friendly IAS officer.

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