Over a month after he had a face-off with Punjab ministers over changes in state’s excise policy, chief secretary (CS) Karan Avtar Singh was on Friday replaced by Vini Mahajan, who becomes the first woman to head the bureaucracy in the state.

Singh, whose retirement is due next month, took over as special chief secretary for governance reforms. Punjab ministers including finance minister Manpreet, technical education minister Charanjit Singh Channi and cooperation and jails Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa had demanded his removal as CS for insisting that the changes recommended by the ministers to the excise policy could not be taken on board.

A Congress leader and Gidderbaha legislator Amrinder Singh Raja Warring had taken to Twitter to target the then chief secretary by alleging the latter’s family had links and stakes in liquor trade in Punjab.

While Mahajan, a 1987-batch IAS officer, is now the top bureaucrat in Punjab, her husband Dinkar Gupta is currently the Director General of Police (DGP).
The new CS has 33 years of experience in a host of key positions in the Central and Punjab governments.

The only Punjab cadre officer currently in the state who is empaneled to hold position as secretary in the Union government, Mahajan was till now serving as additional chief secretary, investment promotion, industries and commerce, information technology 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.

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 and commerce.

Mahajan earlier served in the office of the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh from 2005-2012, and handled matters relating to finance, industry and commerce, telecom, IT, etc. She was part of the core team of the central government that put together India’s domestic response, during and following the global financial meltdown. She also participated in the global response through the G-20 mechanism.

Earlier in 2004-05 as director in the Union government’s department of economic affairs, Mahajan was involved with India’s external assistance programme, as well as infrastructure issues.