Petite, vivacious and articulate, she can easily pass for a prime time news anchor as she walks through the corridors of Doordarshan Bhawan. Or for that matter, a special Presenter when she hits the field for live coverage of a big event like the Independence Day. But that’s how Supriya Sahu has always operated all through her 25 years in the IAS. Preferring to roll up her kurta sleeves and lead by example, from the front, the Director General of Doordarshan has no airs about her top job as the boss of the ‘country’s own channel’.
A 1991 batch IAS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre, Supriya is still hailed for her stint as the Collector of Nilgiris, a post she held 14 years ago. Keen on “doing something spectacular” to celebrate the ‘International Year of Mountains, 2002’, her Masters Degree in Botany probably came in handy. Native shola saplings were planted on 62.75 acres in Kurthukuli village by the local people, with the district administration, jawans of the Madras Regimental Centre, Special Task Force personnel, tribal youth from Mudumalai and field staff from the forest department. Braving the “bone chilling cold and difficult terrain”, 42,182 trees were planted on a single day, catapulting Nilgiris into the Guiness Book of World Records, surpassing a previous feat in Canada. “The 24th June, 2002 was an unforgettable day for me. It inspired many Collectors in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere in India to attempt to break our record.” In hindsight, Supriya is glad that records are created only to be broken.
In many of her other district postings, Supriya spearheaded efforts to save the environment, with ‘no plastic’ drives. Quite the darling of the media, Supriya has had a knack for coming up with novel ideas and schemes despite the constraints of a goverment structure. During her tenure as the Secretary, Social Welfare of Tamil Nadu, she streamlined several schemes like the nutritious noon meal programme and pensions.
Over a steaming cup of herbal tea, which she had prepared herself, I first formally met Supriya when she was the Managing Director and Project Director of the Tamil Nadu AIDS Control Society (TANSACS). Some of her initiatives to ameliorate the plight of HIV positive people and to shatter the stigma associated with the condition. “There is nothing negative about being positive” was her catchphrase. Supriya had also come to the rescue of transgenders noting that “their first point of contact with the State would be the Police.” A massive sensitisation programme involving 7000 police officers and men was conducted to ensure that transgenders were treated with dignity.
Deputation with the Centre beckoned and Supriya was posted as the Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. A firm believer in the power of Community Radio in empowerment and “disaster management”, it has been her “pet project” and she was instrumental in it being included in the 12th Five Year Plan with a ten crore allocation. Her mantra at that stage was to “simplify and demistify” this medium with a goal to make a quantum leap from 28 stations in 2002 to 144 in 2012. “We should grow so much that we will fill the plenary hall of Vigyan Bhawan” Supriya was once quoted as saying.
When Supriya returned to the Tamil Nadu cadre, she was posted as the Chairperson and managing Director of the Tamil Nadu Industrial Investment Corporation (TIIC).
Soon enough, her involvement and experience in drawing up the Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill and the Content Code for TV Channels in the Information & Broadcasting Ministry as well as her dynamism and ability to think out of the ‘idiot box’ won her the post of Director General – Doordarshan this year.
Married to her batchmate in the IAS – Muruganandam, who is now the Managing Director of the Indian Ports Association, the officer couple have a 7 year old son Aditya. Regular yoga and herbal tea are possibly the secret behind her youthful charm and calm demeanour. With crucial decisions on content and audience research to be taken on a regular basis, the State broadcaster could not have got a better jackpot!
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer, Senior Journalist, Author, Mentor – Silver Tongue Academy Resource and Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)