Smita Sabharwal,40, is India’s youngest IAS officer to be appointed to the Chief Minister’s Office. She is a hardworking bureaucrat who has a strong passion for public service.
Smita was born in West Bengal on June 19, 1977. She originally hails from Darjeeling. Her father, Colonel PK Das, was an Army officer who was very often transferred to different places.So, Smita grew up attending schools in different parts of India. After completing her graduation in Commerce from Hyderabad’s St Francis Degree College for Women, Smita who was already an All-India topper in ICSE Standard XII was encouraged by her parents to appear for the civil service examination. The simple and sober looking hardworking girl made her parents proud by clearing the exams with flying colors. She secured the fourth rank in the country. Smita Sabharwal was just 22 when she cleared UPSC and became one of the youngest to have cracked this exam!
After her selection she had tenures as Sub-Collector of Chitoor, Project Director at Kadapa’s Rural Development Agency, Municipal Commissioner of Warangal, and Joint Collector of Kurnool and Hyderabad. She engaged with the public and built infrastructure in the Maoist hit areas. Smita Sabharwal’s these innovative ideas soon began bringing about long wanted change. One of her most famous schemes was the “Fund Your City” initiative in Warangal. Under this a large number of public utilities like over-bridges, bus stops and parks were built through Public-Private Partnership known as PPP.
Smita Sabharwal’s outstanding work on these deputations made her earn appreciation and goodwill of common people. She was soon promoted to the rank of District Collector of Karimnagar, one of Telangana’s backward districts. It was this tenure during which Smita’s people-centred initiatives, proofs-based policy making and strict program evaluations earned her the title of People’s Officer. Sad to see speed and level of development works specially in healthcare and education sector Smita immediately started working for their betterment.
Finding out that only 9% deliveries were being done at hospitals, she launched the ‘Amma Lalana’ meaning ‘mother’s nurturing’ scheme in which periodic maternal checkups were made freely available to underprivileged women. Smita Sabharwal followed this up by revamping government hospitals. Sanitation and cleanliness were emphasised, staff requirements were meted out, computers and internet facilities were provided in all hospitals and their functioning was monitored via Skype. Along with this awareness campaigns were launched to convince more women to come to hospitals for their deliveries. Smita also introduced a customised software that listed areas prone to anaemia, high-risk pregnancies, poor registration of ante-natal and poor access to healthcare facility letting the health department to focus on strengthening these core areas.
Owing to its immense success in reducing infant and maternal mortality rate, all districts in Telangana were soon asked to implement the Karimnagar model of encouraging hospital deliveries. Smita Sabharwal also introduced the concept of dry days i.e. removal of all stored water and filling with fresh water – to stop the breeding of mosquitoes caused by water logging. She also initiated several schemes that contributed to the improvement of the quality and quantity of education in the district.
Smita used internet-based monitoring to log into welfare hostels and ask the children about the food being served, the cleanliness of the campus and other things about their general well-being. She also keeps checking the dashboard of a one-of-its-kind performance monitoring system of government schools to know whether weak students were being given special classes and whether there had been any improvement in their performance. Within a year, Karimnagar district topped SSC pass percentage in the state, with 93.38% of its students passing the exam. Smita Sabharwal introduced innovative ways to encourage and ensure voting in villages. For instance, under the Voters Panduga scheme introduced by her, vehicles were provided to remote villages so that its residents could make it to voting centres. The district had one of the highest numbers of voters in that election!
Smita Sabharwal also launched Praja Vaani, a web based grievance redressal system in local language through which people could directly petition the District Collectorate every week. Petitioners including the sick, the aged and the diabled arrived in large numbers from all parts of the district to submit their petitions for redressal at the weekly programs conducted by their young Collector, Smita.
Due to Smita’s innovative initiatives, Karimnagar was awarded the best district in Prime Minister’s 20 Point Programme for the year 2012-2013. A number of accolades and awards were offered to Smita during this period, which politely refused to accept. Making a positive change through her work was rewarding enough to her. In 2015, Smita Sabharwal made a history by becoming the youngest IAS to be appointed to the Chief Minister’s office as an additional secretary. Outlook magzine published an article in which it termed Smita as an ‘eye candy’! Smita sued the Outlook magazine for its disrespectful and sexist remarks about her. The publication had to express its regret at the post and stated that it was not meant to be derogatory in any way.
“I feel that the world is ready for us only when we think we are ready for the world. I tell my colleagues and peers — ‘Competence and leadership have no gender’. If you are competent and focused, then no one looks at whether you are a man or a woman,” – Smita Sabharwal
Smita Sabharwal is immensely popular among youth on social media. She is a famous youth icon of the day having more than 20 fan pages and over 5 lakh followers on Facebook. She is one of India’s very few officers to have such a huge fan following proving her popularity due to innovative ways of working. Way to go girl!