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A wise woman—surely it couldn’t have been a man—once said: Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become a reality.

What has been firmly implanted in my subconscious, and conscious, mind as long as I can remember is that I wanted to become an officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). I was a Class 12 student, when I once visited the office of the district magistrate (DM) to get a residential certificate. I was moved from one table to the other for close to an hour. I was rather dismayed and told the head clerk in that office right then that one day I would become the DM and as his boss change everything.

This is not just a random snatch from my life. It was always my dream to get into the administrative service. Even when after studies I landed a plum job at Deloitte, my heart was still set on the IAS. On my first attempt, however, I got a rank that allowed me to enter the Indian Revenue Service (IRS).

I quit Deloitte to join the IRS. The following year I attempted the Civil Services exam again and this time my rank enabled me to get into the Indian Police Service. My family and friends were elated, and so was I. However, my heart was still set on the IAS.

Then, in my third attempt I got an all-India rank of 19 and that meant I had realised my dream. So, what was it about this service that kept me going is a question I am often asked. The answer is diversity. All policy initiatives in this vast and diverse country of ours is implemented by IAS officers.

You get to interact with people at the grassroots level and you are very quickly able to see the impact of what you are putting into effect. That is just so immensely gratifying.

I am no more than six years into the administrative service. That’s effectively four years in the field; the first two years in our lives go into training. But already there are so many highlights.

I was the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) in Rampurhat, Birbhum district, in West Bengal, when the first Covid wave hit us. We were in a lockdown and in an uncharted territory. People found their work had come to a standstill and they all wanted to return to their villages. It was a massive challenge for us at the field level to manage such a mass movement of people—from screening them, to quarantining and ensuring they reached their homes safely.

I would have facilitated the transportation of some 15,000 people. One day I received a call from my DM that a special train was coming to Rampurhat from Malda and there were 700 people onboard, including three full-term pregnant women who had not eaten anything in at least 36 hours. It was my responsibility to ensure that all these people got food and water. I took special care in handing over food to the three pregnant ladies, and the smile that lit up their faces was just so rewarding. It’s days like that which convince you that the IAS is the service to be in.

I am currently Additional District Magistrate in Purba Medinipur district. It has a population of more than 60 lakh. The budget for the zila parishad is Rs. 250 crore. I have to spend a lot of civil works here with the main focus on development of roads and infrastructure, streamlining the processes, and monitoring them to ensure that no financial impropriety happens. This is an onerous responsibility.

Right now, I am extremely pleased with the sort of grassroots level interaction with people. In time, when I am posted to the state capital, that connect will be gone, but it will always stand me in good stead as my profile shifts from policy implementation to policy making. It’s our job in the IAS to create a framework and lay down processes so that the system can take care of the people. As an administrator, you want to ensure that the people get the benefits of the government schemes which they are eligible for. You have the opportunity to transform lives.

For ten long years, I carried with me a piece of paper that had written on it: Dr. Sweta Agarwal, IAS. Why the Dr. suffix, you might ask? It’s another dream that I have. I want to do a PhD from an Ivy League institution.

About the author

Sweta Agarwal is the Additional District Magistrate (Zila Parishad) of the Purba Medinipur district. She graduated in economics from St. Xavier's College, Kolkata. Sweta belongs to the 2016 batch of IAS, West Bengal cadre.