Hyderabad: Recently appointed the additional secretary in Telangana Chief Minister’s Office, Smita Sabharwal has made history of sorts. She is not only the youngest to make it to the CMO, but also breaks the glass ceiling by becoming the first women to work so closely with the administration.
Smita has served only 13 years, two years shy of the general standard of 15 years to even be considered for the post. But her 13-year service has been so brilliant that the authorities could not help but take notice.
The fact that she brings with her a sense of hope wherever she is posted is evident on her Facebook fan pages with comments like: “Now that Smita madam is here, new days have arrived for Karimnagar”.
And a tech-savvy Smita, who is known for monitoring government health centres and girls’ hostels in Medak via Skype, keeps a track of her pages as well. “I am aware of several pages on my name. I do visit them regularly to get crucial feedback or even see what the people want,” she says.
Smita’s work began to come to the fore over the last three years, when she was handed the responsibilities of Karimnagar and Medak. She took charge of the Telangana regions around 2011, at the peak of the agitation for a separate state.
“I saw that no government offices were working on full capacity. This was also around the time when the Telan-gana agitations had peaked. So I made sure there was a push for basic administration work that had to be done, despite the disturbances,” she says, trying to make sense of why she was “noticed”.
The results of Smita’s administration are loud and evident. Under her administration, pass percentages in schools have gone up, child marriages are down and even health, especially of women, has improved. “It was a concerted effort to improve primary health centres. We had to remove that block from people’s minds, of hopelessness, that there was no use of even going to a government-run centre ‘because it would be ‘locked’,” she says.
Her first posting was in Adilabad in 2001 — one of the most backward regions. She later worked in Chittoor and Kadapa, before Warangal, a town she transformed with her ‘Fund Your City’ plan, which meant bringing in public-private partnerships (PPPs) to give Warangal public utilities such as traffic junctions, foot-over-bridges, bus stops and parks.
And before her CMO posting, she was serving as district collector in Medak during the 2014 polls. But Smita insists that she isn’t the only bureaucrat who works with dedication. “Most of us are honest, dedicated people... it’s just that work done in rural areas often go unnoticed, that’s all.”
The young IAS officer is also strictly against any political or regional affiliations. “Honestly, it’s not about which region you are serving. When I was in Adilabad, it was still part of the united state. The real happiness is in the outcome... when dreams become a reality — like the wide roads in Warangal for instance, or when a young mother thanks you for the facilities — at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”
Smita was particularly upset when the media focussed on her “tears” during the Medak Martyrs’ Day recently. “The event was about remembering those who lost their lives for the cause. And there were families who couldn’t control their tears. For them, it was about loss of a loved one and not any other implications. So, when they embraced me and cried, I was of course reduced to tears.
That’s called compassion,” she adds. Smita, only 36, doesn’t believe in projecting a romantic picture of her journey. “After graduation, my father asked me to try for IAS as it was a good platform and I did,” she puts it simply.
“I was a regular Army child growing up in a cantonment, very protected and without any exposure to the rural or the difficult life, besides the travelling we did as a family with dad’s postings,” she admits. Married to Akun Sabharwal, a batchmate and a well-known cop in the city, Smita has two children —– eight-year-old son Nanak and six-year-old daughter Bhuvis.
“To be honest, I can’t claim that I have been able to juggle my professional and personal lives very well. I have been feeling guilty that I don’t spend enough time with them. So far, they have been too young to complain. But over the last year, I have noticed that they expect me to spend more time with them. And I definitely plan to make that happen,” she says.