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‘Civil Services is not a career, it’s a calling!’

IRS officer and Apeejay School, Noida alumnus Saumya Pandey recalls how her Geography teacher inspired her to give the UPSC exams a shot

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Currently serving as the Deputy Director, Income Tax Investigation Department at Ahmedabad, Gujarat, Saumya Pandey has been an officer of the Indian Revenue Services (IRS) for eight years now. In an interview, she talks about how the Services are more than a profession for aspirants in India and highlights the role of her school which sowed the seeds for her professional growth and development. Edited excerpts:

Please tell us about your educational journey

I completed my class 12 from Apeejay School, Noida, and I opted for the science stream during my school days. After that, I wanted to venture into the field of journalism. So, I pursued a Bachelors in Journalism from the University of Madras in Chennai.

During our college days, we had compulsory stints at top print and electronic media channels of the country and I too interned with them. These experiences really shaped my aspiration and I realised how much work it needs to become a successful journalist. I also got to know that this field was very competitive and required a person to be persistent and in it for a long haul. After my internships, I began to re-think about my career as per my personal preferences and thought of giving the Civil Services a shot. Beneath all this was the urge to make a difference and influence the course of events in the nation.

When did you begin to prepare for the UPSC examinations?

This was right after my graduation in 2007 as I enrolled myself for a Master’s degree in Geography at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi.

At Apeejay School, Noida, during classes 9 and 10, Ms. Manjari Rattan Ma’am was my geography teacher and she has had a huge influence on me. My decision to study the subject further at the post-graduate level and to opt for Geography as an additional subject in the UPSC examinations was because of her.

She has instilled in me the love for the subject, and in fact, I topped the school in Social Sciences during my Class 10 Boards in 2002. I also received a scholar certificate from CBSE, and in those days a score of 98/100 in Social Sciences was unheard of. I started giving my attempts for Civil Services 2008 onwards and cleared the papers in 2012. My formal training for the IRS began in 2013.  

What should an aspirant expect out of the IRS? What is the work profile about?

Civil Services is considered something to aspire for. In our society, being a civil servant or an officer is deemed to be a badge of honour. It is a call for service. But this should not be the reason for wanting to be part of the services. Today, the world has opened up like never before and there are opportunities to make a difference in any field and in any capacity. Being a civil servant is no measure of one’s worth and it is your contribution that really makes a difference.

If someone wants to be here, I would say that s/he should be clear about their intention and why they want to join the Services. Consider this as one of the thousand options, and evaluate your capabilities accordingly.

Coming to the IRS, we primarily deal with the administration of three laws related to personal tax: The Income Tax Act 1961, the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988 and the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and the Imposition of Tax Act, 2015. Our job is to ensure that the due taxes are being paid to the government. We also promote deterrence in the society as citizens must know that the government has the machinery to stop tax-related malpractices.

Can you please tell us about the life lessons you picked up at school that are helping you in your career?

My father too is a civil servant and he was definitely a big influence while I was deciding my career. From an early-age, my mother had instilled in me the confidence to be financially independent. Both of them, as well as Apeejay has a huge role to play in my upbringing. At school, I enjoyed a secure environment in terms of academics and extracurricular activities; my basic grooming happened there. I got several opportunities to participate in debates and competitions, and was also the Vice-Head Girl of the school.

I learnt decision-making at a very young age in my life. The school became the ecosystem for me to learn about the world. I built valuable relationships and friendships that have lasted till today. I am very thankful to the teachers and my classmates, as well as the back-benchers from my classes at school who taught me to become a risk-taker and be fearless.  

Any interesting anecdotes you would like to share from school?

Yes, I remember my class 11 teacher, Ms. Kumkum Samaria ma’am, who always provided me with a sense of safety. I felt that I could ‘look stupid’ in front of her and it would still be okay. She was a motherly figure for me and one day, I told her, “Ma’am, I am not sure what to do with my life. I don’t want to be an engineer or a doctor. Please can you help me?” And at that time, there weren’t too many professional counsellors at schools, and teachers were the prime guides who would advise you like they would do to their own kids.

She told me that I could venture into academics and I should try that. This always stayed at the back of my mind, and after college, I too gave Geography lessons to students. I received excellent feedback from them, and had it not been for her and that one conversation she had with me, I wouldn’t even have thought about it.

Your words of wisdom for students?

My advice for them would be that whatever they want to try and explore, they should start doing at school itself. This is the best time of your life, so venture out and pursue your talents. Broaden your horizons and don’t be afraid to fail. 

Mrini Devnani is a Senior Correspondent and Marketing Coordinator at Newsroom. She covers student achievements, interviews and contributions for the website. She was a former Correspondent covering Edutech for the India Today Group, and has passion for Social Media and Digital Marketing. You can reach her at [email protected]

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