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‘I always seek a bigger canvas and newer skies to soar towards’

Meet Garima Mittal, a doctor who went on to don the hat of an IAS officer and successful administrator. She says studying at Apeejay School, Pitampura, helped shape her personality and world-view.



A qualified doctor who has also excelled in an altogether unrelated domain, Dr Garima Mittal, a 2010-batch IAS officer of Haryana cadre, is the CEO of Smart City Faridabad Limited (SCFL) and additional CEO of Faridabad Metropolitan Development Authority (FMDA). After completing her schooling from Apeejay School, Pitampura, she studied medicine from the Government Medical College Thrisoor, before she followed her heart in her pursuit of seeking ‘a larger canvas’ and serving society as a civil servant. Recently, Ms. Mittal was conferred with an award in recognition of her efforts as an administrator during the pandemic in her district. In an interview, she acknowledges the contribution of her alma mater, Apeejay School, Pitampura, in shaping her personality, provides tips for IAS aspirants and how following her heart after hearing everybody else, always works for her. Edited excerpts:

You’ve made a successful transition from one career to another really successful one. What is the mantra for your success?

I always believe that life should go on and one need not stick to just one profession. Whatever interested me, I’ve moved on to achieve it. I first chose medical science. When I went through it, I felt I needed to have a bigger canvas to work on. Obviously it was a risk, but then life is about taking risks. I wrote the UPSC exam and did not clear it in the first attempt. The second time round, I thought this is the last time I’m going to give one year of my youth to it and I cleared the exam. Initially I had a small canvas to work on. The work was good and interesting and I have the full respect for medical science. But now I feel the canvas is bigger. I work at the city level as well as the district level. I have good exposure to all the infrastructure programmes, the policy making and governance. I have even travelled to rural India being a Delhi girl. I think I have a pretty big canvas and exposure in this service and making the transition was the right decision. Also, I think a person changes every 10 years. And as a person one is always growing as things change.

You sought a bigger canvas and got it. What would be your advice for others to make a smooth transition from medicine to Civil Services?

I think the key is to follow your heart. You must listen to everybody and understand what the world has to offer, but when you sit alone in the night and introspect, the answer comes there. It is more about the inner call and whatever you find peace in. I think my decision is based on introspection over the years and that introspection is still on.  

Please tell us about the award that you recently received in appreciation of the Covid management efforts in your district.  

When I look back at this award, I recall those scenes of helplessness that we felt during those times. It is not much of a celebration in my mind, it is more of a recognition of how a society can feel helpless and how one person helping another — with whatever resources they have — makes a difference. The Faridabad district was blessed to have such kind of a community, which tried to donate oxygen cylinders in the time of a crisis. They were able to find and fetch oxygen from wherever they could even at the level of private players, though I have been enlisted as an administrator of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) as well. The doctors’ community in particular, through their internal network of nursing homes, helped out with their own resources, apart from the centralised oxygen support.  So, the award was not about celebration of the individual, but a celebration of the support everyone gave each other in such unprecedented, unpredictable and relentlessly challenging times. Hats off to the doctors’ community. I was a deputy commissioner at that time and I knew I had to fall back on all my experience as a doctor to ensure I gave a patient hearing to everyone and made sure that those who were going to land directly into the ICU should get the oxygen first so that we could save a life or two. The idea was to also have home isolation and early interventions so that the condition of the patients doesn’t deteriorate. One of our approaches was to have a dencentralised relief effort. With the IMA and nursing homes pitching in and Covid care centres also coming into the picture, the RWAs were running these centres, wherever they had oxygen supply. Plus, we also had a hundred-bedded hospital run by the Indian Army. Within a week or so, the Army was able to mobilise their resources and we are very thankful to them.

In a way, your earlier avatar as a doctor came in handy during the pandemic…

As a doctor I could understand their jargon, their priorities and their apprehensions. I could understand their point of view as a technical person as well as an administrator. I personally believe being a doctor I could understand them and communicate with them better and bring a synergy to the administration and could actually act as a conduit between the administration and the doctors in the most trying times.

What are your memories of studying at Apeejay School, Pitampura?

I believe it has been one of the places where my personality has been shaped. In the primary section itself, one of my Science teachers taught me that I was free to ask any question and that there were no stupid or wrong questions. So I learnt to question each and everything and started developing my personality. I began reading and developed a world-view of my own. I think Apeejay has given me a lot of things and I am grateful for being given the freedom to think, to question and have my own perspective. A lot of teachers played a role in this. These include Malini Ma’am, Vandana Arora Ma’am and Kiran Ma’am. Also, the small nuggets of wisdom from Mr Bedi, our principal that he shared in the assembly and the people who came in for extra-curricular activities, all these gave me lots of directions to think about and a good exposure to the world along with the ability to think that I wanted a bigger canvas. All these teachers together gave me an open atmosphere to feel belonged, to question and look forward to the world. In fact they also told me the weaknesses of the system so I could know where my strengths and weaknesses will be vis-à-vis students from other schools and other socio-economic backgrounds.  

You were among the top rankers in the Civil Services . What strategy did you adopt for the Mains and Prelims?

The best strategy was the person I had in my life: Dr Praveen Pushkar. He was instrumental in providing me support when I was preparing for my exam.  I did not clear it in my first attempt and the support that he provided me the second time was really important. He was the support that a partner, or a future life partner can give, for me. He provided me that support and now I am married to him and we have a child. The school also contributed and in mental ability I scored 13 out of 15. For this I must thank Vandana Arora Ma’am and others for all the quizzes I participated in during school.  

Please share tips for IAS aspirants, who want to clear the Civil Services exam.

There are just two simple things. You can also look them up on my web site. First, do strategic hard work. Don’t work like a donkey, work like a horse instead. You should know what to do and how to get work done, in which place. Secondly, don’t be confused. You will clear the Civil Services if you have clarity in your head. It is not a tough exam to clear: just that it is difficult to keep your eyes focused on what matters. Apart from this, in the interview round, you have to be honest. In the exam, it needs more of your personality and a bit of hard work.   

Are there any life lessons that you picked up during school, which have helped you in your career?

There were a number of life lessons I picked up in school and it is difficult to pick one. The quotations we used to write on the bulletin board become inspirational anchors of my life. I got to understand that there will be competition and how to face it. The person next to you in the classroom is not your competition. The competition is with the world and everybody else. So, one needs to improve one’s game rather than fighting over small, silly stuff. That still makes a a lot of sense to me. I look at improving my game and not just pulling anyone else down. These are the lessons the Apeejay family inculcated in me. Now I want my child to also go to Apeejay. I am very sure that soaring high is my nature. But there are still many newer skies to soar to. These are life lessons that have seeped in and are ingrained on our minds thanks to our schooling.

Being a doctor myself, I could understand the jargon and communicate better with them during the pandemic and bring in a certain synergy so that I could actually act as a conduit between the administration and the doctors in the most trying times.

Dr Garima mittal, IAS, CEO, Faridabad Smart City Limited, Government of Haryana

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected]. He tweets @Aasheesh74

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