An officer, who motivates, pushes herself all the time
Mrs Sonal Goel of the 2008 IAS batch comes from a different league altogether. A hands-on officer, always in the thick of field visits, she has done exemplary work in a society besieged with patriarchal mindset. Little wonder, she has won a surfeit of awards and her career a motivation for those aiming for civil services.
Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits! That might sound like a cliché but challenges are inevitable and integral components of life’s grammar. The resolute and determined are steeled to excel in the wake of challenges that dot their career, education, health, business, job and just about all spheres of life. A significant takeaway of challenging one’s own limits is you become your own competitor and instills in you that indomitable spirit of not just overcoming odds but also the will to leave your imprint in whatever you do. Mrs Sonal Goel, an IAS of the 2008 batch – until July 2020 in the Tripura cadre followed by four-year inter-cadre deputation to Haryana — is a striking example of having conditioned and blended her persona to be in that venerable league.
Objective and level-headed to a fault, this extremely driven officer’s 12 checkered years in the cadre should be a revelation for all those who want to enter civil services for the very raison d’etre it stands for. Like many others of her ilk she has handled a string of assignments as Assistant Collector, West Tripura ; SDM Ambassa; ADM & Collector, South Tripura, Chief Executive Officer, Agartala Municipal Council, Joint Secretary, Labour Department; State Project Director, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, District Magistrate & Collector, Gomati District ; Commissioner Municipal Corporation of Faridabad & CEO, Faridabad Smart City Limited; Deputy Commissioner Jhajjar Haryana; Administrator HSVP & Additional CEO FMDA Faridabad; CEO GMCBL (Gurugram Metropolitan City Bus Limited) & Addl CEO GMDA (Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority), a notable feature of her tenure is she has been mostly involved with field visits.
Mrs Goel believes that her field visits have been fruitful and have given her a first-hand account of the jurisdiction she has been occasioned to serve. That explains breviloquently the encomiums and recognitions she has won as an unflappable officer with distinction. The journey, however, has been worth the experience but it has also been facilitated by the virtue of her commitment to her goal posts. She recalls what propelled her into the civil services when she was pursuing education that could have led her to diverse professions but to her credit, she could administer it in the chosen career she decided to take up.
After graduating in Commerce from the Sri Ram College, Delhi, she found her predilection towards the perfectly compatible Company Secretary (CS) course. But the mind was astir that she must do something to serve the society and nation. Into her second stage of CS, she realized it had to be civil services. The idea was shot down initially and she was told in no uncertain terms she should have a Plan B ready. After clearing the CS in 2004, she appeared for LLB entrance and duly completed it in 2007, followed later by Master’s in Public Policy. There was time she was doing LLB and her UPSC studies simultaneously but she managed tenaciously. In 2008 she sailed through the IAS, albeit in the second attempt. Sometimes just reminding yourself of the temporality of your failures enables you to forge ahead. There was no looking back thereafter.
Civil services is no bed of roses and Mrs Goel recalls they were tough years but perseverance and hard work paid off, her sights firmly sent on her aspirations. It also acquainted her with the art of Capacity Building that she so effectively used during her field visits. During the seven years that she worked in Tripura and the other four in Haryana, she honed her skills as a hands-on administrator. The transition from North-East to North was good and she had wonderful experiences that vindicated her conviction to serve people. It was rewarding in every sense – psychologically and in terms of recognition that poured in from various quarters.
Mrs Goel mentions two important takeaways of the time she expended on the field visits. “I comprehended what it means to elicit Team Support, creating Impactful Institutional Mechanism and Capacity Building. Working in public domain means you have to take people along and instill confidence in them, to convince them that it is all for the overall good. As officer, you need people’s cooperation all the time, be it elections, developmental activity or welfare initiatives. I was lucky I could enlist the support of all the stakeholders and other people in bringing about a sustainable development in all my assignments. It is of paramount importance to connect with people because the bottom line is it is for their welfare and good. Good things come to fruition when people voluntarily join you but it is also necessary to get them in your fold,” she rationalizes, adding that “a right eco-system which thrives on continued public rapport holds the key.”
Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort. It proved true for Mrs Goel as the long list of recognitions she has won in a relatively short span of 12 years. Among the top 25 women transforming India by Niti Aayog, United Nations and MyGov in 2016, she also feels that her sense of purpose rewarded her with many priceless moments, especially while serving as Deputy Commissioner of Jhajjar in women’s welfare. The various activities that she undertook in pursuance women were considered as Governance in Innovation. She also worked ceaselessly to fight domestic violence against women.
As the SDM in Tripura, she narrates the sanguine experience of the efforts she and her team took in bringing into mainstream some primitive tribals inhabiting the tough terrains and inaccessible areas. “We visited these areas trekking through rough surfaces punctuated with jungles and nullahs. The Border Security Force personnel actively helped us in this exercise which resulted in regularizing Primary Health Centres, Schools, and Anganwadis in several hamlets (called Paras). These are the kind of activities that gave her a sense of fulfillment. She also relates an experience in Haryana where a woman old enough to be her grandmother wondered how a “chhori” (young girl) could be the Deputy Commissioner. “Changing such deeply entrenched (patriarchal) mindset can be challenging but people can be convinced.”
Given the vicissitudes of the job, she is seized of the importance of work-life balance. “Being a woman has its own challenges. She has multiple roles to play and has other responsibilities like being a good mother at home. As a mother of two kids, she realizes that her primary commitment remains to them. One has to find time from all exigencies of work. My family and my hubby have been always supportive. In a family, members become its subsets so the entire family algorithm becomes important.”
From 2018, Mrs Goel has imposed a strict fitness regimen upon herself. Yoga, Meditation, Aerobics and brisk walking are her effective remedies to smother the pressures and pulls of the job. One hour of the morning is steadfastly dedicated to the fitness regime. At the government sports complex, she practices all these occasionally indulging in Zumba dance that she loves. “It cleanses mind of all negativity, helps relax and braces you for the forthcoming challenges. Reading and writing interest me but time is hard to find by,” she laments.
The family influence in her grit is evident. Her father is a CA, her husband is an IRS and the children fully understand her constraints as a responsible officer. Mrs Goel has encountered all the challenges because she believes in pushing herself all the time. It has helped her discover her new strengths. The ability to neither stop nor be stopped is what has taken her to places – literally and figuratively.