Durga Shakti Nagpal: Fighting the Mafia and Serving with Compassion

Persistence, servant-leader mindset, and the joy of helping people are some of the keys to Durga Shakti Nagpal’s headline-sparking service as an Indian Administrative Service officer since 2009.

Ms. Nagpal became an IAS officer after graduating from Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical University with an undergraduate degree in computer engineering. She obtained an All India rank of 20 in the Union Public Service Commission Civil Service Examination and joined the Punjab cadre of the IAS.

Her career has been marked by a profound commitment to rooting out corruption—efforts that led to threats against her when she fought against illegal sand mining in Uttar Pradesh. Ms. Nagpal didn’t give up her battle against the mining mafia and, after having to fight an allegedly trumped up suspension, regained her position.

Ms. Nagpal said she was inspired to become an IAS officer by her father, who was an award-winning civil servant before his retirement.

“I grew up watching him help the neglected and marginalised sections of society. As a little girl, it was gratifying to see him reach out to the downtrodden and serve their welfare and well-being,” Ms. Nagpal said. “My father and his doings were like stepping stones for me to be able to dream and desire to become an IAS officer.”

Durga Shakthi Nagpal

“I laid down a specific timetable that I religiously followed”

Durga Shakti Nagpal

Ms. Nagpal thoroughly planned her study regimen, plotting out a full-year schedule ahead of taking the IAS exam. She began with an in-depth analysis of the syllabus from the Union Public Service Commission and with specific strategies for the preliminaries, mains and the personality test

That schedule consisted of five days of intense preparation, one day of reviewing her study material so that it stayed fresh in her mind, and then a full day each week of relaxation to recharge

Being consistent in studying is important. Trying to cram immense amounts of study into a short time and then being too exhausted to focus later in the week will be a “real spoiler,” she noted.  Students should adopt a reasonable and workable timetable so that the vast learning remains interesting and is accomplished with less pressure. In addition, she said conviction is essential

“As it is an exam that entails long hours of preparation spread over months, our focus should always remain strong and intact. It also helps keep motivation high,”

Durga Shakti Nagpal

“Conviction is crucial to keep spirits high and to keep you internally motivated,” Ms. Nagpal suggested. “It makes the journey of preparation enjoyable and worthy of pursuing. It also helps to curb mental fatigue that sometimes sets in.”

Once students pass the exam and begin their IAS career, Ms. Nagpal said it’s imperative that they are humble and listen attentively to their constituents’ needs and problems, no matter their situation in life. Also, being proactive and stepping out of one’s comfort zone is necessary.

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” she advised

Conversely, actions that will cause an officer to fail include an inability to interact with and get all of their stakeholders on board, poor communication, being egotistical and having a

“lack of clarity in using their vast powers for people’s welfare,” she said.

Effective officers are highly adept diplomats — skills that are developed through regular workshops and training, appreciating and rewarding other skillful officers, and “imbibing the IAS culture” to meet, communicate and interact with peers daily.

Getting a mentor is another excellent strategy, Ms. Nagpal suggested.

In her own case, Ms. Nagpal counts as mentors her father (“my guiding light and my greatest inspiration”) and husband, Abhishek Singh, who is also an IAS officer. The couple met when they tested in the same year

“My husband has been my pillar of strength, especially during my tough times in service when I chased and busted the dreaded sand mafia network and was penalised for doing so,” she recalled. “I drew huge support from both of them and continue to.”

“My father would keep me in high spirits amidst all the professional trauma. My husband would explain to me the finer nuances of the political and social set up of our cadre, Uttar Pradesh, and how to adjust and, at the same time, shine.”

While the mountain is steep to reach the pinnacle of being accepted into service, Ms. Nagpal said the struggle is clearly worth it.

“IAS offers a plethora of opportunities at a very young age. The challenges that come our way are no less and serve as platforms to learn and grow as ‘performers’ in our career. They should be taken in our stride, and we should enjoy each day as it comes.

“For young officers, my mantra would be to keep telling yourself: ‘May the challenging terrains test us again and again, and may our zeal to serve soar higher and higher each day!’” 

Durga Shakti Nagpal