Interview/Personality Test Date: 22nd March, 2012.
Slot: Afternoon; Reporting Time 1315 hours.
Interview order: Last of the 6 persons to be interviewed by that board in that slot.
The Board was known at 1445 hours when the first candidate to face the board from our group (name: Vivek Chaudhary) was told about it. Our board was that of Sh. I.M.G. Khan.
Time passed…after Vivek it was Rupak, then Hari, then Nidhi, then Jackson…and then my turn. By the time Jackson went it was 1640 hours. In a few minutes all other candidates left in the waiting hall had also gone for their interviews in their respective boards. Mine was the last interview of the day across all boards. I was called to come and sit outside the Board’s Room after about 15 minutes from when I was the only one left in the Waiting room. The guards by then, one male and the other a lady, had become acquaintances. We had even shared a joke or two and laughed with the Voice-repeating-cat application on the mobile. They wished me luck and smiled. The guy who came to call me for the interview too by then had seen enough of me to share a smile and good wishes, and he too wished me good luck. He had a squint and big glasses, and was a nice man to talk to. I thanked him and asked him what time it was. He replied, “5 baj gaye hain.” I asked whether it’d be better if I greeted the board with a ‘Good Evening’ rather than a ‘Good Afternoon’ to which he nodded in the affirmative and with a smile said, “Aap chinta mat keejiye, Khan Sahab achhe se interview lete hain”. (I wondered how he reached the inference that he drew from my question, but his reply did help me :)) We reached the Board room and he asked me to sit on a chair outside it. I realized Jackson was still inside and I asked how long had the previous candidate (Jackson) been in? He said it had been 15 minutes. Tea was being prepared for Mr. Khan while I sat on the chair. The guy who was preparing tea offered me some kajus and biscuits. I picked one and said, “Thank you. Candidate ko to chai nahin di jaati hai na”. He said, “Kya aap chai lenge?”. I said, “Nahin nahin, main nahin loonga”, and smiled. “Khan Sir ki chai mere andar jaane se pehle de dijiyega.” And he nodded with a smile, “Theek hai”, and in a few moments went inside the Board room with the tray.
I practiced sitting into and standing off the chair a few times (by the way I was wearing a deep blue suit), focused my attention and thoughts for a few minutes, asked myself why I was here, and thanked God for the opportunity and felt happy for it.
In a few minutes Jackson came out of the Board room. I mimed to ask about how was it. He looked at me looking a little nervous but happy, and nodded positively as he walked away.
The time had arrived and I asked the big glasses guy who had escorted me there about the time. He showed me his watch which read 1710 hours. The chimes of the bell rang. It was my turn. He opened one of the two planks of the door and I stepped forward….
(A note: The demeanor of the conversation was very cordial and conversational and I was most of the while smiling as if talking to friends.)
Me: May I come in Sir. (while I noticed that the table was to the right of the door with the Chairperson, Mr. Khan, facing away from the wall having the door; that I had to walk a circular arc of 90 degrees to face them, and that there was a lady member in the board.)
Mr. Khan: Come in, come in.
Me: Good Evening Ma’am. Good Evening Sir. Good Evening to you Sirs.
Mr. Khan: Take a seat.
Me: Thank You Sir. (I jovially sat down and acknowledged all the members and the Chair by eye contact)
Mr. Khan: (He was turning over my summary sheet at that time and had reached the last section having job details). Oh! You worked somewhere (and started reading the address) PP Service…where was this Nagothane?
Me: Sir it is in the Raigad district of Maharashtra.
Mr. Khan: What does it manufacture? (He would have read the words ‘Manufacturing Division’ in the address)
Me: Sir, it manufactures low and high density polymers.
Mr. Khan: So why did you leave the job? Didn’t you like it?
Me: No Sir (happily), it was immensely satisfying and I liked it. But while I was there I used to go to a school nearby to help students. Slowly I started feeling more inclined towards that, so I decided to pursue a career that is more challenging and where I can connect directly with people.
Mr. Khan: So Pawan, (smiling) what have you been doing since then?
Me: Sir, I’ve been preparing for the civil services.
Mr. Khan: You left the job in 2009. It’s more than two and a half years, close to 3 years now. You could have done so much at a school by now!
Me: Yes Sir, (emphatically & empathetically) I feel that pain too and want to start contributing as soon as possible.
Mr. Khan: (smiles) But some countries do not have a Civil Service. Like the US (a member intervened to add that a few services do exist in the US but not a civil service) and some other countries like (he told a few names that I don’t remember) do not have a permanent civil service. Shouldn’t India also abolish the civil services?
Me: Sir, every country has its own parameters to judge that. India has evolved in a manner that we need a civil service. The US has had a long history and time to develop
(Mr. Khan interrupts: But we’ve had a longer history.)
Sir, I mean since independence. We need more time before we can do away with the civil service if that is indeed needed. Civil services are the drivers of the car the country is. We play a critical role, perhaps the most critical role in taking the country forward.
(M4 interrupts while looking at Mr. Khan: Sir, he is identifying with the services.)
Me: (in an embarrassed, humble, jovial & conversational tone with a smile) Sir, I didn’t mean that. I am extremely sorry (and a big smile).
Mr. Khan: I never thought of this analogy before (looks excited and inquisitive). So, if the civil services are driving the car (smiled) then what are the politicians doing?
Me: Sir, they along with many others are sitting in the back of the car. Civil services decide how well and at what speed the country moves forward.
Mr. Khan: Hmm…(And acknowledges with a bigger smile. And asks inquisitively..) So, when did the civil services start in India?
Me: Sir, they started in the British era. The Office of the District Collector came up in the 1770s.
Mr. Khan: But the names Tehsil, Taluka, Zilla, Mansabdari still exist. What are they then if the services started in the British era?
Me: Sir, the names exist to mark continuity in the governance system. So that people feel connected to it. There were administrative systems before too, but the present day professional civil services started in the British era.
Mr. Khan: So we have them because of the British legacy?
Me: No Sir. We have them because we need them…(He interrupts me here, smiles and says: OK..OK..you are sticking to your point. Good. He now looks at Member 1 as if to tell him that he can ask questions now)
M1: What is the Indo-US Strategic partnership?
Me: Sir, if my memory is serving me right it started in 2004. I might be incorrect. It is a partnership covering many areas from defence, science & technology, education, trade, civil nuclear energy and many more.
M1: What benefit is India getting out of it?
Me: Sir, the US is the world leader in technology, defence equipment and many other areas. We can learn from them in these fields.
M1: So, what benefit is the US driving from it?
Me: Sir, every country has its own experience and share of successes & failures. India too can offer the US such knowledge, and this knowledge sharing can create a new synergy and a higher level of progress for both the countries. India is also an emerging world leader and the US would benefit from this engagement.
M1: Wasn’t it because the US wanted to use India against a particular country?
Me: No Sir. No one can use India for its interests. We entered the partnership on our own terms. 232
M1: What is AFSPA? What are the controversies related with it?
Me: Sir its the Armed Forces Special Powers Act which came into force in the late 1950s. Its applied in disturbed areas, declared so by the Governor of the State. It was applied initially to regions in the North-East and extended to J&K in the 1990s. It gives the Army the power to take suo moto action in matters of national security, countering terrorism and other such activities which include searching premises, opening fire etc. The recent controversies relate to the human rights violations in J&K by the Army and the decade long fast by a lady (I intentionally didn’t name Irom Sharmila to avoid questions on her or Manipur) in the North-East.
M1: What are the problems in the civil aviation sector?
Me: Sir, the individual operators in the sector have different problems and business models, but their business models are not the ones that are best suited to make profit. In case of Air India it being the national carrier, it has to operate flights between less profitable or liability creating routes and airports. Kingfisher’s Mr. Mallya is funding his airlines from his other avenues. His model was never profitable and required him to pump money from his other avenues. The operators in the sector are more than what India requires in terms of demand. The induced competitiveness has led to very low fares but the losses have begun to show. (I could feel the answer was getting long and the Member was losing attention).
M1: So in short what is the problem?
Me: Sir, its the improper business models of the different operators.
(M1 acknowledges that positively and looked at Member 2 to hand it over to him. M2 had a stern look to begin with but that changed soon)
M2: Pawan, you are a sportsperson. You come from a sports school. You have been doing sports regularly. Tell us, what according to you are the problems in Sports in India?
Me: Sir, the biggest problem is in the way we perceive sports. Its seen as a hindrance to academics. Sports is not seen as an economically viable career. Then the Govt incentives and focus on sports has been low. Sports infrastructure is lacking. Private investment in sports is also low. But Sir, the past few years our sportspersons have performed very well in various international competitions and have shown us the way ahead.
M2: What can be done to tackle these problems?
Me: Sir, the first thing we need is a strong & balanced Sports Policy and Sports Law. Also academics should integrate sports in it for the overall development of children. The government spending should increase and infrastructure be built using existing schemes and new schemes. And the private sector should promote sports persons as role models through advertisements and sponsorships. Talent hunting and improvement in coaching facilities should also be important focus areas.
M2: What about hockey?
Me: Sir, in hockey we did not adapt with the changes that happened with the coming of the Astroturf. Our physical fitness also didn’t meet up to other teams. But after Micheal Nobbs has become the hockey coach, this is improving and we’ve recently qualified for the Olympics too.
M2: Do sports keep us fit?
Me: (almost sounding obvious and smiling) Yes Sir, both mentally and physically fit.
M2: But in our country so many people are malnourished. How can sports keep us fit when we don’t have food?
Me: Sir, nutrition is a critical necessity. Without it not just sports but every activity we undertake suffers. But sports are not a competing factor. In fact sports can help give the confidence that can translate to all other activities, like to take more risk in economic ventures, wage & self-employment etc. to earn a better living and nutrition levels. Sports will also find a way for itself if we can provide better nutrition.
(M2 looked at Member 3, who was also the lady member. She started looking at what was written in her diary. I could see a lot of scribblings in it as if it were a rough work diary)
M3: Pawan, you seem to be a talented young man. What in your opinion are the three big problems of India? How can they be tackled?
Me: Ma’am, in my opinion the biggest challenge before India right now is of how to ensure that we reap our demographic dividend. The second is that we still haven’t achieved inclusive growth. And the third is (I am thinking…) that the status of women is still not at par with men.
M3: What is corruption? (She might have been expecting I would say corruption, but somehow it didn’t come to my mind then!)
Me: Ma’am, any activity done with malafide interest is corruption in my opinion. If there is an illicit purpose involved and loss to the public at large.
M3: Doesn’t it have to be monetary?
Me: No Ma’am. Not necessarily, in my opinion.
M3: Give an example where it is not monetary.
Me: (affirmatively) Ma’am say someone connives with someone else to accrue power or favours. That too would be corruption in my opinion.
M3: What is demographic dividend?
Me: Ma’am more than 50% of our population is young and less than 30 years of age. They have a lot of energy and creativity to offer. That is demographic dividend. Being able to tap that energy and channelize that in a positive direction is the challenge.
M3: What were the other problems you told?
Me: Ma’am, lack of inclusive growth and the status of women.
M3: What is the status of employment in India? How can we address it?
Me: Ma’am 60% of the people are employed in Agriculture. Roughly 20% are in the Services sector, and the rest in MSMEs
(She looks as if wanting to ask what that is. I continue…) i.e. Micro, Small and Medium scale industries and Manufacturing. I do not recall the figures exactly.
(To which Mr. Khan says:No..no. We don’t need figures. We want to know what you think.)
(I acknowledged him and smiled)
(Now I am addressing both Mr. Khan and M3)
We need to divert people from agriculture. 40% of farmers don’t want to be in agriculture. We can provide them skills & training so that they get employment in small scale industries and agro-based industries that can be setup in and around where they live. (Mr. Khan was nodding positively and smiling while I said this).
M3: What model has China adopted for this? (I understood that she was hinting at what can be done in the Manufacturing Sector in India)
Me: Ma’am, they have invested in building large scale infrastructure like roads and SEZs and these have created large scale employment.
M3: So what is India doing on that front?
Me: Ma’am India has formulated a new National Manufacturing Policy which will create around 10 crore job in the next 10-15 years. We also have plans to set up National Manufacturing Investment Zones and various SEZs. We have launched schemes like NRLM and National Skill Development Mission.
M3: So, is NREGA a solution?
Me: Ma’am, its a solution but only in the short term, not in the long term because it does not impart skills or create productive & permanent assets.
M3: Yes, (nods affirmatively) NREGA is only a transient solution. (looks into her diary and looks back at me from between her eyebrows and her glasses) Are our policies a failure then?
Me: No Ma’am, (smile) our policies aren’t a failure. It is their implementation and the awareness about them that is still lacking.
Mr. Khan: It is easier said then done.
Me: Yes Sir, I agree, (empathetically) and therefore we need conviction and commitment in the civil services. (She looked at Member 4, who looked indifferently towards me while he was laid back in his chair)
M4: You mentioned Agro based and MSMEs. What are the Food Processing related incentives in the Budget? You must be following the Budget?
Me: Sorry Sir, I did follow the Budget but I do not recall these provisions right now.
M4: But this seems to be your interest as you mentioned them. There seems to be a discrepancy in your knowledge and your interests.
Me: Sir, I remember the essence of what was said, but not the details. Should I tell that? M4: OK. Me: Sir, the Finance Minister in his Budget speech gave incentives for attracting investment and generating employment in the Food Processing industry.(He looked satisfied now)
M4: The entrepreneurs and businessmen are responsible for creating a lot of jobs but they don’t seem to get the respect as the civil servants and politicians do. Why is that?
Me: Sir, people respect entrepreneurs and businessmen too. I don’t feel that they are not respected.
M4: I am not talking about the downtrodden. They respect everyone. I am talking about those who matter. Who among those sections respects these entrepreneurs and businessman?
Me: Sir, in my opinion the downtrodden matter too, but the other sections like civil servants and politicians, and the middle class also respect the businessmen. Especially since the advent of Indicative Planning they have been given even more respect. They are now called to help with plan formulation and preparation of the budget too.
M4: (looks satisfied and smiles). Suppose you are the District Magistrate of a district. Two politicians, an MLA and a MP, are tossing you around for political gains. What will you do?
Me: (almost jokingly) Sir, I can’t imagine something like this happening. I believe politicians are rational people.
(M4 starts to grow a humorous smile on his face) And even if this happens, I will follow what the law suggests me to do. I will also consult my seniors and colleagues if the need arises.
M4: Law is always the last resort.
(Everyone started laughing, including me)
M4: (from what I felt) (Gave a long speech on relations between politicians and civil servants and stopped without asking a question).
Me: Yes Sir. Mr. Khan: You didn’t seem to have got the question. (looked at M4 and said) Be more specific.
Me: (looking at M4) Sir, I am extremely sorry. I didn’t get the question.
M4: (in a smiling and relaxed tone) how is the RTI a boon for civil servants? Or is it not a boon?
Me: Yes Sir, it is a big boon. Now the civil servant can demand things in written from the politician if he feels the need for it. RTI also streamlines office procedures, interdepartmental communications and coordination. It helps record keeping and improves efficiency in implementation also.
Mr. Khan: (Gave a monologue on RTI and its positives for politicians too).
Me: I intermittently affirmed and subscribed to his view and thanked him.
Mr. Khan: A new reform of Performance Review of Civil Servants has been proposed. You must be knowing about it. (I nod affirmatively). Suppose I suggest that there should be a 10 year contract for the civil servants and then a compulsory performance review, and if not found meeting the standards set the civil servant will be thrown out. What would you suggest?
Me: Sir, the reform you suggested is similar to the one being proposed.
(Mr. Khan interrupts: No…no. The civil servant will be thrown out!)
Me: In that case Sir, I prefer your suggestion. That will create positive performance pressure, increase healthy competition and efficiency in the service.
Mr. Khan: But do you want to be thrown out directly?
Me: Sir,(emphatically) if I don’t perform, I don’t deserve to be in the service.
Mr. Khan: Thank you. (smiled). Your interview is over. You may go.
Me: Thank you Sir. (I get up from the seat). Thank you Ma’am. Thank you Sirs. (while looking at the respective members, and move towards the exit briskly. At the door, turn back for the final eye contact and see that Ma’am is still looking at me. I acknowledge her with a smile & a nod and exit the room.)
I left the room. Went and collected my belongings and came out of the UPSC Building, the last candidate to appear out of the gate.
PS: I have intentionally not written the various facial expressions & gestures the Board members had or I made, as that didn’t seem to be needed. The overall atmosphere and the mood everyone had was cordial and I was smiling most of the time which was not a forced one. I have tried to write what transpired in the fashion that it did. Some words or instances may have changed, but I’ve tried to stick as much as I could to what happened in the interview.