Category Archives: Civil services

Confessions of a battered suitcase

This is an extract of the privileged communication i had with my faithful VIP suitcase which carried my heavy luggage during our mandatory Winter study tour as a part of our professional training to become able administrators…

I was born in a hot, crowded and happening factory somewhere in the outskirts of Nagpur. Even before I could figure out what was happening, I was transported to a small, sleepy town called Palakkad where I waited with my siblings for someone to come and adopt me. I am a VIP suitcase and I am going to tell you my adventures in the last two months when my owner took me on a journey of a lifetime.

I waited for days and months on end but no one chose me. “This suitcase is too big”, most of them would declare. My long wait ended when this boyish looking guy came with his dad to get a big suitcase. My owner was a new recruit to the Indian Administrative Service named Gokul. Others said. ‘He will take you around the world during his official tours’, my peers said with a tinge of envy. I was happy beyond words. But he had other plans for me. As soon as I landed up in Mussoorie carrying almost 40kg of his things, he locked me up in a corner of his cupboard. He went for treks, village visits and other outings. He took my friends, the black American Tourister bag or the Reebok backpack on these journeys. I lay in one corner, unnoticed. On December 16, I was taken out and once again stuffed with things. I weighed around 30 with that. I thought Gokul was going home. It was when I was taken up to the academic area on that night that I knew that I was going for a two month study tour across the nation.

While there were only 16 Officer Trainees in our group, there were around 50 of my compatriots for the two month adventure. These included the ‘twice born’ laptop bags also. They were never kept on the floor and always enjoyed the coziness of their owners lap. Let me introduce some quirky characters in our group. One is the fake Jaguar bag which Anugraha madam picked up from somewhere in the busy corner of Karol Bagh. Being a fakie, he was mistreated so badly that he can’t even stand properly on his feet now. My peers were the American Tourister and Samsonite bags which belonged to Dr. Vijaykumar and Aravind. We were the biggest in the group and always supported the rest of the group when we were fitted into the luggage compartment during our tours. There was this bag that belonged to Sourabh Raj that was just 3/4th of my size but carried at least 5 kilos extra.  Some of them always ended up on the heads of porters in the railway station but I was always carried around by my owner.

My first adventure came with the army attachment with the Gorkha rifles in the northern part of Sikkim. I was put on a 2.5 tonner truck along with my heavier compatriots. We were escorted by the soldiers of the Madras Regiment on the journey. The full day journey from New Jalpaiguri to Lachung was tiring but the company of the soldiers who kept on telling about their adventures in Kashmir kept all of us entertained. They told us that in case of an emergency this was the same route that would be taken by our soldiers to reach the borders while the Chinese soldiers can reach the border in half the time from Lhasa. Our owners seemed to have forgotten us and sped away in Innovas. So we took our sweet time and stopped to enjoy the beauty of the Teesta valley as we progressed along its banks.

I hate air travel. You will be unattended for a long time and the staff throws you around like anything. On top of all these you will be thrashed for being overweight. Fortunately most of our travel was by train. Gokul would bind me to the rail berth to prevent some unsuspecting souls to explore what secrets I am holding. The few air journeys turned out to be eventful. The first one was the journey between Guwahati and Aizawl.  My owner frantically took out stuff from me and filled it in his Reebok backpack. The Reebok was bloating with things sticking out on all sides and reduced my weight to 20 kg. But on reaching the airport, it was found that the free limit was 15 kg. This prompted more frantic rearrangement and I was looking sleek at 16kg. The aircraft was a sight to behold. It was a small ATR 42-300, a trifle larger than a mini-bus. The cargo cabin was like that of a Volvo bus. It felt more like a chartered flight as the cargo cabin contained just 2-3 bags other than 25 of us. One of the rare occasion in which we were treated good in a flight. I hope our owners in the flight cabin were also treated well. After all, Air India is in serious financial crisis as per newspaper reports and you can’t expect they airhostesses to be pleasing when they have not been paid their salaries for the last 2 months.

Another interesting thing happened during the flight from Port Blair to Chennai. This time the trainees decided to pool in their luggage and do group check in. I tried warning them of the possible free rider problem that may crop up due to this. I overheard this while they were doing combined studies for the FC exam. The final weight tally came to around 40 Kgs in excess of the free limit and they were made to pay Rs.10,000 for that. While people were vey careful in the previous journeys and carried 2-3 hand baggage, many were simply strolling into the aircraft this time carrying just a book. I think they deserve the amount lost for the carelessness.

Getting all us out at railway stations was a major task and let me tell you that within 1-2 stations, the trainees had devised a fool proof and efficient way to do this. The task became more difficult when the stoppage time in the station is 1-2 minutes and we had to give way for passengers to board also. This was put to test in Chandrapur station in Maharashtra where the stop was only for a minute. We were split into two groups and were taken out through the two exits of the compartment. One trainee would hand a bag down to another standing down. He will hand it to the next one who will keep it away from the train. I timed the whole process once and they were able to completely take out around 50 bags and 16 people in 55 seconds. Necessity surely takes efficiency to newer heights.

Uttar Pradesh sprang up a different surprise. There were around 10 policemen to receive us at the railway station, some of them armed. In a land where lawlessness is the law and people get killed in open daylight, I wondered why such a huge contingent was needed just to escort ‘not even confirmed’ trainees holding no independent responsibility to their hotels. We had lesser number of people guarding our backs in the naxal affected Gadchiroli. But of course, IAS officers know their job and U.P is supposedly the best cadre. So I guess I will find out the reason sometime later during my long association with my owner.

I got back to Mussoorie after a short visit home on 19th February, 2012 with just a few minor scratches and discolorations here and there. It was an incredible 2 month journey when I travelled over the mountains and the seas and saw people and places I may never see again. I hope my owner takes me out for more such adventures as he is getting ready to lock up in a similar cupboard two floors above my old room. Till then, Adios…

Public Administration for CSE

Disclaimer: Let me start off by posting a disclaimer!! The preparation strategy and methods for Public administration varies from person to person. This is my experience with Pubad which gave me 337 in my first attempt without coaching. <Disclaimer ends>

Public Administration is one of the most popular optionals in the civil services exam. It has a very short syllabus and it overlaps with the syllabus for general studies. Also, a good understanding of the topics in paper 2 can help you in essay and interview also.

The preparation strategy and books varies between people, but from what I understood, the focus should be on understanding the basics, supplementing it with recent developments and reports and presenting it properly. Answer writing is a very important part of Pubad preps. Sufficient time should be devoted to this before you go for the mains. Even if you manage to attempt all questions, the quality of answers can stretch the range of your marks between around 280 to 360.

It’s advisable to use as less standard books as possible. Questions in paper 2 and in section B of paper 1 will be general in nature. Make notes on all the topics mentioned in the syllabus and be ready to answer any question that may come from that topic. For eg, The syllabus says ‘Citizen Charter’. The questions on that topics may be ‘How does citizen charter help in reducing corruption’, ‘Has Citizen charter empowered the ordinary citizen vis-a-vis the govt. employee’ etc. Your notes on citizen charter should give you the basic idea to tackle this question while your answer should be spot-on. It should not be a short note on citizen chapter, but a crisp, direct answer to the question.

Book List

Paper 1

  • Public Administration : Theory and Practice By Sharma & Sadhana
  • Administrative Thinkers By Prasad & Prasad
  • New Horizons of Public Administration by Mohit Bhatacharya
Paper 2
  • Indian Public Administration by Ramesh Arora & Rajani Goyal
  • Indian Adminstration by S R Maheswari
  • Reports of 2nd ARC
  • Other recent reports of administrative reforms committees

I read a few topics which are missing in these books from the BPA material of IGNOU. Check out previous years’ papers to see how questions are asked in every sections.

Strategy

As the questions asked are mostly general in nature, I thought of using as less text books as possible and write general answers quoting from current affairs and recent reports. The problem with PubAd is that most of the aspirants would have read these books already and thus writing good answers can be a difficult proposition. So try to improve as much as possible.

1. Studying:

Paper 1 : Sharma & Sadhana is a fat book that contains almost all the topics of PubAd. There are other fat books like Fadia & Fadia. Please stick to one of these fat books. Read topic wise from these books rather than going cover to cover. Add on to that by reading the relevant sections from Mohit Bhatacharya and IGNOU material. IGNOU material will have good diagrams also. All the chapters of Administrative thinkers have to be studied except for the one on Karl Marx.

Paper 2: A good understanding about the constitution is needed for this paper. This would be already covered if you have read DD Basu. Use Goyal & Arora for studying about Chanakya, Mughul administration and evolution of Indian Administration. For the other topics, read from Goyal & Arora and read the relevant section of 2nd ARC. ARC has given constructive solutions to the major administrative problems that we face. For eg, under the topic, ‘District Administration’, Goyal & Arora will give you an idea about district administration in India and will highlight the major issues. The report of the ARC will give you the solutions for these problems. Hence the report can be a major add-on.

2. Answer writing

  • Write crisp introductions. Finish it off in 2-3 sentences for 20 markers. Write a small paragraph for 30 marker and a fairly large paragraph for 60 marker.
  • I started off in a paragraph. Then wrote under various sub-headings and then concluded in a paragraph.
  • In the body, be precise and to the point. DONT BEAT AROUND THE BUSH.
  • Draw some diagram for every question. Even basic block diagrams is fine. After all there is no harm in adding a diagram. You can prepare some diagrams under some topics before hand. Use your imagination and believe me, Google image search will also help.
  • Conclude by putting forth your view again to the question asked.
  • Use your GS knowledge extensively while writing. Write from an Indian perspective. Quote examples from recent happenings as much as possible.

That is pretty much all that i did. I spent more time on Physics. I did self-evaluation for my answers after K.Biju (IAS, 2006) gave a broad idea about answer writing. I could see my answers improving. You can take professional help at this stage or if confident, go for self-evaluation. All the best!!

Cost analysis of civil services preparation : Is the fees charged by coaching institutes justified

Option one: You study back home

1. General Studies

Books : Rs. 3000 – 4000

Newspapers : Rs. 250 monthly ( Total : 6000 for 2 years; you will anyway subscribe, whether you are preparing or not)

Periodicals : Rs. 650 for frontline (2 years) + Rs.900 for EPW ( one year)

Net connection : 250 per month ( Total : 6000; you will anyway subscribe, whether you are preparing or not)

Total Cost : Around 17000 ( over 2 years )

Total Extra cost : Rs. 6000 maximum (minus newspaper and net )

2. Optionals:

Books: 4-5 books for humanities optionals  ( Mostly Indian Authors). Total cost : Not more than Rs. 3000.

7-8 books for science optionals. Total cost: Not more than Rs. 5000 ( If you are not downloading pirated copies).

Total Extra cost : Rs. 14000 ( Highly liberal estimate and spend over 2 years). Use library, old books or pirated copies and you can bring that down to a few thousand rupess.

Option two : You go to Delhi to attend coaching.

1. Coaching fees :

G.S : Rs, 50,000

Optionals : Rs. 30,000 each

Total : Rs. 1,10,000 (spot payment)

2. Periodicals, newspapers, net for personal use : Rs. 13,000 over 2 years.

3. High rent and cost of living : Around 10k every month.

Total extra Cost : Around 3 Lakhs ( Conservative estimate; multiply with no.of  failed attempts, extra fee for extra coaching etc). And even after paying such huge, exorbitant costs, the quality of teaching ( as i get to know from fellow aspirants) may not always be up to the mark.

Preparing General Studies for civil services

A good base in general knowledge is important for clearing the civil services exam and for the career ahead. As i had mentioned in a previous post, this job requires broad-based people with a good understanding of the things happening around them. As far as the exam is considered, 600 marks in the GS papers + 200 in essay + 300 in interview depends on your general knowledge base. And off late, the second paper in Public administration is more like a GS paper 3. Thus around 1100-1400 marks depends directly on your general knowledge base.

Preparation for general studies is composed of two parts:

  • Conventional topics.
  • General knowledge and current affairs.
Before I go into the books, some general points on preparation and approach:
  • Make notes as you read. It’s impossible to come back to the text books during revision. Notes should be so comprehensive that once you are done, you would not have to take the text-book again.
  • The basic approach should be STUDY-REVISE-IMPROVISE.
  • Dont use guides, standard preparatory material or NCERT text books.
  • Keep on referring to previous years papers to check if you have missed any topic.
  • Prepare for the subjective papers ( i.e mains). Note down extra facts for the prelims as you make descriptive notes. Prelims is just a necessary evil.

Conventional Topics:

It is composed of:

1. Indian History :

Pre-modern history (before Europeans) has lost significance. Last year no questions were asked in mains. Besides, it is too bulky and is not worth the effort. One need to have a good understanding of the National movement(1800s-1947).

One also need to study about the expansion and the decline of the other Europeans, the expansion of British empire and the administrative development in India during the British period ( 1650-1857). Try to get some book on Indian History from the library to make short notes. Brief notes will do for this section.

2. Geography:

Use NCERT books only for geography. Non- geography optional students don’t have to go in-depth. Read

  • Indian Geography ( NCERT class XI)
  • Fundamentals of physical geography (NCERT class XI)

Google and make notes on unfamiliar terms you may come across in the newspapers.

3. Indian Constitution:

Any good book on the constitution is fine. ‘Introduction to the constitution of India‘  by D.D. Basu is the book that i used. Read it also cover to cover.

4. Indian Economy:

One needs to know about some basic terms of economics like repo rate, reverse repo, CRR, SLR etc. These are needed for understanding articles in newspapers also. Just google them when you come across then in the papers and keep a separate note-book. Read one good book on Indian economy. I used Indian economy  by Dutt & Sundaram. The book by Uma Kapila is also a good one. In both of these books, each chapter deals with an issue. So make notes keeping in mind the requirements of a 20-30 marker. Download the latest Economic Survey of India and update the stats as you make notes. Also leave some space after each chapter to add new info from newspapers as and when they come.

Also read Chapter 1 and the chapter explaining about the government’s poverty alleviation schemes ( chapter 11 in 2010 survey). Follow the budget. Read some business newspapers at that time and also read the summary of the budget which will be posted in the net.

5. Government policies and programmes:

Make notes on the policies that you come across in the newspapers. But this will not be exhaustive. Use India yearbook published by the Publications division for an exhaustive approach. It’s a huge book with a lot of unnecessary facts and details which should be skipped. Just make short notes on the various programmes ministry-wise. Anay dwivedi ( AIR-5, cse 2009) has this to say about reading the Year book :

If you already read the IYB for prelims, just go through what you underlined and revise your notes. But if you did not, then apart from the GOVERNMENT SCHEMES and agricultural data, read the following chapters from IYB 2010:

Chapters 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11 (NCES only), 13 (terms like FIPB, FCCB, ECB, ADR/GDR, FDI, etc), 18, 24, 25 and 28.

Note: I have not specified chapters 16, 17, etc as I have assumed that you must have covered all the government schemes such as NRHM, JNNURM, etc irrespective of where they are given in the book.

In Mains 2009 many questions could be answered on the basis of information provided in the IYB, e.g. significance of coastal regions, UMPPs, BSUP, fruit production in India and NNRMS.

6. Science and Technology:

Use wikipedia extensively for this. Find out about new topics as you come across them in the S&T page of The Hindu. Also, make short notes on emerging technologies and recent nobel winning technologies from these pages

Exhaustive preparation on these topics can be very hard. Try to cover as much ground as possible and hope for the best. When writing answers, try to point out the applications rather than elaborating on the technological part.

General knowledge and current affairs:

This is where you have to use newspapers and current affairs magazines. This is perhaps the most important part because if you see the 2010 GS paper, questions are asked about the Palestine crisis, Sudan civil war, Cambodia, CWG etc. I recommend The Hindu and Frontilne. The Hindu has less unwanted news and has a balanced perspective on issues and is pro people. You shouldn’t be an ultra leftist or a right-wing hawk when writing the answers. The editorials and Op-eds present a very balanced picture on issues.

When reading newspapers, go beyond the issue. Use the newspaper as a guide to broaden your GK. So when you come across something you don’t know in the newspaper, google it up and make a comprehensive note on the topic.For eg, if the news item is “Pakistan Prez visits India”, I will google about India-Pak relations and make notes on it with a historical perspective and also leave some space to update future news. If the news is ‘ Jacques Diouf assumes charge as head of FAO’ , I will make notes on FAO and other UN organisations from Wikipedia. The advantage of using wiki is that when you read about one topic, you can move to other topics by clicking on the ‘Related’ links. Follow the references in wiki if you want to go deeper or confirm something.

I had kept two separate category of notebooks. One for noting down the events, date wise and the other for noting down the issues after researching in the net. The advantage of keeping the second type of notebook on issues is that when you revise you will have a complete picture under each heading, i.e, the historical perspective + all the events in the last 2 years. This should be done on a daily basis without any gap until the interview is over. You will need 2-2.5 hours daily for this initially. You can bring down the time as you progress with your prepsReading topics of Indian economy and op-eds from any one of the business newspapers will also help. I used Business line. I had also subscribed EPW after my prelims and read articles selectively.

Extra Reading

Also make notes on topics that you come across in previous years papers from wiki and net.

Note:

  • Just exploit the internet. You have all the information you need at your fingertips. The coaching institutes and magazines also make their notes using the information available in the net. Why take secondary info at exorbitant costs when you can get the primary info and the whole picture free of cost.
  • There is not strict boundary between conventional topics and GK. You should update your notebooks with new info as and when you come across them in the papers.


 
 
 
 

To be or not to be : Choosing civil services as a career

A career in the Indian civil services is still one of the most coveted job in the nation. The number of applicants for the 900 odd posts every year is increasing exponentially. Just about 6 lakh applied for the 965 notified vacancies for CSE 2010. After a one year gruelling process, the UPSC recommended 920 for appointment.  Of which only those who end up in the first 100 will get the coveted IAS/IFS and the remaining may end up appearing for at least one more attempt!! And even after getting through, you work under severe constraints. IAS and IPS officers works directly under the supervision of elected representatives. Their decisions are to be guided by political sensibilities as well as real-time requirements. Added to all this, there is no fixed tenure at any of the posts. The not so favoured among the officers may end up getting 3 or 4 transfers every year.

So one should be very sure about the requirements of this examination and well as the requirements of this service before deciding . Given the competitiveness of exam, there is no other way other than full-time preparation. One need to start 7-8 months before the prelims and the exam process takes one whole year. Thus atleast two years need to be completely devoted towards the preparation. While we hear about the inspirational stories of the toppers and the successful civil servants, what is lost out in the noise is the failure of tens of thousands of aspirants and the intense dissatisfaction with which many officers continue in service.

So I request the would be aspirants to spent some time contemplating on these:

  • Know about the services. Talk to serving and retired bureaucrats. Read memoirs or articles. There is more to the services than Lal bathi and huge bungalows. Be sure that you will fit into the service.
  • Know about the requirements of the exam. Make a realistic assessment of the efforts that need to be put in. People don’t start as equals as far as this exam is considered. People with a good general knowledge base, opinions and ability to express their views definitely stand at an advantage over others.
  • Make a rational self assessment. Dont do it based on your past laurels and achievements as this exam is not testing intelligence as defined in the conventional sense. Its looking for broad-based individuals with opinions.
Thus be very sure before taking the plunge. But once you have made the choice, there should be no looking back. You will face failure, pass through highly depressing stages, doubt your ability to make through, may have to start from square one after reaching upto the last stage….Thus is it a test of your mental strengths as much as it is of your intellectual abilities. The whole process of preparation and exam is a life changing one, whether you come out successful or unsuccessful. You get to read and learn about things that you would not have done otherwise. There is nothing other than knowledge that makes you feel more humble by the virtue of having more. I feel much more closer to my family, my close relatives and my friends than ever before. Think and discuss before starting. All the best for the aspirants.
@Aspirants.I will be writing about my experiences and strategies for each of the subjects in this page. Please refrain from sending me messages and friend requests in facebook. I think it is not the right platform and I also prefer to keep it personal. Please follow this blog and post comments if you want to clear any doubts. As someone who found it hard to get proper guidance in the beginning, I am only happy to help. But please use this blog as the platform.

My CSE marks

This was how it turned out for me. My correct attempt was 555 in physics (280 + 275), 580 in PubAd (280 + 300), 490 in GS (240 + 250). Expected more in GS 2. But it seems that most of the candidates got lower marks than what they had expected.

My Civil Services Interview- CSE 2010

My interview was scheduled for the afternoon session on the 4th of April 2011. After the document verification, by around 14.15 hrs, we were told that we will be interviewed by the board chaired by the UPSC member I.M.G. Khan. I was the last candidate in the list.

I entered the interview room by around 16.50 hrs. This is the transcript of the interview:

Me: May I come in, Sir?

The chairman asked me to come in. The room and the table were quite small. So I had a hard time distinguishing the chairman from the five members.

I got in wishing the chairman, lady member and the other members Good afternoon. But before I could finish the niceties, chairman was asking me to sit down. He seemed very cordial and the mood in the board was surprisingly fresh even at the end of the day. I sat down saying ‘Thank you’

Chairman: So you are Gokul?

Me: Yes sir, Gokul G.R

Ch: I will call you Gokul. Will that be fine? (smiling)

Me: Yes sir that will be fine. ( me too smiling)

Ch: Gokul, you have taken Physics as an optional. Are you going against the trend as we see a lot of engineers and science graduates taking non-science optional?

Me: Sir, physics is a subject that I have been studying form my school days. It is the most familiar subject for me and I like it. I wanted to take a subject that I would enjoy studying.

Ch (going through my bio-data): So you passed out from NITC with first class with distinction. Some chap came to a place near Calicut some time back no? Who was he?

I was confused and thought for a fraction of a second when I knew he was talking about Vasco Da Gama…

Me: Vasco Da Gama sir. It was in 1498. He landed at a place called Kappad. It is quite near to my college.

Ch: The beach has a memorial saying this is where he landed. Have you seen that?

Me: I have been to the beach twice. It is a rocky beach. But I don’t remember seeing the monument.

Ch: It’s a small monument which says ‘this is the spot where….’ (the other members nod at this)

Me: sorry sir. I don’t remember seeing the monument.

Ch: Why did he have to find a route through the sea?

Me: I don’t exactly remember the details but the land route was blocked by some reason.

Ch: No No that’s not possible. They could have found some other route.

Me: Sea route is cheaper and it also facilitates large scale trade.

Ch: Yes. Besides don’t you think it is safer? Taking the land route they would have to come through hostile territories and through bandits and hooligans. But again they face pirates in the sea route.

Me: Yes sir.

Ch: Why did the Europeans land in Kerala?

Me: They were looking for trade in spices, especially pepper.

Ch: Is spices still an important component of your state’s economy?

Me: Yes sir. Spices are still a major component of our exports.

Ch: Why is that Kerala has not been able to diversify from traditional agricultural commodities? Why is Industrial growth not strong in Kerala?

Me: There is a general lethargy within the government and people about inviting capital and setting up an investor friendly climate. We also have a very strong trade unionist culture. It definitely has positives for the society. The wage rates and working conditions are one of the best in India. But various elements have misused it and used it for personal ends at the expense of industrial growth. It was a mindset that was set in the 1970s and 1980s that is still preventing investors from investing in Kerala. But we are definitely changing. We just commissioned the vallarpadam project and signed the agreement for the Smart city project.

Ch: So you think that the situation will change? That the future is bright?

Me: The change is already happening. It has already started sir (smiling).

Ch: Tell me about this smart city.

Me: It is a PPP between the Kerala Govt. and Dubai’s Tecom to set up a Technology park which will provide the necessary infrastructure for software and electronics firms to set up office.

Ch: Where exactly is it?

Me: At Cochin. Kakanad to be exact.

The chairman nodded at the first member. Having taken Physics as an optional, his questions were only on the safety of nuclear power and nuclear reactors.

M1: In the context of the Japanese disaster, do you think we should continue our expansion plans for nuclear energy or should we stop it? How safe is nuclear energy?

Me: Nuclear energy is a dangerous technology and it can never be 100% safe. But nuclear energy is a vital energy source for the future. So stopping it is not an option. But we should put in place better safety and security systems. Even in the Japanese case, the reactors withstood the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and the tsunami and the reactor stopped working also. But it was the failure of the cooling system due to the damage to the electric grid that led to the current crisis.

M1: So what all should be done?

Me: We already have better safety systems. Our reactors are PHWRs as opposed to the BWRs of Japan which are inherently safer. Besides, the newer reactors have a Passive heat removal system by which air can be used for cooling in the event of failure of active cooling systems. New reactors will also have Hydrogen capture systems to prevent the kind of explosions that occurred at Fukushima.

M1: But still you think it won’t be 100% safe?

Me: Achieving a 100% safety line would be impossible but we should put in place mechanisms and safety systems to take the safety level as near to 100% as possible. Besides the safety guidelines should be placed under an independent regulatory body outside DAE.

M1: Very recently the former chairman of the AEC said that India should not import foreign reactors. Even he is not so sure about the safety of the rectors.

Me: The foreign reactors especially Areva’a EPR 1600 has untested safety features and has been rejected by a number of nations. Also, foreign reactors will have different safety systems and we will have to be experts in each of these. We will also have to depend on foreign know-how to learn their safety features also. But our reactors have been completely designed by us. So we have a better understanding of their dynamics and can better perfect the safety systems for them. Even the former chairman has supported the use of indigenous reactors.

M1: The proposed reactor at Jaitapur is coming up in a seismically active zone. What all measures need to be taken to prevent damage due to earthquakes?

Me: Building standards need to be strictly applied. Earthquake-resistant technology need to be incorporated which building. The effect of this was seen in the recent earthquake in Japan. The 8.9 magnitude quake, which is one of the largest ever killed only 20,000 people while the 7 point magnitude quake in Haiti last year killed more than 2 lakh people.

M1: You said about smart city? What all are the criterion for selecting a place for setting up a project like this?

Me: Connectivity to major city centres, road and rail connectivity, presence of good colleges in the vicinity.

The chairman interrupted asking me whether human element is also a factor that is considered.

Me: Yes sir. Availability of prospective employees is a major factor. If a Keralite is given a choice between a job in Smart city and in Bangalore, he will choose smart city even if the salary is a bit less. Given that about 50,000 engineers pass out from Kerala every year, this will give a competitive edge for the recruiters.

The turn was passed to the second member, a lady member. Her questions were about social issues.

M2 (looking at the summary sheet): You were selected as the ‘Young Scientist’ at the National Children’s Science Congress and you were second in the Regional Mathematical Olympiad. Why have you chosen civil services after coming from a science background like this?

Me: The project that we did for the Science congress has in fact played a very important role in me choosing civil services as a career. It was a social project. It was about the nutritional status of the people in a particular rural area in my district. The project gave me a firsthand exposure to the problems in the rural areas and about the various government departments working on these issues. The results of the project painted a very grim picture about the nutritional status of the people with respect to protein and vitamin deficiency. Besides, my aptitude is in an administrative job. Civil services will offer me the variety and challenges that no other job can give. I chose engineering because of my interest in science and to keep my options open. But civil services have been my dream throughout. It was always there in the back of my mind. That was why I started my preparation at the end of my third year itself.

M2: Suppose you are posted as an SDM in your state. What will you do to improve the nutritional level of the people? Are you aware of any schemes in that regard?

Me: ICDS, PDS, NRHM etc are the schemes for improving the nutritional and health levels of the people. Most of these projects suffer from poor implementation and leakages. For e.g., in ICDS, the anganawadi workers are ill-paid and their responsibilities are quite heavy.  This has led to a lack of morale among them. I will concentrate on proper implementation of such schemes.

M2: But as an SDM you cannot make policy decisions. You can’t give them more salary. What will you do in that context?

Me: I will look for implementation of the schemes with support from the local bodies and community organisations. Involving of Panchayats can also create the political pressure for change.

M2: Kerala is called ‘God’s own country’. In what context is that name used.

Me: It is essentially a tagline coined by the tourism department for promoting tourism in Kerala. But otherwise also, Kerala can be called God’s own country (smiling).

Everyone laughed at this and the chairman interrupted asking me ‘Why is that Gokul?’

Me: The climate is good throughout the year,  people are well educated and friendly, presence of some of the most ecologically diverse areas, greenery all around……

With this, the Third member took charge. He was jovial throughout.

M3: You have taken public administration as an optional. Do you think decentralization through Panchayati raj is good?

Me: Definitely sir.

M3: Then why is it that in spite of being inserted in the constitution, it is not properly implemented in many places?

Me: Although they have been inserted in the constitution by the 73rd and 74th amendment, it is still the prerogative of the state governments to delegate powers to these bodies. In the case of Kerala, most of the powers in the 11th and 12th schedule have been delegated. Besides, 25% of the plan expenditure in budget is passed to the local bodies.

M3: So what should be done in the other states?

Me: People should be politically motivated and should demand more powers. Education can play a very important role in this.

The member said ‘Oh, you Keralite have 100% literacy’ and laughed. Everyone joined with him. I smiled and said 94% according to the provisional census figures

M3: Tourism is affecting our culture. Should we stop tourism due to that?

Me: No sir. We should not close ourselves to anyone. The tour operators act as the interface between the tourists and our people. They should be given training and orientation to properly orient foreign tourists before they land in India. The foreign tourists should be given a basic idea about the culture and society into which they are stepping in.

M3: But shouldn’t masses be educated for this to be effective. (He turned to other members and joked ‘our sanskrithi will become apasanskrithi by then)

Me: A well educated society is definitely good for developing a service industry like tourism. That should be our long term goal. But in the short term, educating the operators will help us develop tourism sustainably.

M3: A DM was recently kidnapped by the Maoists. In such a dangerous environment, do you still want to be an IAS officer?

Me: I heard about Mr. Vineel Krishna for the first time after the incident. All the reports in the newspapers were very positive about his work as a DM. In fact, he was kidnapped when he went to check a development work in a remote area without any protection. The people of his district rallied behind him. So if you are upright and do your work, you will have the support of the people and will be perfectly safe.

M3: So you think if he is honest and upright, nothing bad will happen?

Me: Yes sir.

The turn was passed to the fourth member.

M4: Did you write CAT, GRE or GATE in between?

Me: No sir. I was preparing through my final year and gave the exam right after my final exams.

M4: So you were focused. Tell me the advantages and disadvantages of Mobile communication. Advantages first: Economic advantages:

Me: Better connectivity, ability to make fast economic decisions, buying and selling goods using mobiles, advertising.

M4: Social

Me: People and families are always connected. You can call everyone at any distance at very low rates at any time.

M4: Political

Me: Campaigning, Communicating political ideas and schemes…

M4: Any disadvantages?

When I thought for a while, he said ‘it’s Ok, if you can’t think of any’.

M4: What are the uses of space technology for people?

Me: It has revolutionized communication. Weather satellites like Metsat help us in better prediction. Remote sensing satellites help us in planning. We have recently put in orbit Oceansat which observes the ocean. The information gathered by it is beneficial for the fishermen.

M4: Cyber security is a major issue now. What do you know about it and what is being done by the Indian government?

Me: It is a very dynamic area. It is a constant battle between a large number of hackers and security establishments. We need to keep ourselves updated always. DRDO is developing an operating system for use in govt. systems. The operating systems that we use now are available throughout the world and hence are more prone to hacking. We have set up cyber cells in the major police stations. The CERT-In is the body that is responsible for cyber security at the national level.

M4: Define ethics.

Me: The set of standards that we are supposed to follow in a particular realm.

M4: Can you point out some of those that you are supposed to follow. Was there any committee that made recommendations about ethics?

Me: It was a committee that was appointed in the U.K (couldn’t remember the name of Nolan committee) that gave detailed guidelines regarding ethics in public life.

M4: No Indian committees?

Me: A number of committees to look into corruption have also given similar recommendations.

M4: Can you list out a few of those standards?

Me: Honesty, integrity, leadership by example…

M4: Those are general things. Don’t you have any set of professional ethics as an engineer? Is there any Body that sets such standards?

Me: IEEE sets the standards for us. But I am not aware of any code of ethics.

M4: No Indian bodies? IETE?

Me: Sir, do you mean ISTE?

M4: No, IETE. Ok, tell me the ethics that you are supposed to follow as a communications engineer.

Me: Respect for IPRs, honesty…

M4: Ok.

The chairman took over. The interview was in its last phase.

Ch: Very recently a Bulgarian group was arrested in Delhi for robbery. What does this incident mean for India? Have we become a soft state that people from faraway places are coming for robbery?

Me: It may be a random, off the cuff incident.

Ch: No no. It was a well organized group with a lot of members.

Me: A number of foreign groups are active in a number of nations like the Italian Mafia in USA. As the economy improves…

Ch (interrupting): So you think it is a good thing!!!( and laughed…the members also joined him)

Ch: So Gokul, what will you do after getting out. Tell me the first thing that you will do on exiting this room.

Me:  Sir…..I will be removing my tie (It was a spontaneous reply)

Everyone burst into laughter at this and the chairman asked me whether candidates think they won’t be selected if they came in half sleeves without tie (Every male member in the room wore half sleeves without tie). I started with the usual answer, ‘Sir, this is one of the most important occasions for us. We respect the occasion’ when the chairman joked once again. Then I said, “Sir, frankly candidates tend to be a bit conservative in this regard”

Ch: Ok. Your interview is over. It has been nice talking to you. Thank you.

I thanked the chairman, the lady member and other members and left the room. It was 17.20 by then. The interview went for around 30-35 minutes.

The session felt more like a candid discussion rather than a strict interview. Hoping for the best!!

P.S : I was given 214/300 for this interview 🙂

Brilliant Tutorial for civil services: desperately out of focus

People coming from science and engineering background tend to go for Brilliant tutorial material for preparation for civil services due to their familiarity with the same during their preps for entrance exams. Ready reviews about the material is not available in the internet. This is my experience from using their material for my preparation for prelims and mains of CSE-2010.

Science optionals: I had physics as my first optional. The preparation for any optional should be ideally from a mains point of view. Besides, you need to master all the topics for the science optional due to scaling and the ‘almost digital’ marking scheme. Thats were the problem starts with BT material.

1. Not all topics are covered ( This cannot be afforded as each question in the paper will consist of 3 separate questions in a 20×3 format. If you don’t know one sub-question, you can’t completely attempt the question) . I found often repeated topics like Rayleigh scattering, Difference between conductors and insulators by quantum method skipped.

2. The approach for a lot of questions is not the standard one and wont fetch you 20 marks if you attempt.

3. Concepts are not properly defined in the beginning of a proof. Besides, they skip a number of steps in between and bring in unknown concepts without introducing. This is fatal as it will hamper one ability to study and remember the derivations. Conceptual clarity is given good weight during evaluation. One will end up writing bad answers.

4. Glaring mistakes in many solutions.

5. The change in syllabus has not been incorporated. The result: a lot of crap.

The only good thing that BT material gives you is that, appended to every chapter is a question bank of all previous questions from 1990. This is very important in knowing the pattern of questions and to fine tune ones understanding. Although the question papers are available at examrace.com, in the early periods of your preparation, the solved set can be a real boon.

I was studying optics from BT material, found it hard to continue and then found out the wonderful book by Ajoy Ghatak. I studied Electricity and Magnetism from their material, then had to relearn the chapter from textbooks after failing to answer questions asked from the chapter in the previous years.

So what is to be done? Use standard text books alone. Supreet Singh Gulati has written a good writeup on the textbooks in his blog.

Non-science subjects: The material for all non-science optional and GS is a big time mess.  The material is completely out of focus and it’s really hard reading through it both for the lack of conceptual clarity and the low quality print. The material is filled with copy-paste kind of material from all possible sources which has no relevance for the exams. They have science section for GS which deals has given the topics studied in plus 2 like thermodynamic, scientific names of all possible organisms and what not. All the model answers given at the end are just general comments which beats around the bush. A conceptual flow and connectivity that’s vital for subject like PubAd is hopelessly absent.

Concluding, if you have a science optional, the question bank can be useful but that doesnt justify the 15,000 rupees one has to pay. But if you are not taking a science optional, subscribing for BT is throwing your 15K down the drain…

 

A long wait and then…cleared my first hurdle

The results of the prelims was supposed to come by the end of the first week of  august. But it just kept on getting postponed. When upsc conducts an examination, unlike our entrance exams, no date will be published beforehand and you guess on the dates based on previous years’ results and other facts like time for mains, time before the foundation course of previous year starts etc. And you will know they havent put up the results after refreshing the upsc site a 100 times between 5 and 6 in the evening.

And finally it came on the 19th by 6 pm. And the very next moment the site hung up. But i had got the link to the actual result page by searching in google. The link remains same every year and they only update its contents. I accessed with that and entered my roll number. Although i was pretty much confident of clearing the prelims, my heart was obviously beating faster then. After all its a competitive exam, anything can happen and then…..

Congrats…..your roll number figures in the list of successful candidates

And thus i have cleared civil service prelims in my very first attempt. Although i feel that i can take a break tomorrow, i cannot afford to be complacent or lower my concentration. As the marks doesnt carry over to the mains, prelims is nothing but a necessary evil. You make or break in the mains exam. Even interview can only supplement your performance in mains as mains carry 2000 out of the 2300 marks.

My prelims physics paper was the best objective paper i had ever written. Could attempt 117 out of 120. But mains is an entirely different ball game. With scaling that happens with science subjects to make them on par with humanities subjects, one has to score quite high indeed. I should revise again and again to reproduce the answers within the stipulated time. The next three months could very well turn out to be the most important 3 months of my life. Lets see where life takes me.

P.S: For the past two months i didnt have much to say when people asked me : ok gokul, what u doing now??…..now i could atleast say ‘i cleared prelims and am preparing for the mains’

Gearing up for the first stage of one of the most competitive exams…

Just a few more days remaining for the most important day in my life atleast until now. The prelims for Civil services exam 2010 is on the 23rd of May 2010. Incidentally, the date marks the first anniversary of me starting studying for the exams. After my mini project presentation on the 18th and a few days in Maulana hospital for my dad’s surgery, it was exactly on the 23rd that I started studying for the marathon exercise called Civil services exam. I started off with Indian polity. The exam  in every sense is a marathon. You have to mix long term planning with short term targets and must be ready to pull yourself up from the abyss of failure whenever you meet with it. There are also times when you should sprint like in a 100m race. I think I am currently in that kind of a stage, trying to maximize the number of questions that can be done in 2 hours. But once the prelims is over, I will have to switch once again to the long endurance mode and complete whats remaining in physics and pub ad within two months. That means I will have to complete the syllabus of the mains exam before the results of the prelims come out. So its as much a test of your mind as it is of your knowledge.

Onto the last week of the exams, I am going through my notes over and over again for general studies and taking mock tests for physics. Although UPSC dont release the marks for prelims, a score of 240 is generally deemed to be on the safe side. But you cant write an objective test with a target in your mind. You will only end up getting more negatives if you try too much. I hope to keep my pace  for physics. For G.S, I look forward to picking the doable questions alone. I am also giving myself a few more hours of sleep in the night for the last week just to keep myself fitter.

All said, I think it eventually boils down to keeping your cool during the exams. So eagerly waiting for the 23rd so that I will be relieved of the boredom of revising the topics again and again and also because I can start preparing for the mains……