I appeared for the personality test for civil services 2013. Below follows a transcript of my interview along with other related details.
Date: 9th April 2014, Session: Afternoon, Duration: 35 Minutes, Board: Mr. D. K. Dewan, Optional: Economics, Attempt: First, Education: BE, MS (Environmental Engineering), Work Experience: ~ 5 Years (Technology Consulting, Start-up, Teaching and PSU)
I reached UPSC by Noon as I had to submit the attestation form copies at the DoPT in the North Block. This was the first time I was so close to the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Glancing at it from India Gate doesn’t come anywhere close to the feeling I got while being there. It sort of motivated me to do my best in the interview. After submitting the attestation form, I reached Dholpur House and entered after showing my call letter. The cell phone was collected in the reception area itself.
I was assigned to table XXII. There were seven groups of six interviewees each. I was the last person to be interviewed by the panel our group was assigned to. The first two members of the group had relatively shorter interviews, the third alright, the fourth seemed to go longer than the others (although it might also seem so because of the long time we had been there by then) and by the time the penultimate person was inside, I could hardly comprehend my surroundings or time. I was waiting for about seven eight minutes outside the room where interviews were being conducted. By this time my hunger pangs had started (I hadn’t had any lunch) and I was afraid of becoming the irritating self that I do if I don’t get food on time. Just then, I was told to enter. I asked the fellow sitting outside what the time was then. At 5:00 PM, the ordeal began!
There were four panel members (M1, M2, M3, M4) in addition to the chairman (C). there was no female member.
What does your husband do? – He has just completed his MBA and will now be working with ABC Company as a XYZ Manager.
Why different paths? Wouldn’t it be difficult? – Sir, I have worked in various different forms of organizations (including a private consulting firm, a start up, a Central Govt. University and a Maharatna PSU) – yes, I can see that on your form – Out of these, I have come to realize that my skills, temperament and attitude are more suited to working in a Govt. job. – but wouldn’t that mean that you would have to live apart. – Sir, we have already been staying in different states owing to our respective careers and have handled that to our satisfaction. – It is easy in young age lady, it gets tougher as you move up, especially when you start a family. – (Thinking where is this headed and smiling broadly) I shall keep that in mind, sir.
Do you know about Crimea? – Yes sir, Crimea, which was a part of Ukraine, has recently been annexed by Russia. – Why is EU interfering in Russia’s annexation of Crimea? – Sir, they are worried about possible expansionist tendency of Russia, especially owing to Russian troops being present at Moldova, Transdniestria. – But why is that an issue with EU? – (feeling a little confused) Sir, US and EU on one hand, and USSR on the other have always had different ideologies. With Ukraine coming closer to EU, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the most important remain of former USSR, is being seen doubtfully and further military presence at Moldova is adding to these doubts. – But why is that an issue for EU, military presence didn’t occur just like that, it followed a process, do you know what process was followed before annexation of Crimea? – (Now even more confused and visibly fumbled) – Sir, they are worried because of the military presence, the process which was followed… hmmm… – interrupted by M3 but just in time I said – referendum, where a majority supported annexation of Crimea by Russia, – here, M3 again interrupts, says, not majority, 97% supported, – (I was getting visibly nervous by now, what did they want to hear?) Yes sir, 97% (i.e. in overwhelming majority) supported the annexation of Crimea in the referendum, but after that annexation, there is a possibility of civil war as there are conflicts between the ethnic Russians and… – interrupted again, But what has that got to do anything with EU? – (By now, I think I finally understood the question), Sir, Crimea has a strategic importance owing to its proximity to Black Sea, the oil & gas pipelines (and immediately thought to myself, what oil pipelines, crap!!) – Oil Pipelines? Are you sure? And do you know which place exactly is of strategic importance and why? – I am sorry sir, I have read about it, but I can’t recall it at the top of my head (Apparently he was asking about Sevastopol, by now, my morale was already down, not being able to answer such a simple, relevant and in news daily question to their satisfaction and mine 😦 but I braced myself for whatever was to come next)
What is the difference between LPG and CNG – Sir, LPG is liquefied petroleum gas and CNG is compressed natural gas. LPG is used for cooking while CNG is used in vehicles for travelling purpose. – Do we make our own LPG and CNG or import? – Sir, we refine most of it ourselves and import some (Major disaster here, I meant to say extract and not refine) – We refine? Refining is done for oils or for gases? – Sorry sir (My face must be showing my disappointment with myself) – Never mind, What % of Indians do not have access to drinking water and electricity? – Sir, about 40% (actually it’s ~30%) Indians do not have access to electricity. – Are you sure? And water? – No sir, actually I am not very sure and neither very comfortable with hard core data as numbers (and then mumbled something).
Ok, never mind, tell me what are the qualities required of a government servant? Sir, Integrity, Empathy (As soon as I said empathy, he asked me to think of four most important qualities and rank them in order of preference). – Sir, may I take a moments to list them down in that case. – By all means – (I wrote on the paper and ranked for about 20-30 seconds) – Sir, the four most important qualities of Govt. servant in my opinion are –
- Motivation for public service
- Willingness to learn new things
And now I shall give you my reasons for the same. Sir, we can’t be happy and successful at any job unless we derive work satisfaction from it, therefore motivation for public service becomes first and foremost in the list of desirable qualities. As Govt. servants, we would be dealing with public money and resources, therefore integrity becomes the second most important thing. In a country like India, where there are so many people who would be needing Govt. services, efficiency becomes desirable with effectiveness and lastly, in a diverse country where a Govt. servant might be posted in any region and department, with changing times, willingness to learn new things becomes very important. – That’s all right, I didn’t ask you for the reasons – (Feeling flushed yet not showing so) – And what might be the one biggest disadvantage of being in a government service – Sir, disadvantage? (Pretending to think while I knew what I had to say) – Sir, I think the absolute hierarchical structure in Govt. organizations is a limitation and disadvantage as it leads to unwanted bureaucratic delays but – But that is true for any Govt. service in the world – Yes, sir. – Tell me what is the, ok, not disadvantage, but not so much an advantage of working a Govt. job – (After thinking for a very brief moment), Sorry sir, I can’t think of one at this moment.
At this time, the chairman asked M1 seated on his right to start asking me questions. I realized that I haven’t made a good impression and thus mentally prepared myself to answer whatever came next without any prejudice to what had already passed.
So you are a Human Rights activist and have done street plays on social issues? (He was reading from my DAF where I had mentioned a training of trainers on Human Rights and listed President, Dramatics Society as my position of responsibility) – Sir, not exactly a Human Rights activist, but yes I have attended the mentioned training on Human Rights and have conducted a number of street plays on social issues.
So, i will ask you of a dilemma regarding human rights – should cell phones be allowed in prison? – (Finally glad of an opinion based question, confidently answering)Sir, Human Rights are those which are available to a person by the virtue of being human. Though right to communicate might be such, right to own a cell phone is not. My answer may vary for a prisoner in solitary confinement, but in general I do not think that prisoners should have access to cell phones. There are various reasons for the same. Certain prisoners, held due to terrorism cases, may use phones to plot further attacks. Prisoners with sensitive information may leak it outside and so on. Therefore, I don’t think cell phones should be allowed in prison.
Ok, another question in the similar direction, What are your views on capital punishment. Should it be banned? Why? – Sir, my personal opinion is against capital punishment. However in the very training that I had attended on Human Rights mentioned in my form, I had heard some compelling views on the other side. In a country like India, which has so many mouths to feed, is it prudent to spend so much on food and space for prisoners who might have committed heinous crimes and infringed on somebody else’s human rights while doing so. However, I still believe that as long as there is a slightest chance of a person showing reform, capital punishment should not be resorted to as there may be a chance of the person reforming and making himself productive for the society in general and for himself. – So you are sounding like Mother Teresa – Just smiled.
So, you are an environmentalist as well. Why is there so much hype on environmental issues now? Why wasn’t it there before? Sir, the environmental problems have always existed since long time but in current times the impact of these problems have become much more apparent to the general public. If I may take an example of the climate change, any layman can visibly observe the climate change patterns now. In Hyderabad for example, there have been recent news of extreme hot weather and hailstorms at the same time leading to deaths. And since people have become more aware of these issues and their environmental causes, there is more hype on environmental issues now as compared to earlier times as now people want to find out ways of living in a sustainable manner without being impacted much. (The chairman was about to hand over the dialogue to the next member owing to time but M1 said he would ask me one final question, apparently stemming from my previous answer) – So, what do you understand by Sustainable Development? – Sir, sustainable development is holistic development keeping in consideration environmental, economic and social perspectives. It is a means of carrying out any project/ activity in a manner such that our future generations are left with as much if not more resources than us. (I kind of minced a few words here, damn, my linguistic skills weren’t helping that day.)
The chairman then asked the next panel member (M2), who looked a little strict, to continue.
I am going to ask you only two questions. The first one is, tell me Since Independence, which wars has India fought, with whom, when and who were the PMs at that time? – (Took a deep breath and started) – Sir, the first was in 1947-48 with Pakistan with Mr. Nehru as the PM (I was debating with myself about this but then agreed to start at 1947 as mentioned in India after Gandhi), next was in 1962 with China, Mr. Nehru was the PM, then 1965 with Pakistan, Sh. Lal Bahadur Shastri was the PM, 1971 with Pakistan, Smt. Indira Gandhi was the PM and lastly 1999, the Kargil war with Pakistan, where Sh. Atal Bihari Vajpayi was the PM. Here the Chairman looked interested (maybe being the Retd. Admiral) and asked, Can we call Kargil war a war? – Sir, actually I recently read an article stating why Kargil can’t be called a war and was an insurgence operation (while thanking my hubby profusely in my head who had forwarded the article in question to me a few days ago); The number of insurgents were merely a few thousand at best with light arms with them against India, the third largest army with tanks and military ammunitions. There were so many casualties only because the enemy was at a height. Chairman – So, why was it called a war then? – Sir, because of the casualties and in addition the political party in power at that time used the insurgence to play upon the patriotic feelings of the nation to declare it a ‘win’ while they were ruling. (quickly realized that I might have made a political blunder here but thankfully nobody pressed on it and the chairman gestured to move the conversation further in a cordial manner)
You are an environmental engineer. Tell me about XYZ report. (I still can’t recall what report he had asked me about.) – Sorry sir, I haven’t heard of this report. – Ok.
The chairman then gestured for the third panel member (M3) to take it forward. M3, a sardar, had been asking environment related questions to others in my group.
Delhi was a very polluted city 15 years ago. What remedial steps did the government take for it? – Sir, the two most important steps that the Govt. took were introduction of CNG and Metro. With a focus on less pollutant emissions from vehicles and introduction of a comfortable public transport medium, the Govt. was able to tackle the fugitive transport related emissions which were a major contributor to pollutants in the city. (Mumbled some more stuff which even I can’t recall now so clearly was useless and should not have been spoken).
What is this Bharat I, Bharat II we hear about? – (My mind went blank for a moment and all I could recall was Euro IV certification given to Nano) – Sir, Bharat I, Bharat II are certification/ standards given to vehicles. For example, Euro IV was given to nano. – That’s fine, but what is this Bharat I/ Bharat II or Euro III/ Euro IV – Sir, these are standards/ certification given to vehicles based on security and environmental (emissions) standards (Realised the repetition I guess) – What is the difference in Bharat I and Bharat II – Sir, hmm.. sir, there are incremental changes in the eligible emissions – (Must have realised that I am at a loss here)– What are vehicular emissions, what do they emit? – Sir, sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide – So, it is the concentration of these emissions which vary in the vehicular emissions – Sir, I thought you were asking for specific % changes in different standards, I know that there are incremental changes in concentrations of emissions in successive certifications but I do not know the exact numbers. – (Said something which I can’t recall).
Chairman asked the last panel member (M4) to ask questions.
What is article 19 of the Indian constitution? – Sir, Freedom of speech. (Then I don’t know why but I asked him if I could think for a moment; to which the chairman said, yes please, have some water if you want, we are here all evening. I smiled and said, thank you sir, and thought for a while) – Sir article 19 is related to fundamental rights and it is either freedom of speech or right to life but I can’t recall which one is it at this moment. – That’s all right, it is freedom of speech. Now, there are more than 100 channels today and as many newspapers. Can we say that freedom of speech is adhered to? – Sir, freedom of speech is subjected to certain restrictions. Even in social media, there were cases of … – I am not asking about social media, I am asking about print and electronic media. – (Thinking for a while) – Sir, freedom of speech is present in letter, but we can’t be so sure in spirit. Many of these channels, media houses and newspapers you mentioned are controlled by corporate or backed by political organization, in which scenario, they are bound to be a little biased. – So, how do you suggest we remove this bias. – (Again thought for while and just to fill the silence said) – Sir, we need to ensure that the journalism is impartial and free from the interference of controlling corporate and political parties. – But How? How can we ensure that freedom of speech is upheld in such a scenario? And I am asking you this because it is an important and relevant issue in current times. – (Still thinking) – Think about how they do it in the west? – Sir, censorship … – Let me tell you right now, there is no censorship in news, there is only one medium which has censorship – Yes sir, films – and we don’t need any censorship in news at all – (Chairman mentions that it is almost time so M4 kindly continues) – we can have a media regulatory board (I cursed myself for not explaining it properly because that is what I meant when I said censorship, but managed somehow and said,) – Sir, actually i did think of it but what held me back was that as you rightly mentioned that there are so many papers and channels so we will need to develop a proper logistical manner in which it can be accomplished and also, who is to say that the regulatory board will not be subjected to the same pressure by corporate and politicians – That means you are questioning every single regulatory body in the country – No sir, I am only thinking about what sort of safeguards and checks can be put in place to ensure that that doesn’t happen – so think, we are running out of time (smiling though) – (thinking for a moment, I was very tired and supremely hungry by this time, somehow I managed a weak smile and said) – Sir, actually it is a very important question and I do not think the few moments in the atmosphere of an interview room are enough to do justice to the problem at hand.
At this everybody smiled and the chairman said – that will be all. You may go now. I individually thanked everyone and came out of the room. The first thing I did was ask the fellow outside for time. And thus at 5:35 PM, this ordeal was over.
There were no questions from my hobbies, accomplishments, work experience, graduation (there were some environmental questions but they were pretty generic), optional subject or any of the many key words in my DAF.
Though there were many counter questions, the board in general was very cordial and helped me feel at ease.