Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Deja Vu...Not Desirable Anymore.

So here I was about to face UPSC interview for the second time. The board was that of Former Defense Secretary Mr. Vijay Singh, an IAS Officer of 1970 batch, who was earlier the Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh.

Many candidates who are already in service usually tend to be more confident (sometimes even cocky) while facing the interview for second time. I decided otherwise & played low key. This was based on my observation in the academy that the candidates who have scored the highest interview marks are not the ones with the best communication skill or confidence levels. Most of the 200 plus candidates I met had average communication skill but a humble approach towards life. May be honesty & humility is very much needed for getting into the top 5 percentile. Atleast that’s what I thought. In Civil Services exam, you know nothing for sure but keep on experimenting with strategies till you hit the sweet spot. I would still call it probability than luck.

My Interview lasted about 30-35 minutes. I was the fourth candidate to be interviewed so I had enough time to go through newspapers & chat around with fellows who were soon be on the gallows!! Here’s what I remember from my tête-à-tête with the board members.

Chairman: So you are from Rajasthan?
Yes Sir.

You have completed your entire education from Delhi…I See Kirori Mal College? Then he started looking at me.
No Sir. I’ve just done my graduation from Delhi. I have completed my entire schooling in Rajasthan itself.

I see you completed your MBA in 2006. What have you done during the intervening period?
Sir, after my MBA, I got campus placement. I was working with Kotak Mahindra Old Mutual life Insurance till last year, when I cleared civils and got Indian Revenue Service (IT). Then I left the job & went to the academy. But now I have taken Extra Ordinary Leave (EOL) from the academy

Where is the academy?
Sir it is in Nagpur…..National Academy of Direct Taxes. (I wondered why it was asked…Was it some sort of a deliberate attempt or whether Mr. Vijay Singh was not aware of it).

He said…yes yes….Nagpur. NADT is a very famous place.

How long is this EOL?
Sir, it is for one year period. I’ll be joining my training in December this year.

The Chairman then signals to the member sitting to my immediate left to ask question.

Why have you taken EOL?
Sir, I had to take EOL as I wanted to improve upon my service. Our Course Director said that if you join the academy, you will not be allowed to take Civil Services Exam again. Those who want to reappear, have to take EOL.

Is this EOL, leave without pay?
Yes sir it is.

So you don’t know much about Taxation. Did you go to the academy?
Yes sir, I don’t know much. I went to the academy just for one week and came back.

What is your service preference order.
Sir IAS, IPS, IFS (Now IFS I knew was ruled out but still I mentioned to avoid any possible bouncers on foreign policy or any related issue like why not IFS)

Why do you want to leave Indian Revenue Service & join IAS? Don’t you appreciate the contribution of Indian Revenue Service to country’s development?
Sir, I very much appreciate the contribution of Revenue Services. Infact because of the massive Direct Tax Collections & Indirect Tax Collections, the Government has been able to significantly increase its funding for the social sector schemes. We have reached a point where we are collecting Rs. 1000 crore per day. The Direct tax collections for last year were around 3.4 lakh crore & this year we are targeting a collection of 4 lakh crores this year.
As far as my preference for IAS, IPS goes, I would say that my preference order was the same last year. I prefer IAS because of its profile. You get exposure in various domains like Education, Healthcare, implementing social schemes etc. Moreover there is people to people contact which adds to job satisfaction.

So you want to become DM?
Yes Sir

What will be your top priorities as a DM.
Sir my top priorities would include making myself accessible to the public at large. Currently the public perception is that the District Collector is out of bounds for the common man. Next my full focus would be on implementing various social sector schemes like NREGA among others efficiently. For this I’ll conduct regular meetings and track the progress – on papers as well as on ground. Moreover I’ll try my level best to minimize corruption in implementation of various schemes.

Why is Tax Collection going up? Is it the assessment by the officer or the booming economy?
Sir the tax collections are going up because of both the factors. After liberalization of the economy the private sector has done extremely well. Corporate incomes have gone up & also the salary of the employees. Moreover the income tax department has introduced various measures to facilitate tax collections like increased transparency, e-filing of returns etc.

What is the date of filing tax returns.
Sir the date of filing advanced tax is 15 days prior to every quarter end.

No…No…I’m asking what is the last date of filing returns.
Sir, If I remember it right the last date of filing income tax returns for an individual is upto 30th June.

What about the filing of return….Lets say period of April to December….Blah Blah Blah…
I couldn’t understand his question & said “Sorry Sir”. (Sorry is the panacea…the Elixir without which nobody can manage).

Although you have not joined the academy, you must be aware of Direct Tax Code as part of your Civil Services Preparation. What are the provisions & your views.
Sir, the Direct Tax Code (DTC) is a positive step in reforming the tax laws. Under DTC the tax slabs have been given a very liberal upwards revision. Under it 30 % tax will be charged only on incomes exceeding 25 lakhs. So it’s a significant revision in the slab. Another major change is that the savings limit has been increased to 3 lakhs from 1 lakh at present. This will help us boost the Savings to GDP ratio which is very necessary for us to sustain high growth rate. Third important provision is that we will be moving from EEE (Exempt-Exempt-Exempt) regime to EET (Exempt-Exempt-Tax) regime.

The member interrupted and asked me that why is the EET regime being opposed.
Sir the opposition to EET regime has logical grounds. Today if I as a tax saver want to save money through ELSS (Equity Linked Saving Scheme) or any other instrument, I don’t have to pay taxes during withdrawal. Once the EET regime sets in, I’ll be taxed at withdrawal stage. This will reduce my effective return on investment. Hence it is being opposed.

The member elaborated that in EET even the Provident Fund savings…EPF, PPF will be taxed which is not good (It seemed he personally was against this proposition though globally income tax savings are taxed atleast at one stage be it TEE, ETE or EET regime).

He signaled the Lady Member to continue

You seemed to have specialized in Finance….I can see from your summary sheet.
No Madam. I have specialized in Marketing, though I have studied finance to as part of my MBA curriculum

So you are more comfortable with marketing.
Yes Madam

Neways I’ll ask you a finance question. Have you heard to technical analysis?
Yes madam, I have heard to technical analysis, it is used in analysis of stock prices & index movement.

Yes…But it is used elsewhere too. How will you use it in a scheme?
Madam as far as my knowledge goes; we can use technical analysis for figuring out the past trends & projecting for the future. Critical ratios can be calculated to see how the scheme is functioning.

What is fundamental analysis?
(I had definitely heard the term but had not expected even in my dreams that such terms would be thrown at me….Still the financial analyst in me, tried to bluff my way through)…Madam fundamental analysis with respect to analyzing a company’s performance rests on checking out the key figures like Turnover, operating profit etc to figure out how the company is performing.

If given a choice will you prefer technical analysis or fundamental analysis?
Madam If I am to choose between the two then I’ll choose fundamental analysis (I was hardly sure but here I was speaking with the confidence of a CFO or Market Analyst) because technical analysis is based on previous projections & it might not hold true for future. The reason is that a change in operating environment could result in technical analysis going wrong, while fundamental analysis can be a better predictor in such cases.

Why does the stock market index does not react to environmental changes or policy changes the way it should?
(At last a more tangible & direct question….A Civil Services aspirant can speak for hours on government policies on various issues but what one studied during MBA or Engineering is mostly a spoiler). Madam there are various factors at play which determine index’s value. The FII can pull in & pull out resulting in a change. Moreover sometimes the change expected out of recent policy shift is already built in. Like the recent hike in Repo & Reverse repo rates by RBI did not impact the sensex as probably the market forces were already anticipating such a policy announcement, so it was already accounted for. Moreover index also depends on “Psychology of Investor” which always does not work on rational considerations. (I felt like stating RBI Governor’s Mr Subbarao’s quote - You can’t define financial stability. It’s like pornography, you can’t define it but when you see, you know it…………But I sacrificed my instincts in anticipation of service upgradation)

It is said that Direct Taxes are progressive & Indirect Taxes hit the poor most. How do you explain this.
Madam, as direct taxes are progressive it leads to rich people paying up more taxes. On the other hand in case of indirect taxes people pay the same tax irrespective of their income levels. For e.g. If today I go to buy a sachet of Shampoo, I pay the same indirect tax as a poor person would do if he or she buys the same product. So Indirect taxes hit the poor most.

She signals next member to take lead.

I see you have worked in insurance industry. Have you hear of agricultural insurance. Presently what crops are being covered?
Sir Agricultural insurance was introduced in India in 1985 when the Comprehensive Crop Insurance Scheme was started but it was a loss making venture & government replaced it with National Agricultural Insurance Scheme. Under it various forms of agricultural insurance scheme is provided like Rain bases insurance which covers incase of monsoon failure….weather based insurance which cover the losses incurred due to temperature fluctuating beyond a particular range

As far as the issue of crops covered goes, a total of 27 crops are being covered if I remember it right. (Actually it is 35 crops during Kharif & 30 crops during Rabi….But pretty close)

Why are farmers not buying Agricultural Insurance? What is the actual issue.
Sir the reason is that most of the farmers who are buying agricultural insurance at present are being forced by the bank from where they take loan to buy it.

The member intervened and said “Yes that I know….It is being done for safety cover of loans if the crop fails but what are the other reasons”.
Sir the other reasons remain very low level of awareness among the farmers about agricultural insurance. Also the premium rates are high in certain cases.

How are premium rates determined?
Sir the premium rates are determined on the basis of Claims ratio. The historical claim ratio is studied & on the basis of that the premium is determined.

There are issues of claims being repudiated or there is a considerable time taken in Claims settlement. What is the reason?
Yes sir….we have considerable time lag in settling claims. The major reason for this is that the agricultural insurance market in not of perfect market in terms of information. The farmer always has a better knowledge of the possible risks. So when insurance companies operate in such an environment either the premiums are high or the claims settlement is low. Worldwide wherever government has gone into the business of agricultural insurance it has suffered losses because of the imperfect information available. Even in India the government is relying on Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) data for fixing premiums. There is no customized data available for regional areas to customize the premium rates.

The country is facing numerous law & order problems. There are riots, communal disturbances & this new problem of naxalism is spreading across many states? What will you do to curb Naxalism.
Sir do you want me to answer on all issues or just naxalism.
He said only Naxalism.
I replied that for tackling naxalism a two pronged strategy should be adopted. One should be action by armed forces against the naxal rebels who have taken up arms against the state & are blowing schools, railway tracks etc…On the other hand the government should implement all the social sector schemes properly. The politicians should better understand regional aspirations & be sensitive to the problems of the people. If proper development takes place the naxals will not be able to sustain support among the masses.

But this is already done by the government. What is lacking then.
Yes sir the government is following this approach. As far as tackling the naxals through the armed forces is concerned we are on track but as far as delivering development & inclusive growth to the people, we are way off the target. There is a wide gap between what is desired & what is being delivered by the government on development & social sector schemes implementation.

Still, What exact steps will you take as the administrator.
Sir, a lot of initiative on personal front can be taken. For E.g. there was a DM in my district by the name Mr. Rajiv Thakur. He took a lot of innovative steps like
• Organizing numerous camps in tehsils & villages, solving the issues of the masses.
• Making his mobile number available to public at large through local dailies.
• Installing a Postal Box outside his Office so that if any person comes with a complaint to his office while he is on tour, the same can be taken up later.
• Introducing a Slip System, whereby every person would be meeting the DC in particular order according to slip number. This was done to ensure that influential person do not bypass the poor people while meeting the DM.

Like this a lot of reforms can be taken at personal level to improve efficiency in administration.

Next member is asked to continue

What is the status on Tax Arrears?
(I invoked the “Brahmastra” once more)….Sorry sir, I am not aware of it.

You talked about tackling corruption. How is tackling corruption different in Revenue Service & Administrative service?
Sir in Revenue Service, I’ll be dealing with corporates & big businessmen who maintain their accounts on computers with sophisticated softwares. To unravel accounting fraud in such places you need to be expert at “Digital Forensics” which is a new field as well as understand the operation of the accounting software as accounts are no longer maintained through ledger books.

In administration, I’ll try to curb corruption through periodical inspection of work done on the field to ensure that the projects are actually being implemented & not just progressing on papers.

There is a lot of political pressure in Civil Services….esp. on IAS, IPS. Why don’t you prefer Revenue Service then in which there is little or no political interference.
Sir there is political pressure & that makes these services even more challenging (He nodded & looked satisfied making it redundant for me to elaborate)

Back to the Chairman.

A lot of divide in the name of class, caste, region is taking place. How will you control this? He elaborated by citing the examples of Maharashtra where Shiv Sena is threatening Shah Rukh khan or in M.P where the CM does not want Bihari’s to secure jobs. How will you prevent this.
(I understood the issue but was unsure as to how I can prevent it in my capacity as DM or Police Commissioner…So I expressed my predicament) Sir how can I as the DM or SP prevent the political parties from playing petty politics by dividing people on caste/class/region basis.

The Chairman explained that as implementer of laws you can provide protection to the affected parties. For e.g. providing adequate security cover to cinemas operator in case a movie is involved in controversy.
I said “I agree with you sir”. Dividing people on various lines like class, caste, region for gaining political mileage is bad. If I am in control of the area, then I’ll try my level best to provide security to the concerned party. Moreover under Article 311 of the Indian Constitution a Civil Servant is totally secured & he or she can only be transferred if any action is taken against the interest of the political party.

Godhra….Lets not talk about it but it seems that the administrative machinery has crumbled under political pressure. The machinery of IAS/IPS has failed to deliver justice to the common person. Increased political interference has blunted the efficiency of administrative mechanism. How do we prevent this?
Yes sir I agree that political interference has caused a lot of interference n the functioning of administrative setup. We need reforms in these areas so that politics does not come in the way of a civil servant performing his or her duty. There are a lot of examples of upright IAS, IPS officers who are carrying out their duty with utmost honesty & integrity.

The recent Police reforms which talk about fixed tenure of two years for Police Head in the state is a positive step in this regard. Fixed tenure will ensure that the police does not play into the hands of politicians. We need more reforms on these lines to limit the influence of Politicians on Civil Servants.

With this the interview was over.

The Chairman said “Thank you Ghanshyam, it was a pleasure talking to you”. I thanked the members & walked out. Overall the board was extremely cordial & discussion went on a very constructive note. Let’s see what’s in store.


  1. hello sir, could u mail 2markers to the following id cm_hindustani@yahoo.co.in

  2. This interview fetched me 210 marks..:)

  3. Hi sir
    please tell me how to go for geography i have prepared from books however i got confused how to consolidate it as syllabus is vast should i go for some institute's notes or should i prepare notes myself