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Civil Services Examination – A Perspective

Civil Services Examination – A perspective

Aditya Jha

The ever-changing pattern of Civil Services Examination has put the aspirants in a fix. The recent changes introduced in Mains 2013 examination question-paper prove the futility of following any one particular strategy to tackle the exams.  As revealed by conversations, many have called this year’s paper “Easy and Predictable”. However, It was only fair that many questions were predictable, as it was clearly stated in the Civil Services Notification 2013 that, “The nature and standard of questions in the General Studies papers (Paper II to Paper V) will be such that a well-educated person will be able to answer them without any specialized study.” But, before being judgmental, one must understand that it is never about ‘Questions’, it is about the ‘Answers’ written in exam conditions within the prescribed time limit.

To analyse an issue critically, come up with a structure for the answer and then finally write it on paper under pressure would normally require more than ‘seven’ minutes. And, who knows whether next year it may be 30-35 questions instead of 25 this year? Or only 5 questions of 50 marks(1000 words) each?

When you write in a haste in the examination, no matter how much you have read, your real understanding would be reflected in the paper. Selection thus depends not on the quantity you write, but the quality you produce. Only a prior in-depth understanding of issues will allow you to write “relevant, meaningful and succinct answers” in the examination hall. With an in-depth understanding you will be able to handle any type and any number of questions regardless of its difficulty level. And, this is what the UPSC expects in the candidates, as the UPSC Chairman revealed in 3rd UPSC Lectures on Governance and Public Services, 2011- “I would like to make it very clear that the endeavor of the Commission is to ensure that all the candidates are judged on the basis of in-depth knowledge and understanding rather than information gathered at the last moment.”

But, from UPSC’s point of view, in-depth knowledge means multidimensional knowledge. It is the ability to connect across topics, inter-relate them and find a meaning out of the multiple dimensions. It is the ability to comprehend and consolidate your wide readings without any bias in mind. It is not deep and technical knowledge about a ‘particular’ topic. These are the most important traits of an administrator, which the UPSC is looking for. Therefore, the eternal question is how to build this kind of understanding?

This article intends to answer the same question. It is divided into two parts and would contain several illustrations to clarify its message.

Framework of Mind

The first question that you may ask is what do multiple Dimensions mean?

UPSC expects you to look at issues from Social, Political, Economic, Ecological, International, Administrative, Ethical, Legal and Security dimensions. What exactly do each mean is explained below with an illustration.

The following question appeared in Mains 2013 GS Paper-I “It is said that India has substantial reserves of Shale Oil and gas, which can feed the needs of the country for quarter century. However, tapping the resources does not appear high on the agenda. Discuss critically the availability and issues involved.”

As per available data, six basins – Cambay (in Gujarat), Assam-Arakan (in the North-East), Gondawana (in central India), KG onshore (in Andhra Pradesh), Cauvery onshore and Indo-Gangetic basins, hold shale gas potential.

If you observe these areas, especially the Indo-Gangetic basins, they are fertile and cropped lands. The livelihoods of many farmers depend on their fields. But, extracting shale gas would mean that these fertile areas would have to be vacated and land be acquired. This would affect farmers who will be displaced so that the energy needs of other sections of society be fulfilled. This is what it means to look from the social dimension. You observe the effect on different classes of society. A class is a section of society which bear similar characteristics, e.g. farmers, women, children, rich, poor, tribal, SC, ST, literate, illiterate etc. Looking from this point of view is very important for an administrator so as to ensure “Social Justice”. It means no one section of society should suffer from injustice.

Besides affecting the ‘livelihoods’ of farmers, who would have to be resettled and rehabilitated; it may reduce the overall food production; it would supplement our energy requirements; reduce our import bill and dependence on foreign supplies; generate new jobs in shale gas sector etc. These cover the economic dimension.  In this, you observe the effect on the nation’s economy, both internal and external. Internal means domestic economy with special focus on employment, inclusive growth, development, poverty, budgetary constraints like fiscal deficit, infrastructure etc. Here also you should try to analyse it to ensure “Economic Justice”.

Moreover, acquiring lands, resettling and rehabilitating farmers would be fraught with practical challenges. They include protests, dharna, strikes, finding jobs for the farmers, choosing a new place to resettle them etc. These cover the administrative dimension. Here you observe the practical difficulties in executing or implementing a national policy/law/rules/regulations etc. You should naturally acquire the skill to look from this dimension to be a successful administrator.

One would also find that extracting shale gas economically requires advanced technology possessed only by the United States. It is not possessed by India. It has to therefore import this technology from the U.S. It was in news that the U.S. wants to make this sharing of technology a give-and-take deal. It would like India to make several concessions on the bilateral trade front or on India’s stand in climate negotiations. Therefore, extracting shale gas also covers international constraints which may affect India’s foreign policy towards the U.S. This is what it means to look from the international dimension. Here you observe the international constraints and effects in fulfilment of domestic policies/plans/priorities etc. You would have definitely noted the WTO dimension in implementing the Food Security Act,2013.

Moving ahead, the technology that is used for extracting shale gas is not environment friendly. Hydraulic fracturing technology for extracting shale gas requires huge amount of water. In a country which is water scarce and facing growing urbanization, rising population and increasing water pollution, it will be difficult to supply this quantity of water. Besides, hydraulic fracturing of sedimentary rocks containing shale gas, pollutes groundwater amid this scarcity. It may also cause minor earthquakes. These cover the ecological dimension. Here, you observe the effects on natural resources and on the environment. Special focus should be on sustainable development, pollution, conservation of natural resources, bio-diversity etc.

You may not have noted, but this issue also has a political and ethical dimension. Most of the farmers in the region are poor and they have little political voice. It is possible that their lands may be acquired more easily than those of the rich and powerful farmers. Even if they have political representation, they are politically neglected. The most they can do is to arrange protests, dharnas, strikes etc. For, this is the only way to put forward their demands. They can not meet the political representatives as easily and frequently as business men and their lobbies do. For instance, you would have noted a news report where many poor farmers were agitating outside the Karnataka Legislative Assembly recently for their demands. This is the political dimension. Actually, “political” is a very broad word. Whenever you hear this term, the following things should strike your mind. Right of free speech and expression; political representation in legislature (Centre, states) and local bodies; political voice and outreach; awareness about political rights; formation of unions (e.g. trade union); etc. Of course, the political constraints like coalition, political will are also a part of it.

After discussing nearly every dimension, ethical dimension deserves mention. When a class of society is displaced to fulfil the needs of others like the urbanized, industries etc. – ethical issues arise. Is it right to destroy the livelihoods of many famers so as to find a source of energy which would be possibly not used by they themselves? Or is right to abandon the energy security of the whole nation for the sake of some thousand farmers? Whose rights are more important in a society? What do we give primacy to – economic interests of the country or individual interests of farmers? Besides, the manner in which they are displaced, resettled and rehabilitated also raises ethical issues. Was their consent taken? Was force used to displace them? Etc. These and other are some difficult questions to answer. But, administrators more often than not grapple with these ethical dilemmas.  Therefore, you must be able to see the ethical dimension of these issues also.

Finally, you would observe that many of these issues are conflicting in nature. And, you would need to take a decision whether to go for shale gas extraction or not? UPSC demands : “The questions are likely to test the candidate’s basic understanding of all relevant issues, and ability to analyze, and take a view on conflicting socio- economic goals, objectives and demands” We have understood the basic issues, analyzed them, but still have not arrived at a final view on these conflicting socio-economic goals. In order to do this, you must be aware of the state of our nation and its priorities. It includes understanding our basic economic needs, socio-cultural norms, geographical coverage of resources and the ultimate vision of the Indian constitution. Therefore, you will be able to arrive at a reasonable stand only when you have a holistic or comprehensive understanding of  India.

Tackling The Complexity

All of this sounds very complex. Keeping so many dimensions in mind with all the facts, concepts, values etc. is indeed difficult. And, this is one of the most common problems faced by aspirants. How to acquire, process and produce so much information critically and analytically?

Individuals have different methods of reading, but the mental or neural processes of retrieving, storing, processing and reproducing information is nearly the same for every human being. The following discussion would help in understanding your mind and tackle this complexity.

Many aspirants enjoy reading voraciously and quickly. But, this habit may not work if you have to get an in-depth understanding of issues. At best, you would get a superficial or uni-dimensional understanding of issues.

The way of handling this is to read less, think more and apply even more. Read slowly so that your mind can ‘grasp’ the information not only for remembering but also for inter-linking. The reason is that even if your eyes can move very quickly, your mind can not. Neural processes are very slow. And, the whole process of receiving, processing and storing information takes a lot of time if it is to be remembered forever and to be reproduced immediately. You must stop while reading and think over and over on an issue.

The basics that you read should be in your mind all the time so that you can cross-link them with whatever you read. At times, you would feel that you have understood a particular issue, but can’t interlink it with other issues. This is because you have only understood an issue and have not absorbed it.  Reading, understanding and absorbing are three different stage of getting information. Absorption of information or a concept requires some more time. It happens sub-consciously and not consciously. It means that you may not even realize it. It is similar to learning dance, music, sports etc. You must be able to internalize this knowledge. It should become a part of you.

When you sleep, the information and concepts that you have gained consciously slowly get absorbed in your sub-conscious mind. The more slowly you would have read and the more thinking you would have given to  particular issues, the easier would it become for your brain to absorb it while sleeping. Do not read so much that your brain can not absorb. Whenever you feel saturated, take a break and allow your brain to absorb the information. A short nap or walk is the best way to desaturate your mind and to allow the information to be absorbed.

Why is all this important? Because, it would help you directly in the exams. Information absorbed subconsciously would automatically flow from your mind while writing even without stressing your mind. Your answers would automatically get a structure, logical flow and would have depth. This is what exactly is required in the examination hall.

You must combine this with the initiatives “Secure 2014” and “Daily Answer Writing Challenge” to gain complete command over your thinking and writing skills. Only with consistent practice and hard work would you be able to crack this examination in any of its patterns or forms.

Finally, you must understand that this examination is very different from others. UPSC is looking for well-educated people to serve the highest echelons of administration in India. And, you should really be ‘educated’ and not merely ‘learned’ to crack this examination. This means to make your mind such as to become multi-dimensional, unbiased and highly analytical. UPSC is looking for original thinkers, who can express themselves clearly and concisely.

The following quote by Tryon Edwards would best sum up what the UPSC wants, would help you to understand the word well-educated, and would always guide you in your preparation.

“The great end of education is, to discipline rather than to furnish the mind, to train it to the use of its own powers, rather than fill it with the accumulations of others.”


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