by Shuchita Goel and Kainaz Tanveer
Paramvir Singh of the first batch recently ranked 29th in the UPSC/civil services exam.
- Tell us about yourself.
I come from a quintessential middle class family from Haryana, which moved to the city only twenty years ago. My father was a lawyer in the High Court, and was always very concerned about my education. He was the one who prompted me to choose a career in law after school, even though I always had my eyes set on engineering, and I ended up joining National Law University, Delhi. My schooling was average, with limited exposure, and I had to really slog through the initial few months of college life. However, those few months of hard work and the resulting confidence, enabled me to aspire for the most coveted government job available.
- How was law school for you?
I would not have been in the position where I am today without the learning I had at law school. I owe a lot to my colleagues and some of the really dedicated teachers in college. When I entered college, I was very unpolished and devoid of any knowledge barring my textbooks which, however, changed to a large extent with the help and inspiration I received from my colleagues. College life was also the most enjoyable experience with quite a lot of other interests and hobbies apart from studies, which made the learning process stress-free.
- What was your motivation in taking the UPSC exam?
The motivation was a cumulative result of lot of factors influencing my life. My father had always wanted me to go into services, and as I came to know about the unmatched opportunities it offers from friends around and the general awareness I had of the governance deficit facing the country and some of which I had seen for myself, it inspired me to do what was within my reach to amend it. Thus, my decision to get into public service.
- What were the co-curricular activities that you were involved in while in law school?
I tried to take part in almost all of the extra-curricular activities, especially the academic ones, and I dabbled in debating, mooting etc. which, within the limited time available during the college, helped me a great deal in sharpening my analytical skills and also provided much needed exposure
- How did you balance them with academics? Where did you seek to place more emphasis?
I believe that academics and extra-curricular activities most often have a positive effect on each other. The purpose, I think, of both is common, that is, to expose your mind to newer and unexplored things and in the process arouse a sense of curiosity, an urge to learning and confidence to be able to achieve it. Once that happens and an inner impulse to learning is developed, all learning becomes easier and enjoyable. Thus I did not place one above the other, as long as there is some exertion of mind.
- How did you go about preparing for the exam?/What all material did you consult?
Initially when I started to prepare, most of the help I got was from other batchmates who were also preparing, and the occasional discussion on topics related to the exam gradually demystified the whole process. I was also inspired by hearing the anecdotes of other people who had taken the exam. Secondly, as I started studying seriously very late – only about two months before the pre-exam! – having a friend who was also at the same starting position and studying together, gave me a lot of confidence.
At the beginning, I had no strategy in mind, or any specific books which I referred to. My idea was to read any material that was available with me and could in any manner be helpful from the exam point of view and gradually unravel the sources of question asked, as also to possibly discover a pattern in the past year question papers. By looking at the question papers, I realised that following the strategy or study pattern suggested by someone else could not be appropriate for me or anybody else who is taking the exam, even though some pointers or tips could be kept in mind. Starting from a very broad range of reading material, I was able to gradually narrow down my sources by continuous reference to the past year question papers, and I also devised a study method which I thought suited my position as a student.
- What all subjects did you choose for the Mains? We’d be grateful if you could highlight the process for us.
Fortunately, after the change in the exam pattern in 2013, there is only one optional paper to be chosen by the candidate. The rest of the papers are compulsory, and touch various general issues ranging from history, geography, etc. to international relations. Naturally, I was more confident with law as my optional subject, having studied it during law school, and I believe that this familiarity with the subject made the whole preparation process much easier as compared to those candidates who chose a totally new subject for their optional.
As to the process of selection, there are broadly three stages of selection. First, a preliminary exam which has two papers, both objective: CSAT-I which has subjects of general studies such as geography, economics, history, etc., and CSAT-II which from this year is only qualificatory with 30% minimum marks and does not contribute towards deciding the cut-offs of the preliminary exam. Around 15,000 candidates are chosen to appear for the mains exam which is the next stage.
Next is the mains exam. There are a total of nine papers, all of them being subjective. The regional language and English papers are again qualificatory only and are not material in deciding merit. The remaining papers include four papers for General Studies, one Essay paper, and two papers from your optional subject. Based on the candidates’ score in these 7 papers, they are called for the interview to the extent of around 2.5-3 times the number of total seats to be allocated. The total maximum score for these papers is 1750 and the marks obtained are counted towards the final list.
Finally, candidates appear for the interview which consists of 275 marks, and the marks obtained by the candidate are added to the mains score, with the two together deciding the final selection list.
For the benefit of those totally new to the exam: Through the UPSC Civil services exam, which is held once a year, candidates are selected for various group-A services such as IAS (Indian Administrative Services), IPS (Indian Police services), IFS (Indian Foreign Services) and IRS (Indian Revenue Service) and a few others, and some Group-B services as well. These services present the highest level of entry into the government service which can be had through an examination.
- How was the interview? What kind of questions were you asked?
Having faced the interview earlier, with fairly decent marks in the previous round, I was never really worried about it. The actual interview was in fact more casual and relaxed than expected. The board mostly asked questions about my work experience in courts and some legal questions which I was readily answered. Following is a very rough transcript of the interview, to the extent I remember it and is an illustration of the kind of questions which the interviewer can ask, which can be very limited or very wide solely to his discretion.
Chair (Ms. Kilemsunglu): So you are practicing in high court. Tell me what Article 32 does.
Me: It provides a constitutional guarantee for any citizen to approach the Supreme Court directly in case of violation of fundamental rights.
Chair: If posted as part of the IAS in Haryana, what would you do to stop sex determination?
Me: I would firstly enforce the PNDT Act stringently by stopping all illegal sex determination clinics. And secondly, I would try to convince the villagers including the elderly that there is no benefit in the practice and that the government has introduced various schemes by which the girl child is not a burden at all.
Chair: What do you think, personally have you seen any improvement in the dowry situation?
Me: Yes, ma’am, as the people have moved from rural to urban areas and have become exposed to progressive ideas, the practice of dowry has waned.
Chair: Okay. Also, brides are being purchased from other states. What do you think should be done?
Me: Yes, ma’am, brides are bought from other states such as UP and Nepal… as the practice of sex determination and foeticide reduces, the situation will improve and men will not buy brides for themselves.
Chair: What was the UNDP project which you worked for? Was it through the university or independently?
Me: It was part of a research project being assigned to the University.
Chair: What did you do?
Me: We worked on the implementation of the Building and Construction Workers Act and helped in getting them benefits provided under the Act.
Chair: What do you think India can learn from the Arab Spring?
Me: I think the Arab Spring showed that there is a yearning for democracy in every society in the modern world, and that only democracy can fulfil the needs of all sections of society, and so India, even though has built itself as a liberal state, is not perfect and should try to achieve an inclusive democracy with equitable distribution of wealth and welfare of all sections. Only then can it sustain.
M2: Tell me, as a lawyer, how can the police be controlled and made accountable through law?
Me: Sir, there are already many provisions in the CrPC, etc. to make it accountable such as the one where the accused has to be produced before Magistrate within 24 hours of arrest.
M2: But what happens practically?
Me: Sir, I have seen that the entries in the register are falsely made. For example, a juvenile was arrested earlier, but an entry was made only just before his production.
M2: Right, so what causes so much delay in trials and what should be done?
Me: Sir, delay is caused primarily due to the fault of the court, as it is primarily responsible for the conduct of case and there are provisions whereby it can deny unnecessary adjournments, etc. But some fault also lies with the lawyers who abuse the system
M2: But judges are few whereas lawyers are many, can they withstand the pressure? What have you seen practically?
Me: Sir, yes, that is the case, but I have mainly worked in the High Court.
M2: Okay. Can a poor man, for example, a rickshaw puller get bail in the court, and if not, then why?
Me: Sir, the judges at lower levels play safe and leave it to the judges higher up to grant bail. There are various provisions for their protection such as where once a person has served the half of his maximum sentence, he has to be compulsorily granted bail.
M2: But does the High Court grant bail?
Me: Yes sir, they do.
M2: But can a poor man approach them? .
Me: Sir, there are legal aid clinics in place to help in case of need.
M2: Do they work?
Me: Sometimes, but not very efficiently, because the lawyers there are not very competent.
M2: Do you think the legal system needs a lot of reform?
Me: Absolutely, sir.
Member 3: So you are a practising lawyer. Are you independent, or are you working with somebody?
Me: I am working with a cousin of mine.
M3: How many cases have you done in a year?
Me: Maybe around 20-30.
M3: Any important case?
Me: Yes – I challenged the appointment of Additional Advocate Generals and other law officers of state, which is generally done on totally arbitrary considerations.
M3: And you did it independently?
Me: Yes, sir.
M4: What is pro bono?
Me: When a lawyer takes up a case for free.
M4: So what do you think about making pro bono cases a part of CSR?
Me: Ma’am, that would be a tremendous idea and it can be made as one of the permitted activities under CSR. But there is a slight problem, as CSR is mandatory only for companies with turnover exceeding Rs. 500 crores.It would at the most cover a few firms in India, as the majority of them are not having turnover above 500 crores.
M4: Can Maggi sue for defamation if it is acquitted tomorrow, for the loss of reputation the ban has caused?
Me: No, legally speaking, no, because it is during the process of law that the loss has occurred, and all preliminary findings in many states have found it in violation of law and thus public safety being prime consideration, there could not be any cause for compensation for reputation.
M5: What do you think about the killing of witnesses in the Asaram case?
Me: Yes sir, a lot of witnesses have been killed one after the other and it could prove detrimental to the criminal trial.
M3: (jokingly) Do you think it could be a coincidence?
Me: No sir, clearly the repeated killing is not a coincidence.
M5: So what should be done?
Me: Sir, the responsibility lies on the police to protect all the witnesses, and it should take every necessary action in order to do so. Also, the court should direct the same.
M4: Can the court draw negative inference against the accused?
Me: Ma’am, in a criminal trial, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to positively establish the case against the accused. However, the fact of killing can weigh on its mind while appreciating the positive evidence. The accused cannot, however, be convicted only on the basis of the negative evidence.
M5: Have you heard of the ”Kiss of Love”?
Me: Sir, it is the public event of kissing in Bombay?
M5: Yes, tell me about it.
Me: Sir, the participants were claiming that it is part of their liberty, that they can kiss in the public, whereas some right wing organisation claimed that it is obscenity and thus tried to interfere.
M5: What do you think is the legal position?
Me: Sir, obscenity is already an offence under the IPC.
M5: Do you think it was obscenity.
Me: Sir, the Supreme Court has adopted the ‘Hicklin Test’ for determination of obscenity, and the test is whether the object arouses prurient feelings in a reasonable man.
M5: So do you think it was obscenity?
Me: Applying the test, no sir, it is not.
- AIR 29! What are your future plans? Which service do you intend to join? Why?
I am going to get IAS, the service which is my first preference. Initially I preferred this service as almost every other aspirant does it. However, as I am getting some information about the work profile, I am confident that the service also demands candidates like me, with the knowledge of a generalist who has dabbled into every field, but has expertise in none, and with a positive attitude towards new learning opportunities which the services will, no doubt, provide.
- Any advice for your juniors and other UPSC aspirants?
I would strongly advise against blindly following the strategy adopted by any other successful/unsuccessful candidates. There are a lot of factors which differ for different candidates and are very important from the exam point of view. However, one should not hesitate to asking for guidance from their seniors, but should always take it with a pinch of salt. I would recommend that there is a certain level of reading of basic books and familiarity with the syllabus and past question papers which one must reach before going for advice from others.
Secondly, the preparation is no doubt a stressful process, and one should dive into it only after taking stock of their capability to work hard consistently over a period of at least 4-5 months. If a candidate is doubtful, it can end up being a lot of time wasted, reading a limited set of books over and over again.
However, at the same time, if one feels that he has a strong motivation to go into the services, then notwithstanding his level of academic ability, there is no doubt that anybody can cross this bridge of the UPSC exam, maybe with some extra effort than the others. They should keep in mind that the successful candidates are no better or worse than the general crowd which go to law schools today, and they too, with some guidance and hard work, can do it. But I would strongly advise against starting the specific studies for the exam too early in the law school; wait at least until the 4th or 5th year, when the requisite level of understanding and maturity has developed.