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Sunday, November 1, 1998

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A career in Civil Services Do’s and don’ts

By Taru Bahl

TIME was when ambitious job aspirants seeked a career in either engineering, medicine, Armed Forces or the Civil Services. In recent years, thanks to liberalisation and the opening up of the skies, enormous opportunities have come up in non-traditional vocations which offer a career graph which is challenging, lucrative and exciting. While most conventional careers have been steadily losing their magnetic appeal, the Civil Services still seem to be ruling the roost. This has little to do with pay scales and everything to do with job security and the immense feeling of awe and influence which a civil servant exerts in the corridors of power.

Technically, civil service refers to all the non-military branches of state administration. Given India’s large and complex geographical and political territory, the scope and reach of the Indian Civil Service is that much more exacting when it comes to providing efficient governance and safeguarding of the citizen’s Constitutional rights. Based on the hierarchical pattern of the Roman system of administration, the Britishers modelled their administrative style in their colonies.

They did this in India after the first war of Independence in 1857. The prestigious Indian Civil Service began recruiting Indians only after 1920 and the IAS came to be formally constituted in 1947. Whatever the common man’s perception regarding bureaucracy, corruption and high-handed behaviour, it plays an indisputable role in the overall development of the country. Today, more than ever before, there is need for committed officers at the block, district, regional, state and central levels.

The Indian Civil Services are organised under two sections — the All India Services and the Central Services. The former are appointed by the Government of India (GOI) and then placed at the disposal of the state government. The latter fall under group A or group B of the Central Service cadre and serve the GOI. After training you would be positioned in the particular office which can use your skills and background. Here policy issues are discussed, formulated, assessed, reviewed, changed and modified under the supervision of the administrative officer who in turn works with the minister-in-charge.

The services are gender neutral, in that there are as many women as men in the different services. The first few years may see you posted in obscure towns and districts where you may be alienated but a coveted babu nonetheless. All civil servants at some point in their careers carry out administrative roles which could pertain to planning, policy formulation, implementation, project conceptualisation, supervision and overviewing, assessment and collating background information to substantiate case studies.

Promotions are based on seniority and vacancy of suitable slots. With your consent you could be sent on deputation to international organisations like UNDP, WHO or to ministries, PSUs, corporations etc. One of the most visible benefits in the services is the entitlement of two years of study leave which can be availed anytime during the tenure. Depending on your expertise and interest, you could be sponsored for special training courses.

After clearing your preliminaries, mains and interviews you are sent for training. The probation period is spent in training schools, secretariats, field level postings and district magistrate’s offices. The professional hierarchy has the junior scale officer at the bottom of the ladder, moving up to under secretary, director, joint secretary, and additional secretary, secretary and finally the cabinet secretary.

At the district level the senior most person is the collector, deputy commissioner or the district magistrate. At the divisional level you have the DC who is incharge of law and order, general administration and overall development. At the state level you have the secretaries (home, finance) and the chief secretary.

The All India Services include the IAS, the Indian Police Service (IPS) and the Indian Forest Services. After his probation, an IPS officer finds himself holding the position of Assistant Superinten- dent of Police of a sub-division which is usually for a period of two years. He goes onto become SP and then DIG. An IPS officer could be appointed in the crime branch, criminal investigation department, CID, Home Guards or the traffic bureau. IPS officers also head some of the central policing agencies like the Intelligence Bureau, CBI, BSF, CRPF and the Cabinet Secretariat Security network.

Group A of the Central services comprise as many as 16 different services which include the Indian Foreign service, Railways, Postal, Accounts and Audit, Revenue (Customs and Central Excise), Ordnance Factories, Infor- mation, Defence Estate, Trade, Industrial Security, P and T Accounts and Finance Services. As an officer of the Central service you would be posted either in bigger towns or at the Centre.

Entry into the IAS, IPS, Group A and Group B of the Central services is through a combined competitive examination. Application forms appear in newspapers and the Rozgar Samachar. You have to be an Indian citizen between the age of 21 and 28 with a Bachelor’s degree in a subject which would help you with the competitive exam and the service you would like to opt for. The selection procedure is tough and uncertain, putting an enormous burden on the IAS aspirant. Coaching classes, mock papers and interviews, interaction with those who have cleared the exams are some of the ways in which you can prepare for the examination.

To clear the preliminary exam you have to take a written test which comprises two objective type papers. General studies encompasses Indian history, economics, geography, current affairs and the Constitution of India. The second ‘optional’ paper is one of your choice which could be civil engineering, maths, geology, philosophy, Sanskrit, statistics, zoology, Indian history, public administration, sociology, law, geography, economics and commerce etc. Question papers are both in English and Hindi. Opt for a subject which is scoring. Only those who clear the prelims make it to the mains which again is a written exam. Here you have subjective, essay type papers — two each in languages and general studies and four optionals.

For languages, you have one paper in English and the other in any of the Indian languages included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution. In the mains exams, it is important to know how to apply academic concepts to reality, especially in the Indian context. Once you are through with these two hurdles, you have to cross the last bridge — the interview or the personality test as it is now called. On test are your analytical abilities, leadership qualities, presence of mind, confidence and general awareness.

Through the UPSC you can gain professional entry into the services in the capacity of doctors (Central Health Scheme), engineers (Central PWD), geologists, statisticians, economists in state and central departments and public sector undertakings.Back

Do’s and don’ts

  • For general studies, limit the scope of study and organise your reference material.
  • Develop clarity and a factual approach towards answering questions in the written tests and interview.
  • For the descriptive essay papers don’t go overboard mugging. Allow your general reading intake and influences pepper your spontaneous style.
  • Develop a peer group with whom you can strategise, discuss, brainstorm and conduct mock tests with/on.
  • Read newspapers and magazines to keep yourself abreast with current developments.
  • Lay your hands on standard coaching books. Check with other students and fresh probationers.
  • Don’t overdo the study routine
  • Anticipate questions related to your academic background, your choice of optionals and their relevance to the career chosen.
  • If employed, structure the answers related to the nature of your job and the reason why you want to make a switch over to the services.
  • Fill your application form with care and keep a photocopy with you to enable you visualise the kind of questions you could be asked — hobbies, schooling, information about your city, region, school, district.
  • Don’t get tense, worked up or visibly upset even if you appear to be slipping up.
  • If applying for the second time, ruthlessly analyse what went wrong the first time round.
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