Till X Class _till 2005– Raju High School, Rayachoty, Kadapa – A.P. – 92.8%
XI & XII_2005 to 2007 – Pratibha Junior College, Hyderabad – A.P. – 96.1%
B.E. (Hons.)_2007 to 2011 – BITS Pilani, Pilani Campus – Rajasthan – 7.65/10
PGDM_2011 to 2013 – IIM Ahmedabad – Gujarat – 3.129/4.33
Civil Services Exam
Optional subjects: Management + Sociology
GS: 93 + 98
Management: 92 + 159
Sociology: 100 + 118
Written Total: 767
Rank: AIR 132
- No coaching for GS or Optional subjects
- Attended some mock interviews at Sardar Patel Institute of Public Administration (SPIPA), Ahmedabad.
Though civil service was my career interest even during my Pilani days, I was not confident about giving the exam soon after my graduation. I saw the previous papers and I felt the paper needs a better maturity in my thinking process and a different attitude towards what’s happening around. So, I needed more time to gear up myself for the exam.
Day: 05 April 2013 – 09.00 AM slot
I reached well before the time but I realized that I forgot my Interview call letter. I tried to find a shop nearby to take a print out but in vain. I was told by the security personnel not to worry as I can take a print out inside if I needed it. However, there was no issue about the call letter and the document checking process went smoothly. 15 minutes prior to calling the candidates, we were informed the respective interview boards.
Board: Venkatrami Reddy Sir [R] + M1 to M4
One of the Ms, say M2, was a lady who was keenly observing me right from the moment I was in the room
None of us in the board knew anything about Reddy sir’s board. So, there was a sense of anxiety and curiosity to find out the nature of the board before we actually encounter them.
The first member was called in at around 10.10 A.M. It went for around 30 min and the candidate comes back to the waiting hall. He was sweating heavily and did not speak a word about his experience. He just left the place with an absolute shock on his face. And as one would expected, that made each of us more anxious. After 30 odd minutes, there comes back the next person. He looked satisfied and was happy about his performance. This actually put us at some peace. I was fourth in the queue and I was called to wait in front of the interview room. I sat there for around 5 Min and the bell rang.
As I entered the room, the board members were still discussing about the previous candidate, though I could not register any of it.
C – Refers to the candidate, me!
C: May I come in Sir?
Entered, wished them and waited at my seat expecting one of them to ask me to take my seat
R: Please take your seat. So, you are Sagili Shan Mohan, Right?
C: yes Sir
R: What is your first name?
C: Shan Mohan is my first name and sagili is my surname
R: But you wrote as Sagili Shan Mohan in this form? Anyways, you did your engineering from BITS Pilani…
C: Yes Sir
C: yes sir. Pilani Campus
R: Did you write the entrance test or through board exams?
C: Sir, I gave the entrance test BITSAT
R: When did this entrance test start? Earlier they used to take through board exams
C: Sir, it was through board exams till 2004. Now, except for board toppers, everyone has to come through the entrance test.
R: What all courses are there in Pilani?
C: Sir, there are 3 groups of disciplines – A, B and C groups. All engineering disciplines like Computer Sciences, Electrical & Electronics, Civil Engineering etc fall under group A. The M.Sc. dual degree disciplines fall under B and there are some other disciplines like M.Sc. Tech Information Systems fall under group C
R: Why does your degree have Hons.? Do they give it to people in top branches or something like that?
C: No Sir. Hons. is given to all engineering discipline students. That is because we have compulsory subjects like Biology, management etc in our curriculum.
R: So, you studied in Anantapur? (my native)
C: No Sir. That is my native but I have not lived there. All my studies till 10th were in Rayachoty, Kadapa Dist.
R: Oh. Ok. So, you finished your engineering in 2011. What did you do after that?
C: Sir, post my engineering I did my Post Graduation in management from IIM Ahmedabad. I have recently graduated on March 23rd 2013.
R: Oh. Then why did you come for IAS after IIM? You’ll get a good job after IIM!
C: Sir, civil service was my career interest even from my engineering days but I was not ready to face the test in my fourth year. I felt I needed some time before I attempt it. At that time, I found IIM, particularly IIM Ahmedabad’s curriculum as very relevant to civil services and that would help me in my exam and add immense value to my career ahead as an administrator too. So, I gave CAT and got through IIMA. A corporate job or an MBA was never the motivation behind going for IIMA. It was just the curriculum at IIMA that I wanted to be a part of. And, in hindsight, I think my decision was correct then <smiling>.
R asked M1 to proceed.
M1: can you please elaborate on why you wanted to go for civil services after IIMA? I mean BITS Pilani and IIMA is a dream for many… etc <some flattery here about the jobs, salaries etc>
C: Sir, first off, thanks a lot for your compliment. But, as I said earlier, I was not interested in a corporate job and that was not my motive behind my going to IIMA. After my graduation from Pilani, I had three or four options with me. One was to take up a job and prepare for civil services in parallel. But I felt, the job that I would be doing might not be helpful in my civil services and I had no financial obligations too. So, I did not consider that option seriously. The other option was going for M.Tech. or M.S. but again I did not see any relevance with civil services and so, I chose not to go for it. Next option was to stay in Delhi and focus completely on the exam preparation till I clear it. However, at this time, I got to know from some of my seniors at IIMA about the curriculum at IIMs and the kind of orientation towards public policy in the course structure, especially in IIMA. And it seemed to me as a good thing as I know the kind of environment I would be in during the two years of IIMA, the kind of people and professors I would be meeting and most importantly, I would be interacting with some of the smartest people that I can find ever in my life. Some where I knew that it was risky decision as I would be wasting two years if I don’t manage my exam preparation in parallel with extremely rigorous curriculum at IIMA. But I had that confidence in me and I was hopeful that I would be making most out of those 2 years. And the fact that I am here today proves it to me beyond any doubt that my decision was a good one. And I should agree that I knew, a good management degree would fetch me a good job in case I don’t clear the exam in my first attempt and I believe in having a contingency plan always <smiling>.
– It was almost a 1 – 1 ½ minute monologue here. But I was surprised to see that no one in the board even tried to interrupt me or cross question me.
M1: Did you take any coaching? I can understand management but you chose sociology as your second optional.
C: Sir. I did not take any coaching but I attended some mock interviews in past one month. Management was naturally my first choice but there were 2-3 reasons why I chose sociology. I went through the syllabus and previous question papers of some prospective optional subjects like Public Administration, geography etc. Sociology was one optional that I thought would be able to connect with easily and it was very much needed knowledge too. It helped me in my General Studies preparation and in my essay paper in the exam. Second reason was I had access to the library in IIMA which had very good collection of books on sociology and the third reason was I felt that the syllabus was manageable in whatever little time I had. So, these were the reasons why I took sociology, Sir.
M1: What did you learn the most from IIMA that is relevant for administration?
C: Sir, out of many things I learnt from IIMA, if I have to choose particularly – I’d choose Multitasking and marketing.
M1: You mean you can manage many things at the same time?
C: Yes Sir. Curriculum at IIMA demands a student to be able to give his best in various activities he/she is involved in. Apart from numerous projects and assignments that go on in parallel, most of us would be a part of some clubs like Business Fest management club, entrepreneurship club, fine arts club etc. This involvement helped me learn how to manage my time effectively. And yes, most importantly, I had to manage these things along with my Civil Services preparation <Smiling>
M1 – <Laughs> so, in marketing, what is the most significant trend observed in recent times?
C: It is the growing importance of Social media marketing vis-à-vis traditional marketing media.
M1: <Nods> Why do you think social media is demanding so much attention?
C: Sir, this is because of the growing access to social media across all age segments and the phenomena of ‘going viral’. If I like an ad, I promote the ad to 100’s of my friends by sharing them on these social media websites and the company does not incur any marginal cost. Moreover, when compared to the traditional media, the ads that go viral have been proved to have more retention effect on the viewers.
R interrupts and points towards M2 (lady) to proceed.
M2: I would like to take forward the discussion on marketing. What are the key differences between internet marketing and traditional marketing?
C: Ma’m, there are three or four differences I can think of right now.
- The target segment between two modes is different. While the internet based marketing focuses more on urban youth with access to gadgets, traditional media cut across virtually all the segments including rural households, uneducated etc. I don’t think giving an advertisement about a Polio vaccination would be successful if it is marketed only through internet. Newspapers and television do that the best.
- Two way interaction between the marketer and the target customer. As internet marketing typically allows a customer to express his/her opinion as soon as one comes across an advertisement. This would not be possible with traditional media like TV or newspapers. This allows marketers to have a feedback instantaneously.
- The marginal cost for internet marketing would be significantly lower when compared to a TV or newspaper marketing. As we discussed earlier, the viral effect helps in minimizing the marketing costs and reach effectively to larger masses.
M2: <keeps on nodding> Shan, have you heard about public broad cast?
C: yes ma’m. I think you are referring to the marketing activities done by Government for public causes.
M2: yes. Do you think, we are doing a good job at it?
C: Ma’m we have cases where we did good job at public broadcast. Marketing about, say, HIV or Polio Vaccination through newspapers and televisions has been successful. Amitabh Bacchan’s ad promoting Polio vaccination is considered as one benchmark public broadcast activity. Again Amitabh’s campaign to promote Kutch tourism was a good advertisement. But yes, I feel we should start reaching out to youth through more modern means and it takes time.
M2: you are interested in wildlife (gave watching wildlife as one of my hobbies).
C: yes ma’m
M2: How do you resolve the conflict between environment and development as an administrator? A lot of things are happening with regard to these conflicts between wildlife and people. (I don’t remember the exact wordings of the question)
C: Ma’m, with respect to administration, the conflict boils down to the conflict between wildlife in the forests and the people residing in those areas. If I have to take a trade-off between people and wildlife, I’d go for people. I don’t think any reason would justify evacuate people from their homeland without their consent. They have lived amicably with the wildlife for thousands of years. They have co-existed peacefully and suddenly, one day, a G.O. comes to evacuate them to protect the wildlife. I personally feel this approach to be extremely dangerous as it created even more revengeful conflict between people and the wildlife and also, people and the administration. We have to follow the models that encourage co-existence. And fortunately we have such experiences in India. The revival and conservation of Asiatic Lion in Gir forest is an excellent example for this and this project stood as a model for many countries with similar problem. In this case, the community owned the responsibility of protecting these animals and they became an essential part of their lives. They proudly cherish themselves as saviors of the Asiatic lion race and there cannot be any stronger protection to these animals than this support from the local communities. Similar example is that of protecting whales in Kutch shore under the leadership of Murari bapu in Gujarat. So, we should develop such frameworks that are more practical and humane.
M2: Shan, have you heard about Asian brown Cover?
C: ma’m, is it anyway related to brown revolution?
M2: No no..
M2: it’s ok, you can hazard a guess if you wish to.
C: ma’m is it about the deforestation?
C: Then No ma’m. I don’t know about this
M2: That’s fine.
C points to M3
M3: <looking at my summary sheet> you have worked on a paper in your engineering. Can you elaborate about it?
C: Answered in detail for around 1 to 1 1/2 minute.
M3: What is your opinion on Nuclear power? There is a lot of discussion going on around this. Should we allow it?
C: yes Sir. I support nuclear power as an alternative energy source. I don’t think going for nuclear power is an option for us; it is an imperative considering our energy security. The basic conflict is that everyone needs power, does not matter if it is from a nuclear plant, but no one wants the plant in their back yard. <Everyone smiles here> these fears have risen after the Fukushima incident. Project at Kudankulam is the case in point here. However, the key lies in managing the stake holders, particularly the residents of the area, right from the inception of such project. It seems we have assumed that there won’t be any issue from the public. However, the recent developments like taking the local people into the plant premises to show them how secure the systems are and other such confidence building measures show that, though little late, we have realized the importance of support from local people. Also, though we fear about the security of these nuclear plants, we have to realize the fact that we are in advanced stage of this technology and countries like France, Germany etc depend on this for significant portion of their energy requirements. I don’t completely deny the probability of a disaster but I am sure that would be extremely rare. We have had a worst disaster in the form of Bhopal gas tragedy that took hundreds of lives but we never banned all chemical industries in India fearing the same disaster might repeat. The solution should be ensuring maximum possible security, both technical and administrative, so make these projects successful. Banning them completely is not the way forward.
M3: Do you know about economic reforms that allowed private investments, liberalization from licenses in 1991?
C: yes Sir
M3: Do you think, we should have done that back in 1947 itself? Are we correct in following a mixed economic policy in 1947?
C: Sir, the socio-economic conditions in 1991 are significantly different from that of 1947. In 1947, we were a country that needed a strong manufacturing industry that supports huge infrastructural projects taken up by the government. And these industries needed heavy investment and there was not much investment that can be expected from private sector. For private sector to flourish in such heavy investment business scenario, we need a very strong financial sector that supports the private firms. But India lacked these soon after independence. In that situation, relying on private investment would have crippled the infrastructure development of the country. So, government took up the responsibility and started its own public sector enterprises and yes, of course, it allowed already existing private players like TATAs, Birla’s etc.
M3: Do you think there was a reason behind choosing some particular locations for these public sector industries?
C: yes sir. The licensing was done such that these industries are set-up in areas with lower development. We believed in trickle-down effects. However, we missed out the fact that in long-term, once the industry matures these industries which are kept in locations keeping political reasons in view rather than the business logic, would be unviable due to higher costs. A steel plant with abundant coal reserves nearby has a high cost advantage when compared to a plant that has to spend considerable money on transporting the raw material. Finally, I feel, the decision to go for a mixed economy seems correct to me keeping the socio-economic conditions of 1947 but, we did not move with the world. We were refusing the fact that our economy lacked business logic and that resulted in 1991 crisis which compelled us to open up our markets.
M3: have you heard about Science day and technology day?
C: Sir, I have heard about science day.
M3: When are they celebrated and why?
C: <after trying for 2 seconds> No sir, I don’t know.
C points to M4
M4: <he had a list of questions with him> you know about the power grid? What is it?
M4: Why do you think there is a power crisis in India? Do you see any solution for it?
C: Sir, power crisis in India is largely due to the crisis at each stage of the supply chain. It starts from generation. Due to variety of reasons, we are not able to move away from non-renewable energy sources like coal. There reasons include resource availability & quality, political reasons that sometimes lead to closure of power plants as it happened recently in A.P. We have issues with our neighbor countries that are preventing us from fully harnessing our hydro resources. Errant monsoons also add to the crisis in lean years. Regarding more advanced technologies like nuclear power or wind power, we have just discussed the problems with respect to Kudankulam plant. All these problems at generation stage affect our power generation capacity. Coming to transmission stage, we don’t follow the international standards that would have lead to minimal transmission losses. That is why our transmission losses are significantly higher when compared to other countries. The last one is distribution stage. Here we have 32% losses attributed to T&D losses and a large part of it is due to electricity pilferage. Incorrect billing systems also add to the problem. Government incentives like free electricity etc lead to no accountability among the consumers. All these problems lead to current situation.
M4: True. So, what should we do now?
C: Sir, if we have to revive our power system, we should start at the distribution phase. The model followed by Gujarat in this regard seems to be a right one to be replicated across all states. Initiatives like separate supply lines for agricultural purpose and residential areas minimize misuse of free electricity. Better billing systems that use latest communication technology can help in real time monitoring of electricity consumption and supply and thus detect any pilferages. Stricter surveillance on illegal connections and misuse of power is imperative now. Reviving generation and transmission stages involve long term and high investment decisions that involve multiple stakeholders including other countries. So, in my view, the first point of strike should be the distribution phase.
M4: What is your opinion on interlinking of rivers project? Is that the solution for our water problems?
C: No Sir. I don’t think interlinking of rivers is a plausible solution in near future. The reasons are right in front of us. The project requires extensive land acquisition drive and we know the poor efficacy of available land acquisition frameworks in India. The project is a serious threat to environment. Considering the growing concern for environment conservation, which is good, I don’t see a green signal for the project in that regard. But the most important reason that would dictate the outcome of the project is political. For 20 years, we are not able to resolve our water sharing problems between TN & KA in case of Cauvery and that leaves me no hope of perfect support from the stake holder states in this humongous project. The Ken-Betwa rivers linking project has been lying dormant though the DPR was ready long ago. Considering all these factors, I don’t consider the project as a panacea for the water crisis.
M3 interrupts suddenly and asks
M3: What is your opinion on Telangana?
M3: Do you think it is a political movement or a public movement?
M4: have you heard about Non-Alignment movement?
C: yes sir. It is the foreign policy in Nehruvian times that aims at isolating India from the pressures of bipolar world soon after her independence. Aligning with any one of the super powers was seen as a threat to India’s sovereignty. In a sense, the movement, which had support form may countries like Indonesia, Egypt etc created a third pole in the bipolar world.
M4: Do you know where did the last NAM summit happen and how many countries participated?
C: I do know that recently the summit happened but I don’t recollect the venue and the number of countries attended.
M4: Oh. That’s fine. Have you heard about the incident where NTR (A.P. Ex-CM) when some XXXX was the governor took all the MLAs to a place…
R interrupts here and says – “He is not even born at that time. I don’t think he can answer it”,<everyone laughs loudly> it was Nandi Hills”
C: I have heard about the incident but I don’t know the specifics of it, sir.
M4: Ok. Thank you.
R: thank you.
C: Thank you Sir. Thank you ma’m and wished others. It was pleasure meeting you.
Left the place.
Some key observations:
- No cross cutting anywhere in between
- Each of them was very attentive to whatever I said. I did not see any sign of restlessness when I was giving some really long answers.
- People sitting next to me (M3 & M4) were observing me keenly, believe me, M3 was even looking at my posture and hand gestures intently.
Around 35 mins and I was happy 🙂