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IAS topper: 'I want to fight corruption'

By Tista Sengupta
May 20, 2016 09:55 IST
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'I want to put up all information about public resources (in India) on public domains so that transparency is maintained.'

'People should be able to easily ask questions and seek responses. This will automatically put pressure on public servants to perform.'

Jasmeet Singh Sandhu, the third rank holder of UPSC 2016

IMAGE: Here's Jasmeet Singh Sandhu, who ranked third in the Union Public Service Commission exam this year. Photograph: Kind Courtesy Jasmeet Singh Sandhu

He failed to reach the top spot thrice, but never gave up.

Meet 28-year-old Jasmeet Singh Sandhu from New Delhi, who ranked third in the Union Public Service Commission exam this year.

Jasmeet, a student at the Sacred Heart Convent School in Ludhiana, scored 89.6 per cent in Class X and 86.4 per cent in Class XII.

After securing a rank of 3574 in the IIT-JEE examination in 2006, he completed his graduation in pulp and paper engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Rourkee, with a score of 85.22 per cent.

Jasmeet moved to Delhi six years ago when his father, Jeet Singh Sandhu, was transferred there. His father, formerly an agricultural commissioner, is now deputy director general at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

Jasmeet's mother, Surinder, used to be a teacher.

His younger brother, Tejhbir, has just graduated from IIT, New Delhi, and is preparing for the UPSC exam.

Jasmeet walks Tista Sengupta/Rediff.com through his successful journey.

ALSO READ: 'There are no shortcuts to success'

What were you doing when you learnt of your result?

I was on my way home from my Indian Revenue Services (IRS) training class in Faridabad when my brother called me.

He said the UPSC result had been declared and asked me to guess my rank. I didn't have the patience; I wanted to know my rank quickly.

My brother told me I had stood third. To say that I was shocked would be an understatement. I asked him to recheck; he said he had already done so twice.

I was speechless. I hung up and got down at the next Metro station. After a few deep breaths, I felt better and boarded the next train home.

You are working as an assistant commissioner at the Indian Revenue Service. What's that like?

Last year, I secured the 332nd rank in the UPSC exam and joined the IRS (customs and central excise) in December 2015. I am still on probation and undergoing training.

I am learning about taxation, customs, excise and service taxes, different acts related to it and so on. The training usually takes around two years.

Why did you choose to appear for the UPSC exam?

The thought of appearing for this exam came to me only after I completed my graduation. I was considering various career options and was attracted towards public service.

The job of an IAS officer offers everything a person wants -- social recognition, respect, opportunities to do something for a larger cause… I knew this job would keep me satisfied.

My father, who is working in the ministry, helped me understand the work IAS officers do. He has been a great source of information and inspiration.

Do go on.

Working as an IAS officer will allow me to reach out to a large number of people. Ensuring that people get their due can make a lot of difference.

Frankly speaking, if you ask me what I would like to do for society, it would sound like a moral science lecture. People don't admire (anyone) until they see action on the ground.

In India, the institutions are set properly and we have enough resources. I hope to use these resources to good effect and ensure accountability.

I want to fight corruption and start an anti-corruption platform for citizens.

I want to put up all information about public resources (in India) on public domains so that transparency is maintained. People should be able to ask questions and seek responses easily. This will automatically put pressure on public servants to perform.

Jasmeet (second from right) with brother Tejhbir, mother Surinder and father Jeet Singh Sandhu (from left to right) poses for a family picture.

IMAGE: Jasmeet (second from right) with brother Tejhbir, mother Surinder and father Jeet Singh Sandhu (from left to right) pose for a family photo. Photograph: Kind Courtesy Jasmeet Singh Sandhu

Did it ever cross your mind to opt for a management degree or pursue further education?

I did take the Common Admission Test when I was in my third year in college. I scored 99.4 percentile. But I opted for the civil services. The motivation to do so came from my family.

When did you start preparing for the UPSC exam?

I started in 2011, when I appeared for the exam for the first time. I appeared in 2012 as well, but did not make it to the final list both times. I missed the cut-off by around 30 or 40 marks.

In my third and fourth attempt, I finally made it.

I also appeared for the state civil services exam in 2013, where I secured the sixth rank.

Did you enroll in any coaching centre?

I did join a coaching class in 2011, but didn't like the experience. Their preparation was more static than dynamic. Much of the training wasn't oriented towards current affairs. There wasn't much focus on writing answers. So I stopped going.

This year, I prepared for the UPSC exam myself. I didn't even go for mock tests or interviews.

I went through the answer sheets of the toppers from previous years -- this is available online -- and learnt about their preparation strategies. Then, I worked out a strategy for myself.

I made a list of the books and notes I needed to refer to.

In comparison, it took me less time to prepare this year.

I revised thoroughly and was confident I would fare well in the exams. The people I worked with at the IRS office took mock interviews to help me prepare for the interview round.

What lessons did you learn from your earlier attempts to crack the UPSC exam?

In my first two attempts, I did not perform well in my optional subjects -- public administration and psychology.

Thankfully, in 2013, the UPSC exam pattern was modified. Now, we only needed to take one optional subject.

This was a boon for me. I changed my optional to Punjabi literature as my brother told me it was easy to score in this subject.

I had never read Sikh scriptures earlier, so I started reading the books that were available at home. Not only did it help me in my exams but, at an individual level, I gained knowledge about the various philosophies.

What was the most difficult part of the exam?

It takes you one year to prepare for the exam so you have to take care of your health.

Just before my mains in December 2015, I fell ill for two-and-a-half months. I had viral fever that relapsed. I had to go through a lot of medical check-ups.

Jasmeet meets Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with his friends Nishant, Vatsalya and brother Tejhbir.

IMAGE: "Meeting Arvind Kejriwal Sir was great. He was so calm and composed. He advised us to stay rooted and to be honest," Jasmeet said. In this picture with the Delhi Chief Minister, Jasmeet is accompanied by friends Nishant, Vatsalya and brother Tejhbir. Photograph: Kind Courtesy Jasmeet Singh Sandhu

Where do candidates go wrong with the UPSC exam?

I have seen candidates blindly follow the instructions of the coaching institutes. They don't make a preparation strategy for themselves. This isn't right.

They will fare better if they go through the answer sheets of the toppers from the previous years. It will give them a better idea of how they should study.

Are you an avid reader? Who is your favourite author?

I don't read a lot, but I do like reading books on economics, commerce, accountancy, etc.

I started to blog on Quora (a question-and-answer website) last year after I got through the IRS. I share my ideas there and write extensively about the exam.

Many aspirants have connected with me there. It's an easy way to communicate with them.

What are your other interests?

I watch football with my brother. Our favourite team is Arsenal.

Who do you attribute your success to?

My parents and my brother.

My friends -- Aman, who ranked 231 and will join the Indian Police Service; Nishanth, an assistant commandant in the Central Reserve Police Force; Vatsalya, who has already been selected for the Armed Forces Headquarter services -- have always been supportive.

I also want to thank my teacher, Mukul Pathak, who was very helpful.

How do you plan to make the most of this opportunity?

I intend to read more about our country's policies during my probation period (when I will train to become an IAS officer).

I would like to implement my training after I join office.

I want to focus on the health and education sector and make changes if it's not up to the mark.

What is your dream for India?

In the past, our country used to be in the forefront. India was the sone ki chidiya (golden bird). It was only in the middle ages that her progress slowed down.

My dream is to bring private citizens, the government, the bureaucracy and law and civil society together and work towards making sure India's future remains bright.

What is your advice to UPSC aspirants?

Work hard and be positive.

If you are unhappy with your result, don't give up. Keep trying. It will happen someday.

ALSO READ: 'There are no shortcuts to success'

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Tista Sengupta / Rediff.com Mumbai