The day i differed from views of a Nobel Laureate

Today’s date, 16 years back I differed from the views of a Nobel Laureate. On May 19, 2000, I was giving the UPSC interview for civil services. Though it was 16 years back I still remember every word of those 45 minutes including a tricky question regarding difference between my views and that of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen.

I had a long wait before I was called in for my interview which was the last interview by the last Board. So mine was the last interview of the year for the UPSC, from the 800 odd candidates for 400 odd posts.

The Chairman asked a few general questions about what I am doing, my hobby etc. Those days I was working in a PSU, and he asked me why I want to join the Government when I was already working in Government. I clarified that PSU is not exactly government and while I was extremely happy and satisfied with my current job, I wanted to join Civil Services as I perceived it to offer a better career with better opportunities of contributing to society.

In a way mine was a stress interview in the sense that almost every answer I gave the Board Members said they did not agree with me. For instance, when asked what my hobby was, I said Cricket. The immediate response was (shaking a finger at me) that “cricket cannot be a hobby, since you are working and must be returning home late at evening with no time for the game”. I said that it has always been my hobby since childhood and whenever I have free time, I read about cricket and watch cricket matches and on Sundays I also play the lovely game.

I was asked whether i know the Korean PM has resigned. I said No. The answer came that i couldn’t have known as he resigned 45 minutes back and i must have been in the waiting room. Then they informed that he resigned as he had income tax problems and will an Indian politician resign for similar reasons. I replied never as the chair is the most important and precious for the Indian politician. I was also asked which important leader of Orissa was facing serious income tax problems and i said that i did not know. They told me it was Biju Patnaik.

I was asked what I felt was the most important problem the country was facing. I said population explosion. I was asked in detail and I responded the best I could. Thereafter I was asked 2nd, 3rd and 4th important problems and I said, Education, Health and Corruption, in that order. I remember I was asked why I had put education before health and not vice versa and I answered with an example of a Tribe of Orissa which believed that quinine is made from dead man’s bones and therefore they refused to eat quinine and consequently many died of malaria. I answered that if they had been educated then their health would have been better.

Thereafter once again i was asked about problems of population increase and i responded again. I said that with population explosion every other gain of development is nullified, our foodgrains production will not match and there will be other social problems like housing, schooling and hospitals. I was asked why not it is seen as a resource and i politely said that while optimum population is a resource, huge population is a hindrance

An interesting related question was “As a district Collector, what is the proportion of funds I would allocate towards reduction of these four problems”?. I answered politely that I would request this answer I am unable to give now as every District has its own peculiarities and that I would have to be posted first and then can decide the proportion after making a reasoned study.

Thereafter I was asked if I have heard of  Amartya Sen. I said yes, he is the pride of India and in fact the pride of the entire world. I was asked if I knew why he won the Nobel Prize. I said that while I was not exactly sure, Amartya Sen as far as I know won Nobel Prize for various works including work on famine and poverty and for his thesis that famine may happen even where there is surplus production.

Then came a dangerous question “Amarty Sen has said that excess population is not a problem as there will be increase in production of foodgrain. Since your views differ from that of a Nobel Laureate, will u like to change/modify your answer”?

My Answer was simple. Amartya Sen is a celebrated person and must have given various reasons. However my simple reasoning is that to keep pace with increase in human population, foodgrain production has to double, and with increase in human population, there will be increase in need for milk and meat. To provide for fodder foodgrain production has to treble, and since land is limited and there is a limit to productivity, i think there is going to be a serious problem.

There were 2 simple follow up questions to these. 1st was that wasn’t there a problem of wastage and i replied that yes , around rs 35000 crores worth of food , fruits and vegetables is wasted which is  criminal and should be stopped. I was asked if i was made the head of food corporation of India what will be my 1st step and i said that i will improve the quality of godowns as they are dark, dingy, have no space and no air and are infested with rats.

I was once again asked if i will further like to review/modify my differing views with the Nobel Laureate, and i politely said no.

Rest of the interview in part 2 of this blog……….


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