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Issue No 38, 18 December-24 December 2021

Civil Services (Main) Exam

Decoding General Studies-II & General Studies-III

S B Singh

The real challenge of the Civil Services (Main) examination lies in mastering the huge General Studies (GS) syllabus comprising four papers carrying 250 marks each. Together, the weight of GS in the exam is higher than the optional paper and the essay paper. Needless to say, then, that it is hard to imagine success in the civil services exam without a good command over all GS papers. This is not to downplay the role of the optional and the essay papers but to stress the imperative of giving sufficient time to prepare for the entire GS syllabus. All four GS papers are multidisciplinary. In other words, each paper is a mix of different disciplines. For example, GS Paper-I is composed of history, art, culture, and society. GS Paper-II comprises Indian polity, governance and administrative issues, schemes, programs, and government policies in social sectors like health, education, the welfare of weaker sections, and their impact. It also includes international relations. GS Paper-III combines four disciplines: economy, disaster management science and technology, and internal security. Finally, GS Paper-IV deals with ethics, social psychology, philosophical aspects of administration, and case studies.

Questions are set on all syllabus areas, necessitating the study of each section of the prescribed syllabus. At the same time, all disciplines within a single GS paper do not carry equal weight in terms of the number of questions. To cite an example, in GS Paper-II, polity and governance carry more weight than international relations. Therefore, one has to give emphasis to topics according to their proportionate weight.

GS PAPER-II

Of all the four GS papers, Paper-II is the most interesting, very dynamic, and contemporary. Comprising sections on polity, governance, and international relations, it arouses the keen interest of aspirants because the topics relate to contemporary issues reported in newspapers and journals almost every day. It does not, however, mean that there are no static portions in GSII. For example, there shall always be questions from the structural aspects of the Constitution, eg, parliament, executive, federalism, etc. However, even these static aspects will be linked with contemporary issues. The same can be said about international relations. Static aspects like foundations of Indian foreign policy, the role of the United Nations and its agencies are likely areas from where questions will be asked. However, here too, the focus will be on the contemporary challenges in our foreign policy or working of the UN. In other words, what is needed is to develop a fundamental knowledge of the static portions and then analyze the dynamic aspects of a particular topic in their backdrop.

POLITY

Thorough knowledge of the Constitution is essential to answer polity questions. Unless you understand the basic scheme of the Constitution and the functions of the executive, legislature, and judiciary, you cannot provide good inputs to the answer. The major areas to be covered in polity are: Fundamental Rights, Directive Principles, Parliament, Judiciary, Federalism and its problems, amendments to the Constitution, the role of Panchayati Raj Institutions, review of the working of the Constitution.

One will have to study the major themes on these topics and understand the relevant issues involved. For example, if one takes up Parliament, issues like electoral reforms, criminalisation of politics, issue of electoral finance, disruption of parliament sessions, the role of second chamber, the role of parliamentary committees, suitability of parliamentary democracy, problems of Panchayati Raj etc will need to be prepared. In this way, you need to create a vertical of the main topic (like Parliament) and then go for horizontal expansion of topics under that vertical.

As regards source materials on polity, it is always advisable to consult original sources in place of compiled materials. It is impossible to develop a comprehensive understanding of polity unless you read and understand it from good sources. The inconvenient truth about commercial books and materials flooding the market is that they do not cover the syllabus adequately.

Books on Polity

1. PM Bakshi: Indian Constitution

2. D Basu: Constitution of India

3. Granville Austin: The Indian Constitution

4. Yogendra Yadav: Making Sense of Indian Democracy

5. Subhash Kashyap: The State of Democracy, Governance, and Parliament

These books will go a long way in acquiring qualitative knowledge on polity. Then, one has to keep up with current aspects of polity, like for example, judicial reforms, parliamentary reforms etc. from good newspapers and journals.

GOVERNANCE

In this context, the term governance implies the functioning of important governing institutions, their inadequacies, ineffectiveness and inefficiencies, and suggested reforms in these institutions. To cite an example, let us take up the criminal justice system. This would require knowledge about police reforms, reforms in our criminal justice system, bail procedures, reforms of judiciary, etc. One has to follow the pattern suggested by this example and make a list of topics under governance.

Study material on governance: There is no single book available on governance that deals with the entire range of topics on the subject. Therefore, the best option is to read newspapers and journals that carry good articles on government initiatives, laws, reform measures, etc. A good reference source can be the various reports of the Administrative Reforms Commission.

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

This is a truly dynamic and interesting aspect of GS-II syllabus as it deals with current happenings on the global stage. The areas to be covered include:

  • Indian foreign policy: its basic foundations, nonalignment, multi-alignment, strategic autonomy, and multilateralism.  
  • India and its neighbors: bilateral relations and policies on the neighborhood. Also, India's extended neighborhood ie, West Asia, South East Asia, and Central Asia
  • India and big powers: China, USA, Russia
  • India's engagement with the WTO, EU, Africa, Latin America
  • India and the UN
  • Role of international institutions like the UN and its agencies, WTO, WHO, etc. Also, required reforms in these institutions.  
  • India's nuclear policy, defence policy, energy policy, trade policy, exports policy, diaspora policy, climate change policy, policy on terrorism, cyber security, etc.

Books:

1. Rajiv Sikri: Strategies and Challenges

2. Muchkund Dubey: Indian Foreign Policy

3. Shyam Saran: How India Sees the World

4. Shashi Tharoor: The New World Disorder

5. Shiv Sankar Menon: India and Asian Geopolitics Newspapers will be beneficial to cover international relations that keep on evolving daily.

GS PAPER III

This paper comprises economics, disaster management, internal security and science, and technology.

 ECONOMICS

The syllabus mainly covers the challenges of the Indian economy on all fronts. Agriculture, industry, foreign trade, manufacturing are the major topics. One has to make a list of issues to be covered and guess questions that can be asked. Without a basic knowledge of the Indian economy, it will be difficult to understand contemporary issues of the economy.

Sources:

1. Misra and Puri: Indian economy

2. Economic Survey

3. Vijay Joshi: India's Long Road: The Search for Prosperity

4. Newspapers: Economic Times, Mint, Business Standard

 

DISASTER MANAGEMENT

This part of the syllabus is about understanding various types of man-made and natural disasters like forest fires, flooding of cities and coastal flooding, cyclones, and storms, earthquakes, landslides, cloud bursts, heat waves, pandemics, etc. It should be clear that most of these disasters are the result of global warming and climate change. So, they must be studied in this context. India, being prone to all types of disasters, one must look at the national disaster framework, institutional arrangements like the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), legal framework like disaster management act, which provides an institutionalized response to tackle various types of disasters. Causes of such disasters, mitigation measures, reducing effects of disasters on the economy and human life, rehabilitation, early warning and evacuation from disaster-prone areas are some crucial topics to engage with.

Important sources:

1. Ministry of Home Affairs annual reports

2. Ministry of Forest, Environment and Climate Change annual report

3. Website of National Disaster Management Authority

 4. Newspapers

5. Magazine: Down to Earth

 

BIODIVERSITY AND ENVIRONMENT

This is also part of GS PaperIII syllabus. The main topics under this heading would be:

1. Degradation of India's biodiversity and measures to conserve them

2. Pollution: air, water, river, soil, and ocean pollution

3. Extinction of species and its implications on biodiversity

4. Man-animal conflict

5. Coral reefs, permafrost, melting of glaciers

6. Climate Change: COP 26 and India

7. Environment impact assessment of projects

Sources

1. Annual report of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change

2. Niti Aayog reports on environment

3. Magazine: Down to Earth

SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

This area deals with all frontier sciences and cutting edge technologies like Nuclear technology, Space technology, Biotechnology, Genetic engineering, Artificial intelligence, Defense technology, Medical technology, Robotics, Nanotechnology.

Sources:

1. India Year book 2021

2. Annual reports of Department of Space, Nuclear Energy, Biotechnology

3. Selected articles published in magazines like Scientific American, Nature, Lancet, etc

4. Newspapers

INTERNAL SECURITY

This area of GS III covers issues that impinge on our internal security. The main topics to concentrate on are:

1. Internal security framework of govt of India. The role of the Ministry of Home Affairs is crucial in maintaining the internal security, so its website on internal security will provide necessary inputs on the topic

2. Organisational structure of internal security forces like paramilitary forces

3. Border security: management of India's international borders, the role of integrated check posts

4. Drug trafficking, smuggling, human trafficking along borders

5. Illegal migrations along borders

6. Border infrastructure

7. Left-wing extremism

8. Radicalization and measures for deradicalization

9. Cyber security

10. Maritime security, coastal security, issues of piracy

11. Terrorism, narco-terrorism, terror finance, money laundering, the role of FATF

 

Sources:

• Ministry of Home Affairs website

• Various reports on internal security dimensions prepared by think tanks

• Newspapers

Strategy for GS Paper-III

1. Balanced preparation of all disciplines mentioned above

2. Intelligent selection of topics based on their current relevance

3. Framing likely questions on the topics and preparing answers to those questions

(S B Singh is an academician and IAS mentor. He can be reached at sb_singh2003@ yahoo.com)

Views expressed are personal