Colonel Pradeep Dalvi (Retd), a Defence Institute of Psychological Research/Services Selection Board qualified Interviewing Officer (IO) and Group Testing Officer (GTO) spoke to Mission Victory India in part-5 of this ongoing interview series on SSB reforms.
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Excerpts from the Interview...
Q1. In the SSB selection interview there is a screening test on the first day itself in which over 50% candidates are screen out and only the remaining candidates undergo the full SSB procedure. Can you explain the tests conducted during Screening and also the tests conducted for full SSB?
Ans: The tests conducted during screening have amply been enumerated by Colonel RK Sinha (Retd) and hence I will not go over it. The screening test was introduced in 1999 due to a shortage of assessors at the SSBs. Someone in the Indian Armed Forces hierarchy had the notion that if we send more candidates to the SSB we will be in position to choose the best out of them. Resulting to the above idea, UPSC pass percentage was reduced to have more candidates to be assessed at the SSBs.
This resulted in introduction of stage-1 (screening test) at the SSB to weed out those candidates who have less chance of selection. The problem became very acute due to technical entries as they appear before SSB without any UPSC examination and low cut off percentage. Due to low cut off percentage big batches report to SSB. In stage-1, scientific assessment is not done, only few parameters are seen.
Q2. Is the screening test fair and objective or subjective, opaque and unjust to the screened-out candidates?
Ans: Since no scientific base is applied during screening test, it cannot be fair and objective. Advantage is there to candidates who speak well. It is unfair for those who are weak in English or shy and take time to open up. By the time they take stock of the situation they are screened out and very few may be 30-40% make it to stage-2.
For instance, a batch of nearly 600/700 candidates in stage-1 (screening) for UGC entry. Report to the SSB. Stage 1 has to be completed within 6 hours (say by 3:00 PM so that rejected candidates can take back the train on the same day). Imagine the plight of candidates and also the staff (4/5 officers) at SSB conducting stage-1 tests which involves checking documents, testing, results etc. The system is unfair to the candidates as well as assessors.
Q3. In the present circumstances what is the alternative to the screening test to make it more objective, transparent, and fair to all the candidates?
Ans: Alternatives are there provided we are ready to look for them. In British system they have an online system of tests which candidates have to take before they report to SSB. Suitable centers as per command or geographical locations can be identified to carry out initial testing and candidates cab be short listed for the SSBs. The initial screening can be carried out by former IOs/GTOs/Psychologist or even private parties can be engaged for this job for stage 1. Basic parameters are physical test, Group dynamics and psychological test carried out online.
Q4. When for past 25 years the pre-commission training academies have been repeatedly taking up the imperative need to introduce the mandatory physical tests at SSBs to prevent physically weak candidates from joining the academies why are DIPR/SSBs resisting and preventing this introduction to materialise?
Ans: The main reason as to why the DIPR and the SSBs are resisting Physical tests is that they do not want to get overburdened with physical profile of candidates. They advocate that SSB are meant to carry out personality assessment of candidates based on OLQs and not on physical aspects and as such physicals presently do not have much bearing on its selection and rely heavily on trainable quality. This aspect of physical testing (Physical and mental stamina) is only seen partially on ground by GTO and no other assessor.
Therefore, a bare minimum physical standard must be achieved by candidate before they report to the SSB and hence stage-1 screening becomes important as it will assist the GTO to home on to the aspect of trainability. This will also help instructors in the academies to focus on other aspects of training apart from physical. Another aspect of relegation, withdrawal, and physical injuries to candidates will get reduced drastically and also the wastage rate will reduce considerably. This will be a win-win situation to all.
Q5. Since the Army recruits undergo the basic physical tests during initial screening itself and all leading professional armies including US Army have this mandatory requirement do you think that this test should be introduced?
If yes, then in which part of the selection process should it be introduced? Will it help in making the selection or rejection process more objective, fair and transparent?
Ans: Physical testing of candidates must be done in stage-1 itself before they report to the SSB. This will be making the entire process objective and transparent as all candidates rejected in screening feel that injustice has been done to them. Training staff at Academies put in lot of man hours in bringing the cadet up to the desired level of physical proficiency. With cadets achieving the same easily, the same man hours can be utilized in refining their other aspects of military and social skills.
About the Interviewee
Colonel Pradeep Dalvi (Retd), was commissioned into the Mechanised Infantry and has served in the Army for 29 years. During his vast military career, he has held several prestigious appointments. He is an alumnus of Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), Wellington and has served with the United Nations.
He has been an instructor at Army War College (AWC) and in faculty of the Senior Command Wing. Post retirement, he went on to start his second inning with the prestigious Tata Group. He is presently a consultant with a corporate firm and a core member of the 'Victory India' campaign.
(Views expressed are the interviewees own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Mission Victory India)