Millennium Post

Long journey from aspirants to civil servants

The Civil Services Examination in India, since its inception has gone through few changes that give it its form today. The speculation about yet another major change is nothing less than stir-inducing. The changes brought about in the pattern of this examination are looked upon as historical happenings.

Before the still debated introduction of the CSAT as a method of assessment, the change to take place last was in 1976. From  2011 to 2014, in mere  three years, the recruitment pattern has had three significant changes and proposes a fourth one. Beginning with the omitting of the subject optional from the preliminary test and replacing it with the CSAT, followed by removing one optional subject from the mains and enhancing the range of the General Studies, both these major changes have been made with a view to select the best of potential civil servants. While the viability of the  CSAT remains questionable to many, its plausibility over the subject optional cannot be challenged.

August of 2014 saw an unrest regarding the the amount of emphasis put on the knowledge and usage of the English language. The outcome of this was a very smart strategy played by the UPSC.

Following the decision to forego the emphasis on English language, the CSAT paper was evaluated without counting the English language questions, which were less than half a dozen in the already lengthy test. This is to establish the greater usability of a general aptitude for Civil Services over a deep subject knowledge. Likewise for dropping one optional subject for the mains and specifying in detail areas of General Studies.  

The row about the English language favouring a certain section of aspirants and putting several others at disadvantage brings in focus the nature of Civil Services that has evolved over the years from an elitist service to one that represents not only the Indian society and people, but also its problems and possible solutions.

While English remains a foreign language to a majority of Indians, it is also the country’s official language and hence its importance cannot be undermined. As much as the civil servants represent Indian society they are also a face of the progress sought in the country. The value of English overshadowing Hindi is an issue only because the Hindi background aspirants outnumber aspirants from other lingual backgrounds.

India is not a country of only Hindi speaking people, and English happens to be a more connecting language, unlike Hindi, which seems to separate people. Not having a substantial knowledge of the English language for an aspirant for a service as diverse, and power-wielding as the IAS, for instance, is most likely to be a handicap while executing the functions.

There have been three major changes so far that have been implemented in the recruitment for the civil services. Beginning with the first Administrative Reforms Commission, constituted by the Government of India on 5 January 1966 for reviewing the public administration system of India and recommending measures for making administration fit for carrying out the social and economic policies of the government and being responsive to the people. The Morarji Desai commission at this time introduced essay writing  in the candidate’s vernacular language. The second change came based on  D.S. Kothari Committee Report on Recruitment Policy and Selection Methods in 1976.

Aside from suggesting changes in the training pattern for the civil services, it was following from this committee report that the test began being conducted at two written stages, the preliminary and the main. After this, in 2011, 35 years later, came the third major change in the recruitment pattern. The CSAT. In this age of technology, tracing  facts is not as big a deal as it is to analyse them conclusively. For this reason, the shift in the exam paradigm from factual information-based evaluation to conceptual analysis-based evaluation is a favourable one. The civil services are not simply elitist and glamorous positions of power but seats of immense responsibility devoted to general public welfare.

What suddenly brought the UPSC back in news a while ago was the announcement by the Modi government of the reduction of age limit for eligibility for the test; 26 for unreserved categories, 28 and 29 otherwise. The average age of candidates at the time of recruitment, however, is 27, given the age limits functional till 2014, i.e 30, 33, and 35.  A more significant announcement than this was the reduction in the attempts that one can take: 3, 5 and 6 for general, OBC, and SC/ST respectively; both to be implemented from 2015.

With lakhs of aspirants aiming for civil services every year, this announcement is a huge one to be made so lightly. This is the same government that proposed giving an additional attempt to the candidates who took the preliminary test in 2011. And this very government is rumoured to cut the attempts to half without any notice. Or do we see this antic as one government challenging a very major decision of their preceding government?

Is this one PM contesting the administration of his predecessor to leave a greater mark? It takes a certain amount of earnestness and integrity to understand that the UPSC must not be made an object of political pranks and stunts. The bureaucrats are the permanent executives to the government whereas the ministerial teams are temporary.
Indeed the UPSC is a very prestigious institution and commands respect. Making a political puppetry out of it will do the nation no good. This is not to say that the UPSC is an entity standing as an epitome of perfection where proposing any changes for betterment is an anathema. It has to incorporate necessary changes in its functioning so as to remain optimally functional. If the mighty Modi government is intent on creating history in any manner other than communal, then the UPSC is indeed a challenging place to begin with. Revision of the reservation system for good will be a very daredevil thing to do; like when the same candidate uses his reserved status more than once to secure a job ‘of his choice’,  and in the process focus more on the quality of people inducted in stead of quantity for statistical development and numerical progress.

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