Thursday, July 17, 2014

No More Confusion Please!

Recent few days have seen protests by a group of Civil Services aspirants, demanding change in the pattern of Civil Services examination, particularly scrapping of the Paper-2 (CSAT). Responding to these demands, the Central Government has urged the UPSC to postpone the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination 2014, which is scheduled to be held on 24th August. In the meanwhile, a committee has been constituted to look into the concerns of the protestors. [1]

This news has brought fresh uncertainty in the minds of very many Civil Services aspirants. The notification for this year’s examination was released on May 31th after a 15-day delay, presumably to take approval of the new Government. The forms have been filled up now, and the Prelims are only about 1 month away. The examination process which had begun after the Government’s approval is now being disrupted by the Government itself.

Moreover, the UPSC is an independent Constitutional body with a mandate to conduct these examinations. The ‘request’ by Government to postpone the examination looks like undue interference in the functioning of UPSC, and undermines its Constitutional independence.

However, the genuine concerns of the protestors need to be addressed to ensure fairness towards aspirants from all backgrounds. Given that any changes done once are likely to be institutionalized for at least a few more years, the pattern should be changed only after thorough analysis and due consultation. With the limited time available this year, this doesn’t seem possible and any proposed change is likely to be hasty.

The key demand of the protestors is the abolition of CSAT, which, they claim, is biased against the students of Humanities background because of its focus on analytical skills, reasoning and comprehension.[2] But wouldn’t removal of CSAT at this stage be unfair to those students, who have already diverted significant amount of their time and energy towards preparation of CSAT?

Reasoning and comprehension skills are tested in the recruitment process of even clerical jobs. The importance of such skills cannot be ignored in the selection process of the to-be policy makers of the country. The pattern and syllabus of an examination should be decided on the criteria of requirements of the future job profile, not on the basis of the candidates’ profile.

Introduction of CSAT was a part of the larger reform in the outdated recruitment process of Civil Services Officers. Setting the clock back on any such reform in haste may shut the doors on further reforms, as objections to any change in status quo will always arise.

The Government should, therefore, effect changes in the pattern only from the next year onwards and announce those changes well in advance. I hope that the Government will take care of not only the few hundred protestors, but also thousands of other aspirants who are going to be affected by any rushed decision in this matter. Hope better sense prevails!

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