Civil war to get into the services
REFORMS Aspirants are demanding age relaxation and three more attempts in the civil services exam, but are these changes required?
A country’s progress is determined by good governance and the civil services exam is the first step to get in able candidates to the Indian Administrative Services. While there have been some major reforms in the last few years, a section of aspirants are re-emphasising the need for more attempts and age relaxation for the exam.
Last month, aspirants who started the # fightupsc campaign submitted a joint memorandum to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT). More than 100 members of Parliament have supported their demand for three fresh attempts for all civil services exam aspirants who have appeared from 2011 to 2015.
At present, general category students get six attempts and the age limit is 32 years. Candidates from Other Backward Classes get seven attempts, while there is no limit for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes candidates.
Last year’s decision by the Central government to make the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) a qualifying paper in the UPSC exam came as a huge relief to lakhs of aspirants. The General Studies Paper-II in the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination (CSAT) is now a qualifying paper with minimum qualifying marks fixed at 33%. This means that every student is required just pass this paper with the minimum 33% marks. These won’t be added to the final results of the preliminary exam.
Candidates have been campaigning for CSAT to be either scrapped or made a qualifying test so that students from rural/ Indian languages and non-technical backgrounds are given an equal platform. NEED FOR REFORMS? But is there really a need for these changes? Should the government and the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) that conducts the exam give in again to the demands of the students?
Civil services aspirants say they have lost five years and five attempts (2011 to 2015) because of a “discriminatory CSAT paper”. The government has now virtually eliminated the CSAT paper by making it qualifying in nature, say aspirants.
According to Naresh Chandra, former cabinet secretary and Indian ambassador to the US, “CSAT should have been continued; maybe in a refined form, to recognise any genuine handicap of any section to a level that doesn’t dilute quality of screening and selection. There should be no age relaxation too. As it is, the age of entry for some categories of probationers/trainees is too high, thus reducing their trainability potential.”
Elaborating on the reforms needed in the civil services screening process, Chandra says, “The public interest requirement of getting the best talent into the civil services must remain the prime objective. Most successful candidates from a rural background have necessarily graduated from a university situated in an urban area. With technological advancements, the gap in having access to information/library books etc has narrowed considerably. Testing the intellectual capacity, and power to analyse issues and the ability to express views cogently are important criteria in addition to assessing the extent of knowledge of subjects pursued in university courses.”
A UPSC-appointed committee is mulling a proposal to reduce the upper age limit for appearing in the exam. BS Baswan, former education secretary, who is heading the current committee formed last August as part of an initiative by the Narendra Modi government to overhaul the civil services examination, says, “The committee is currently debating all these issues, collecting data and holding discussions with experts and some stakeholders. We can only respond with the details after our report comes in the public domain in August 2016, and it’ll then be examined by the UPSC and the ministry.”
Over the years, the upper age limit for candidates from general categories has gone up from 24 years in the 1960s to 32 years for the 2014 exam. “As it is, the field of candidates is unduly large. The age-span of trainees should not be too wide. We need not copy any other country on this,” says Chandra. HUMANITIES VS SCIENCE STUDENTS Are humanities students and those from the rural background at a disadvantage when it comes to the civil services exam?
Chandra believes they are not. “A perfect solution is just not possible. Sometimes, it is said, things go the other way in marks awarded by different Indian language examiners. Those having better command of English do have an advantage, but then one has to make the extra effort to compete successfully. In a competitive examination, a candidate is competing with his peers. It’s not a case of a candidate versus UPSC,” he adds.
Shailaja Chandra, former chief secretary, Delhi government, says, “People from science background are bound to score much higher, have an edge.” Science subjects can help a candidate score high. “Humanities students are at a disadvantage because their scoring pattern doesn’t allow them to get very high scores. All students should be able to express themselves orally and in writing in a way which is direct and forthright. While the debate over the age limit and screening process for recruiting civil servants in India rages on, it is interesting to note the specific conditions for entry into the civil service in many other countries. While some require degrees or educational courses for various levels of employment, there are also additional requirements such as linguistic competence, enjoyment of civil rights, military obligations, specific age limits etc, according to a paper by the European Parliament on recruitment and equal opportunities systems.
Till some years ago, almost all member states of the European Union had lower and upper age limits for entry to the civil service. However, in the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Sweden and Portugal there are no upper age l imits. In Belgium and Ireland the upper age limit is 50 years; in Germany it is 32 years for the probationary period and 50 years for definitive recruitment; in Austria it is 40 years; in Greece it varies between 30 and 35 years according to category, and in Spain and France the upper age limit varies according to the competition. In the United Kingdom there is no upper age limit. In some states, ministers or departments can make exceptions to the age limits.
Applicants could also have gained work experience in the public or private sector in the member state in which they are applying or in other member states. In Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, work experience is of great importance, given the absence of minimal legal requirements relating to the educational qualifications required at each level.
In Ireland and the United Kingdom, experience gained in both the civil service and the private sector is taken into account when appointments are made. In almost all member states, work experience acquired in the civil service is used as a criterion for selecting staff. There is no formal competitive exam procedure in the Netherlands. The German civil service does not have a centralised competitive exam system. Recruitment is organised autonomously by each authority. For the UK civil services, recruitment is based on a decentralised procedure and according to merit. Recruitment practices are based on open competition and job vacancies are advertised. Previous OECD reports suggest that the age of entry is rising in these countries’ civil services as often, the civil services offered new recruits long-term career prospects as compared to the private sector.
Shailaja Chandra, former chief secretary, Delhi government, says “Every country has its own recruitment system for the civil services and they are conceived of and are conducive to the requirements of that country. We are a very young population and we do not have much of lateral entry. Many of the developed countries go in for lateral entry. We say we have it but it’s more on paper than in fact. Only a handful of people are taken in through lateral entry and they don’t join the services but occupy certain posts only. Many countries do have an entrance exam. For instance in the UK, a lot of the induction at the cabinet secretary’s level is done by a group of people that selects people after screening their CVs, through interviews and considering their academic and related performance.
They proactively look for look for better qualifications or experience. In France also, candidates are taken in at a young age.
“Everywhere, merit is a prime consideration and making it available to all to have a chance is important, but that does not mean you water down the level of screening. Like many other countries, we are also seeking to find a high level of merit among the selected candidates,” she says. The present system of a written exam, says Chandra, may not be necessary in other smaller countries because they have much smaller populations and the number of people they induct is small. “We have a huge civil service and inducting 200300 in the services, after over 2000 are called for the interview from from tens of thousands who appeared for the written exam. The present system is as tight and as well-thought out as it should be,” she says.
Lakhs of aspirants appeared for the civil services preliminary examination in 2015, which made news because of their demand for age relaxation.