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?

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - HT Education - - Front Page - Gauri Kohli

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.

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