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UPSC Controversy: NATIONAL INTEREST CRITICAL, By Syed Ali Mujtaba, 18 March, 2013 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 18 March 2013

UPSC Controversy


By Syed Ali Mujtaba

Notwithstanding the Government putting on hold the March 5th controversial notification of the Union Public Service Commission under all-round pressure within Parliament, the latest revision of the pattern of examination leaves ample scope for discussion and debate among the intelligentsia in the country. The Government would do well to take these into consideration before holding discussions with the UPSC officials as assured. 

The new pattern of the UPSC Civil Services examination was first introduced in 2011 with the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) in the preliminary examination. Now in 2013, a new pattern is introduced in the Main exam that has triggered a heated debate in the country particularly by the regional satraps on two major counts. One revolves around Hindi versus other linguistic groups and two, the rural-urban divide being encouraged by the UPSC. 

The voices from non-Hindi linguistic group have become shrill, calling the coveted examination favouring the Hindi medium candidates while discriminating aspirants from regional languages. There is equally a sharp criticism about the new pattern of examination alleging that it tries to create an “unhealthy and unequal competition among rural and urban candidates.”

The UPSC had in 2011 introduced the CSAT pattern involving reasoning and a mental ability test requiring speed and accuracy. The questions were printed in both Hindi and English and were obviously seen as advantageous to the Hindi medium students because they would grasp and answer the questions in their mother tongue faster than their counterparts in linguistic group, who would depend only on the English script.

The March notification has among others shockingly done away with the language paper of qualifying nature. Earlier, students had to qualify in English and regional language paper in the main examination, the marks of which were not counted but passing these was mandatory. But now, the candidates will no longer need to qualify in a regional language paper and this is being viewed as helping the urban English-speaking youth. Apparently, even after qualifying the Prelims, five to nine per cent candidates flunk in regional language paper while writing the Mains exam.  

This apart, only if a candidate has done his education in a regional language medium at the degree level, would he/she be eligible to write the Mains exam in that language. Worse, a minimum of 25 candidates are required to write for the same and a candidate cannot choose a regional language as an ‘Optional Paper,’ unless having graduated in a particular regional language or studied it as an optional subject. 

Undoubtedly the UPSC norms have stirred the hornets’ nest, particularly in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. The argument is that many candidates shall be deprived of writing the exams in a regional language, which they may be comfortable with despite not having studied in that medium. Further, the minimum quota of 25 candidates required for a regional language is unfathomable. Why should an aspirant suffer if others choose to write in English or Hindi? Likewise, why shouldn’t candidates be allowed to choose language as an ‘optional paper’, even if they have not studied in it at the graduation level?

Undoubtedly, the language issue is a sensitive matter given the diversity of the country. However, there is the other side too. One needs to understand the outlook of the Central Government services such as the UPSC Civil Services examination where the two languages formula works ideally--the national language Hindi and the link language English. With the Civil Services having an all-India character, it would be really difficult for the UPSC to cater to the demands in 22 regional languages in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.

Thus, when it comes to providing a level-playing field for all languages in the country, it is true that the Hindi medium candidates have a definite edge in the UPSC Civil Services exams. So for the UPSC to be correct it should print question papers in all the 22 regional languages and allow these to be answered accordingly. Setting this option aside on grounds of it being unwieldy may not solve the problem of regional aspirants.

Likewise, by scrapping the regional language option in the Main examination is the UPSC being discriminatory? Not necessarily, because the regional language paper was only of qualifying nature and its marks were never counted in the main examination. And, in any case a candidate after qualifying the Civil Services is posted in different State cadres and has to clear the exam in that language accordingly. Thus, doing away with the language paper has neither made a positive nor a negative impact on the Civil Service examination.

On the other issue of UPSC putting restrictions on writing the Main exam in a regional language and in choosing a language as an ‘optional paper’, may not necessarily open the slush gates to urban aspirants, having studied in Hindi or English medium and give a “big blow” to rural counterparts. Keeping emotions apart, the new pattern of is not really discriminating the regional language candidates. They are allowed to write the exam in regional language provided they have studied in that language medium. However, the 25 candidates’ quota should be revised as administrative considerations can be no argument.    

At the same time, the UPSC has sought to create a level-playing field between rural and urban aspirants by increasing the weightage of the general studies paper. Seen more realistically it will help bridge the gap between social sciences students and other streams, with the former by and large representing the rural youth and the latter, urban.

The subject specialist mostly in commerce, pure sciences and technical stream may now find it difficult to cope up the 4 papers of general studies, while the students with social sciences and humanities background may have an advantage. This may help the candidates from the rural background who may have been bereft with technical degrees due to their socio-economic background.  

Additionally, the UPSC has done well by retaining English as a paper in the Mains examination. Its marks being counted as the link language is essential in all such all-India services. At the same time it has done no harm to regional aspirants by scrapping the language paper of qualifying nature, even though some urban aspirants may find this to be advantageous.

In the end, the UPSC could consider printing the question papers in all the 22 languages, allowing a candidate to write the main examination in the language of his/ her choice, withdrawing the quota of 25 candidates and agreeing holding the personality test in the preferred language of the candidate. There must be give and take in the larger interest of the country.-- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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