The UPSC notification making proficiency in English language a requirement for IAS aspirants has been put on hold. Kalyan Sundaram, a former civil servant, gives an overview of the main exam and the changes which were proposed recently.
The Indian Civil Services, long considered as the steel frame of administration, continues to retain its charm, despite the massive expansion of and high compensation from the corporate sector. UPSC has performed this onerous responsibility to shortlist some of the finest young men and women on whose shoulders rest the core of governance in India.
An objective evaluation of skills, knowledge and aptitude of the aspirants to the coveted civil service through an open examination, therefore, assumes critical importance as governance processes and dynamics become more complex and demand answers that perhaps brook no delay. In addition to the knowledge and skills, the civil services call for a high degree of integrity, selfless devotion to public service and a strict adherence to the finest ideals of our liberal, progressive and forward-looking Constitution. Certainly, these warrant a highly efficient recruitment system designed to shortlist the very best, who would render service with empathy and do their utmost to ameliorating the conditions of those who are victims of an asymmetrical access to education, health care and nutrition and other basic means of sustenance and livelihood.
Present system revisited
Following the Kothari committee recommendations, a sequential three stage process — an objective type Preliminary examination of one Optional and General Studies, a Main examination that would consist of a series of written papers, culminating in a Personality Test — was introduced. A decade later, Satish Chandra Committee in 1989 suggested a minor change of a reintroduction of an Essay paper and an increase in the marks for the interview. This is the pattern that has continued till the changes suggested now.
The UPSC has ushered in major changes starting from the current year, on the basis of recommendations of the second administrative reforms commission which is put on hold at present. The changed pattern gives more emphasis to general studies, English, ethics and aptitude skills.
These changes are now initiated at the recruitment stage itself to make the administration more responsive, transparent, citizen-centric, service-oriented and accountable. The increased emphasis on testing the general awareness of candidates on a variety of subjects is also expected to stand them in good stead, as these will have relevance for a career in civil services.
In the last couple of years the questions are framed even on the syllabus-based optional subjects in such a way to test the general awareness of aspirants linking it to the contemporary issues. This calls for reading of a number of journals, newspapers and magazines which address the everyday issues such as health, education, human rights, inclusiveness and sustainability and our relations with neighbours.
Recognising the need for much-needed changes in the pattern of examination, the Y.K. Alagh Committee was set up in 2001 and this is what it said: “The present testing of optional subjects is based on college/university curriculum. Re-examining the candidates in their own subjects appears to be of doubtful utility. The universities have already done the work and retesting, possibly even at a lower level than what candidates have completed earlier. What is important is the relevance of a subject to the job requirements of a civil servant, especially in the changing scenario.”
The first stage of changes in the preliminary examinations was introduced in 2011, which brought in the testing of aptitude, reasoning and comprehension skills to replace the optional paper. It is instructive to note that the second administrative reforms commission recommended that the aspirants who desire to get into the civil services should have an attitude of serving the vast multitudes of poor and needy, with great empathy; more so, they should consider it as service while discharging their functions to the citizens than as a favour they are bestowing. It is important to mention here that in order to have a level-playing field, the Y. K Alagh committee recommended that the optional subjects be removed as it has no nexus with the present changes in the socio, economic and political structure of India, and it does not address real issues.
One notable change that has stirred a bit of controversy is that of introduction of an English Language paper. While under the new pattern, the paper on Essay having 200 marks is being continued, an additional English Language Paper worth 100 marks has been introduced. The English language paper is expected to test aspirants on their comprehensive and writing ability, in tune with the demand of modern-day administration, where English has become a main language of official communication across the nation considering India’s major role in the global stage. This is the first time aspirants will not be allowed to write the exam in the mother tongue if they have not chosen the same medium in their graduation. This has created discrimination between the Hindi-speaking and non-Hindi States. Now the government has decided to put on hold the UPSC notification, it was announced in parliament on Friday. A final notification in this regard will be notified after discussions with the UPSC. It is hoped the government will accept the demands of all non- Hindi speaking States and keep the changes and remove the controversial language clause.