Amid criticism of the new UPSC rules that sought to make English compulsory in the civil services exam (proposed changes have since been put on hold) the former UGC chairman Arun S. Nigavekar, who headed the committee of experts which gave the recommendations, said it had not emphasised any particular language but only sought to judge a candidate’s communication abilities.

“The committee suggested an examination pattern which shall judge a candidate’s ability to communicate effectively, be it in any language,” the top academician told PTI, adding that the issue of language was not in the committee’s “terms of reference.”

He declined to comment on whether the inclusion of English in the civil services main exam was part of his committee’s recommendations.

The panel underlined qualities a 21st-century civil servant should possess to deal with the multidimensional challenges of the present-day world, Mr. Nigavekar said.

“In our recommendations, we gave a broader and generic outline of the same,” he said.

Noting that a civil servant’s job was becoming increasingly demanding and a prospective bureaucrat would now be introduced to a comparatively more challenging work environment, the committee suggested an examination pattern that tested the candidates’ ability to employ his knowledge at the operative level. As per the changes proposed, a 100-marks paper of English comprehension and précis was to replace the English and Indian language papers that had been of a qualifying nature and whose marks were not included in the merit list.

Protests

The new proposed pattern sparked protests, with the Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Jayalalithaa, expressing their opposition and seeking Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intervention.

In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena threatened to disrupt the Commission’s exams in the State if its demand to include Marathi in the syllabus was not met. The issue was also raised in Parliament.

“A civil servant shall not only identify the problems of his area, he should also be able to effectively communicate the same to his higher authorities, so that a solution can be found,” Mr. Nigavekar said over phone from Pune on the panel’s recommendations.

Asked whether the new pattern would have virtually blocked the entry of aspirants who had obtained their education through the medium of Indian languages, he said the recommendations were made keeping in mind the existing structure of education in the country and no “expertise” over any particular subject was stressed upon.

Noting that English was a global language required for effective multi-level communication, Mr. Nigavekar said some changes were imperative for working in a global environment.

“By no means am I underestimating any regional language. But in the present-day scenario, global boundaries have disappeared and language has become the unit of currency. It is the light and sound of communication.

“We cannot close our windows to the winds of change and at the same time, we should not get swept off our feet. This is what Gandhiji had in his vision,” Mr. Nigavekar said.

When it was pointed out that countries such as China and Japan had made progress without laying stress on English, he said this was true a decade ago but now, even those countries were seeing the language as a tool to deal with global competition.

“See, these days, if you ask students to express themselves in a concise manner — be it in any language — most of them will fail,” he said.

The students, however, have protested against the new pattern, claiming that it would dent the prospects of those who had undergone education through State education boards, where English was not much emphasised.

Ranvijay, a journalism post-graduate who left his job to prepare for the exam, claimed the new proposal would shut the door for Hindi-medium students.

“Testing English abilities is fine. But why add their marks in the merit list? Earlier too, the English paper was there, but it was of a qualifying nature. Wasn’t it enough to judge the communication skills,” asks Amarendra, a Ph.D researcher at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

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