How UPSC got its English wrong

The suspended proposal to give the language a decisive place in the civil services examination will exclude large numbers of aspiring candidates

Updated - March 19, 2013 01:08 pm IST

Published - March 18, 2013 12:12 am IST

After a nationwide outcry, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has suspended its proposal to make English a predominant component of the Civil Services Mains examination from this year. The UPSC must scrap the proposals altogether. This is why:

Page 11 of the notification says: “Candidates will have the option to answer all the question papers, except Section 2 of the Paper-I (English comprehension and English precis) in English or Hindi. If the candidate has had his/her graduation in any of the following language mediums using the particular language medium for qualifying the graduate level examination, then he/she may opt for that particular language medium to answer all the question papers, except Section 2 of the Paper-I (English comprehension and English precis). [Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Dogri, Gujarati, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Santhali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.]”


This indicates that if an aspirant’s mother tongue is, say, Gujarati, but his language medium while studying for the first degree and writing his graduate examinations, was not Gujarati, he will not be allowed to write the exam in Gujarati. Many students study in regional languages till Class 12. Though they shift to English medium for their college education, their level of proficiency in English cannot be compared with those studying in “convents” and cities. When Hindi is allowed as a language medium for the UPSC mains examination unconditionally, why not other languages like Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati? This step is a negation to the “idea of India” that the founding fathers of the Constitution envisaged.

To elaborate further, in Gujarat, my cadre, 90 per cent of the candidates clearing the exam qualify with a language as an optional subject, and write the exam in Gujarati.

This is true for many other States of India. Any move to change this will be a retrograde step that will disrupt, destroy and dismantle the dreams of many of my fellow Indians.

My brother officer, Mohammed Ali Shihab of the Nagaland cadre, an orphan who worked as peon, pump operator and later as a teacher, made it into the civil services examination with Malayalam as an optional subject and with Malayalam as the language medium. Under the new rules, this man of humble origins from Kerala would never have become a civil servant unless he knew English (in which he was not proficient), because his college education was not in Malayalam.

Page 13 of the notification mentions that in Paper 1 of the mains examination: “Essay: Candidates will be required to write an essay on a specific topic. The choice of subjects will be given. They will be expected to keep closely to the subject of the essay to arrange their ideas in orderly fashion, and to write concisely. Credit will be given for effective and exact expression (200 marks). English Comprehension & English Precis will be to test the English language Comprehension and English precis writing skills (at 10th standard level) (100 marks).”

Paper 1 consists of 300 marks, and the marks obtained in this paper will be taken into consideration while deciding the overall ranking in the examination. This provision is anti-rural and anti-poor. As 100 marks of English comprehension and English precis can create many a disparity in the merit ranking, this is another retrograde step. In the preliminary examination, the screening process for the Mains, the aspirant is tested for English language skills. So, it is understood that a candidate appearing for the Mains has already proved his English language abilities in the preliminary examination. While the marks in preliminary examination do not affect the overall ranking of the candidate, the mains marks will. This will place many a rural and vernacular language aspirant at a disadvantage.

During the training of IAS officers at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, 40 per cent of the time spent in Phase-I of the programme is for the language of the State where the officer will serve. The excessive focus on English will only hamper the aspirations of rural India, and is a step that will widen the divide between India and Bharat.

Page 11 of the notification says that: “However, in the interest of maintaining the quality and standards of examination, a minimum number of 25 (twenty-five) candidates should opt for a specific language medium for answering the question papers in that language medium. In case there are less than 25 (twenty-five) candidates opting for any approved language medium (other than English or Hindi), then those candidates will be required to write their examination either in Hindi or in English only.”

This provision will seriously limit the aspirations of many in the country. If there is only one aspirant who wants to write, say in Santhali, why is his freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution being curtailed?

Optional subject

Page 16 of notification says: “Optional Subject Papers I & II: Candidates may choose any optional subject from amongst the list of subjects given in para 2 (Group 1). However, if a candidate has graduated in any of the literatures of languages indicated in Group-2 , with the literature as the main subject, then the candidate can also opt for that particular literature subject as an optional subject.”

This provision implies that literature cannot be chosen as an optional if the candidate hasn’t graduated in it. This means a medical science graduate cannot opt for Telugu or political science graduate cannot opt for Gujarati. This restrictive provision on the rights of the candidates to choose his optional paper serves no purpose and suggests a lack of application of mind and logic.

Page 10 of the notification says: “NOTE: (i) Marks obtained by the candidates for all papers (Paper I-VII) will be counted for merit ranking. However, the Commission will have the discretion to fix qualifying marks in any or all papers of the examination.”

This provision is again ambiguous. In the CAT examination, each section has a cut-off. This is already notified by the examination conducting agency. But the UPSC only says it has the discretion to fix qualifying marks in any or all papers of the examination.

Aside from all this, I may point out that the examination cycle is a one year process. There are candidates who prepare over years for this examination. Introduction of a new pattern without giving them reasonable time to adjust to the changes is in violation of the principles of natural justice. The proposed changes will only increase the role of coaching centres. Candidates who have been already coached will now be further coached to face the new subjects, shelling out vast amounts for this.

The proposed changes are in violation of the Right to Equality (Article 14) and Right to Expression (Article 19).

(Kankipati Rajesh, IAS, is assistant collector (under training), Junagadh, Gujarat cadre. E-mail: )

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