Analysis: UPSC–CSAT Imbroglio
Intro: Civil services aspirants have been demanding the scrapping of the Civil Service Aptitude Test (CSAT) for favouring English medium candidates .
The ongoing conflict over the pattern of Union Public Service Examination (UPSC) has much to do with the discreet style of functioning to which the examination board has stuck for long, since its establishment as a constitutional body, as envisaged under Article 315 of Indian Constitution. If we look back in history, civil service (earlier called Indian Covenanted Service ICS) was a colonial instrument created by British as a “safety valve” to rule India, which after Independence got rechristened to serve the nation at large. For this purpose, UPSC was established as a constitutional body to conduct and recruit best of the available minds across India with full transparency, integrity to provide equality of opportunity.
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The first major change in the pattern of examination was done on the recommendation of Kothari Commission in 1969. It was based on the dictum that “average quality will get richer as the streams proceeds from one stage to another”. It basically argued for a three tier selection process based on which an objective question based preliminary test was introduced to unburden candidates appearing at large. The basic purpose was to allow more serious candidates to write main examination and to allow for a competent selection.
The UPSC language row today is over the nature and objective of the preliminary test which was introduced as a screening exam to filter good students but which in due course ended up becoming the biggest obstacle to get through the civil service exam. And all this is due to changes introduced by the UPSC in subsequent years much to the loss of non-English based candidates. To put it simply, the present format is such that it put students of Hindi background at a disadvantage, and the protesting students have argued that the purpose of screening through the present format holds no relevance, if the best of minds get excluded at the preliminary level.
Why I am saying “best minds excluded” is because analysis of data indicates a clear decline in the marks obtained by those who are recommended for final interview in the past three years after the CSAT pattern was adopted compared to those recommended before CSAT was introduced. The irony is that it has defeated the purpose of preliminary screening exam- instead of filtering non-serious candidate, it is increasing the burden. Since the CSAT pattern draws good chance for urban convent educated students to get through it easily, initially, they find it extremely hard to score in mains which demands immense reading and analytical answer writing ability. This leads to sharp deduction in the marks at mains level and compromises the criteria for being recommended for the interview.
The current pattern of the preliminary exam has its origin in the report of YK Alagh Committee, appointed in 2001, which suggested that optional subject at preliminary level must be replaced with an aptitude test based on basic awareness, problem solving and analytical abilities etc. It also called for changes at mains level reducing the number of optional paper to one from two along with some compulsory papers. It was sought to bring in uniformity in the pattern of examination with more emphasis on the general awareness of the candidate with less scope to get through the selected optional subject based on his or her expertise. However, with the introduction of CSAT in 2011, UPSC has brought in complexities at large.
Firstly, the CSAT paper has been accorded more weightage in terms of marks with each question carrying 2.5 marks compared to 2 marks for each question previous to its introduction in 2011. Secondly, question on comprehension constitute almost half of the question paper and has less scope for “problem solving and analytical abilities” based questions as suggested by YK Alagh Committee report. Thirdly, translation of questions to other languages is done in a highly technical manner which leaves less scope for students from vernacular background.
This problem was earlier highlighted by 2012 Nigavekar Committee report which suggested that CSAT paper favours Urban English medium candidates and ignores aspirations of rural candidates. However, despite all its criticism and complexities UPSC seems to be in no mood to retreat from its autocratic style of functioning in the name of constitutional immunity.
Remember, no one is questioning the ability of UPSC to recruit the best minds for the service of nation but, by failing to provide “equality of opportunity to all” it is definitely violating the basic values of our constitution.
Meanwhile, the government is studying the Verma Committee report that examined the possibilities of changing the pattern of civil services examination among other matters, and is working out an amicable solution for the problem.
The wirter is P.hd Candidate of School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University -Abhishek Pratap Singh