Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Recruiter's dilemma

                                             The recruiter’s dilemma
                                              (Published in mylaw.net)

There was opposition from various quarters to some of the major changes to the Civil Services Examination announced in a recent Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) notification. Protests in Parliament were vocal and the Centre acted quickly to place the notification in abeyance. The Civil Services Examination (CSE) comprises of the below mentioned two successive stages:
 (i) Civil Services (Preliminary) Examinations (Objective Type) for the selection of candidates for Main Examination; and
(ii) Civil Services (Main) Examination (Written and Interview) for the selection of candidates for the various services and posts.

The Civil Services (Preliminary) Examinations also known as Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) consists of two papers of Objective type (multiple choice questions) and carry a maximum of 400 marks. This examination is meant to serve as a screening test since the marks obtained in the Preliminary Examination by the candidates, who are declared qualified for admission to the Main Examination, are not counted for determining their final order of merit.
The Civil Services (Main) Examination consists of a written examination and an interview test. The written examination, till now before the above said notification, will consist of 9 papers of conventional essay type which can be written in any language listed in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution. The 9 papers included 2 papers of General Studies worth 300 marks each and common to everyone, 2 papers each of 2 optional subjects(again worth 300 marks each) which have to be picked from the list of subjects given by UPSC, a general essay paper worth 300 marks and 2 qualifying papers of English and a regional language to be chosen from the list that consists of Arabic, Assamese, Bodo, Bengali, Dogri, Chinese, English, French, German, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Maithili, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Pali, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Sanskrit, Santali, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu. The compulsory English and Regional language papers were merely qualifying in nature and its marks were not added up to decide the final rank of the candididates.

Candidates, who obtain such certain minimum mark in the written part of the Main Examination as may be fixed by the Commission at their discretion, are summoned by them for an interview for a Personality Test. The interview will carry 300 marks. Marks thus obtained by the candidates in the Main Examination (written part as well as interview) would determine their final ranking. Candidates will be allotted to the various Services keeping in view their ranks in the examination and the preferences expressed by them for the various Services and posts.

One of the most significant changes in the recent notification was the introduction of English as a compulsory paper worth 100 marks. Previously, English had merely been a qualifying paper without any weightage in terms of marks. The move has been seen as acceptance of the fact that basic minimum English proficiency is an essential skill to govern in a modern day bureaucracy. In Parliament however, emotionally charged slogans such as “Angrezi me kaam na hoga, Phir se desh ghulaam na hoga” (“There will be no work in English; the country will not be a slave again”) were raised.

Secondly, the notification introduced a new condition for candidates who want to choose their medium of examination in a regional language other than Hindi and for candidates opting for a regional literature subject as an optional paper. The condition was that  the candidate must have opted for that medium in his/her graduation to choose the medium in that regional language and  to choose a regional literature subject as an optional paper, he or she has to be a graduate from a recognized university/college with specialization, meaning honors, in that subject. This reform was in response to general tendency of candidates to flock together on regional literature papers since there is a perceived belief that since the evaluator would be a person representing the same state, the evaluation would be liberal and more to favorable to such candidates. Statistics seem to bolster this argument since an overwhelmingly large percentage of students choosing regional literature as their optional paper comes out successful every year in this competitive examination. Further, if the candidates choose their medium as a regional language for all papers, the concerned subject experts like a psychology professor, may not be comfortable in that regional language and this would set different standards for even candidates who are choosing the same optional subjects.  Furthermore, there was an ever increasing proliferation of coaching institutes which used to manufacture successful candidates after their month long courses in certain optional subjects such as Pali literature. This forced UPSC to take away Pali from the list of optional subjects in the above said notification. The number of optional papers which had to be chosen, which was two earlier, was also reduced to one. Thus here, the main objective for UPSC was to bring in a level playing field as far as possible for all candidates.

However, they also introduced another requirement that at least twenty-five candidates should have opted for that medium of instruction. This provision appears to be bizarre by all standards since it decides a candidate’s fate on the basis of how other people choose their medium of instruction.

The academic fraternity and rights organisations have argued that the new pattern “systematically discriminates against candidates who use Indian languages either as medium of examination or as a subject” and that “this decision is not just unjust and unfair, it goes against the spirit of democracy and swaraj that inform our republic.” On the other hand, some senior civil servants wholeheartedly welcomed the UPSC’s reforms, stating that it was necessary to recruit people who can structurally fit into a bureaucracy that has constant interaction with not only different parts of India but also the rest of the world. English is a great unifying force among people from different parts of the country and even abroad.The Common Aptitude Test conducted for admissions to the IIMs, where English is given about one-third weightage, was a commonly cited example. The bank P.O examination which recruits people to public sector banks includes English as a vital part in their examination structure. Future bureaucrats in many Central services will have to directly or indirectly engage with the outside community and communication in English would be a very vital skill.

However, it needs to be noted that Civil Services Examination not only includes the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Police Service, and the Indian Foreign Service, but about twenty other Central services from Revenue to Railways. Some of them, like the Indian Foreign Service, would definitely require people who are good at English, but in others like the Indian Police Service, that would not be a necessary criterion. Separate examinations would probably be an innovative solution in the current context.

As the premier recruiting agency of the Government, the UPSC faces the fundamental dilemma of choosing between two direct beneficiaries of its policy decisions. On the one hand, the Commission should consider the changing needs of an old bureaucratic apparatus that is under pressure to change and perform differently in a globalizing world. On the other hand, the UPSC is not just a corporate manpower consultant for an efficacy crazy government but a constitutional body working under a democratic government.The genuine aspirations of the young adult population, speaking different languages and belonging to a wide and varied spectrum of society should also be considered. In the long run, even though one compulsion here would ultimately feed the other in a democracy, justice would not be done to a large section. There is also the risk of alignment of the social profile of the future bureaucrats in favor of the current elite. Perhaps we can hope that when our democracy becomes more advanced and the majority of our young adult population and not just the urban middle class, become equally proficient in the qualities acceptable to ideas of modern day global governance, the demand that such changes are essential in the Indian Civil Services, would come from the people itself.