No longer a preserve of metropolitan elite

Non-English speaking aspirants from small towns are making it to the civil services
Gurugram, June 05: Candidates come out of a centre after appearing for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Services Prelims exam, at Government Girls College, MG road, in Gurugram on Sunday. [Image for representational purpose only]
Gurugram, June 05: Candidates come out of a centre after appearing for the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Services Prelims exam, at Government Girls College, MG road, in Gurugram on Sunday. [Image for representational purpose only]File: ANI

Prime minister, Narender Modi’s clarion call to civil servants to keep nation’s interest utmost in their mind means a lot if IAS officers desist from focusing on personal achievements and utilize their caliber to the benefit of society.

PM made it clear that a good governance is key to development of the nation and accomplishments of civil servants will not be judged by their personal achievements. Modi made it clear that young civil servants will play an important role in the progress of New India during Amrit Kaal.

Success of any regime depends upon the handling of the members of this elite service, an impression which has been inherited from British Raj and remains unchallenged even today.

Most politicians who become part of government may lack experience, decision-making abilities, knowledge of file work, technicalities, rules and regulations etc. The bureaucrats become their guiding stars and it leads to their dependence on them. Any regime can succeed only if gets committed, dedicated and honest IAS officers.

This year women have dominated the civil services examination results with Shruti Sharma, Ankita Agarwal and Gamini Singla bagging the top three spots. Of the total number who cleared the examination – 508 are men and 177 women in 2021 as against 216 in 2020. Shubham Kumar was the first place holder in the examination, second was Jagrati Awasthi,and third was Ankita Jain.

Making to the top

Non English speaking, especially from small towns and villages, have cracked preliminary and main examinations to be amongst the lucky ones who figure in the final list after facing the gruelling interview of UPSC.

The success of candidates from non English speaking universities and small towns has become a permanent feature of the civil services examinations though it is not very encouraging due to several inherent weaknesses. According to one assessment, the intake of candidates from non-English background had dropped from 48.4 per cent in 2008 to just 8.7 per cent in 2017. UPSC officials, however, refused to confirm these numbers.

Reforms in UPSC

Expert academicians and educationists say the UPSC should study the profiles of selected candidates including regional, linguistic and educational data. This is essential because while the government is pushing for domain expertise within the civil services it keeps taking engineers or doctors from similar backgrounds.

Switch to IAS pattern

Government of India can play a significant role by advising the state governments to introduce new syllabi on the lines of Union civil services. As of now the state commissions not switching to IAS pattern have been doing disservice to millions of aspirants who have to abandon several years’ preparation based on old pattern that is completely irrelevant to the next level of civil services examination.

Edge to engineering graduates

In 2011 the central government first introduced the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) and net result is very encouraging. The data shows that now it is not just Delhi, but English-speaking
candidates from all urban centers are performing better in the examination. Similarly, a decade ago, non-English speaking candidates from lesser-known universities and towns started cracking all stages of civil services and the trend is witnessing an upward swing. This has lent an all-India character to this elite service. Introduction of the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) in the UPSC Prelims has also led to a surge in the number of successful engineering candidates in the IAS exam.

After the CSAT was introduced in 2011 many IAS aspirants pointed out that the new pattern was advantageous to candidates with a technical degree. In response to the strong
reaction, the commission made the CSAT clearance a must for the main exam. Some candidates feel that that the introduction of the CSAT exam has favoured engineering students appearing for this examination.

Each year, the difficulty level of CSAT papers has risen. This usually eliminates many non-engineering students whereas science students ought to perform better. The CSAT includes questions on mathematical ability, analytical ability, reasoning, English comprehension, etc. UPSC Prelims exam consists of two papers namely General Studies I paper and General Studies-II (CSAT) paper. While the score in GS Paper-I determines whether or not you qualify for the cutoff of prelims, CSAT is qualifying in nature. An aspirant needs to score more than 33% or 66 marks for the CSAT paper which creates a level-playing for field for all candidates.

Enjoying the advantage

The maximum intake is from the states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Delhi, and three years’ figure showed that 40 percent of selected candidates came from engineering background and enjoyed an advantage in selecting the scoring subjects. Notwithstanding the efforts of UPSC to diversify, engineers still account for 60 percent of new civil services in the country. UPSC uses a secret formula to ‘normalize’ the scores in optional subjects to eliminate the gap between humanities marks and technical subjects like mathematics which may or may not be to the satisfaction of aspirants.

Some of the Ex UPSC chairpersons argued that Engineers, with their science backgrounds, generally find the CSAT easy as compared to humanities graduates. Another reason that the number of engineering graduates is on the rise is the sheer large number of engineers in the country. A lack of suitable employment opportunities causes a natural drift among youngsters towards other professions, including the civil service.

But they have different opinion about the success of various categories. They feel that no particular streams are needed in qualifying for the Civil Service exam. But, engineers have good analytical skills and more knowledge to qualify for the exam. Additionally, engineering graduates, more often than not, have previous experience in writing competitive examinations. Many of them would have gone through the rigorous exams like the IIT-JEE, BITSAT, etc. All this is a valuable experience, even if the content of the exams is different from the civil service.

Ex chairpersons say that English-speaking and with public school background have not created any hurdles for small towns and rural areas aspirants in becoming IAS officials which had been a big stigma in the past.

They feel that aspirants hailing from rich and elite classes do have an advantage of joining coaching institutes but gap has narrowed owing to talent and hard work of candidates from other groups in the society.

Experts have got unanimity over the dire need of special training to young IAS officers to create a sense of dedication and commitment to serve in rural areas which will help in better redress of grievances of the needy sections of the society in the country.

(Writer is ex chairperson of standing committee of State Public Service Commissions in India)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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