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No English in CSAT: Trade unionism before entering a trade!

Last updated on: August 05, 2014 17:59 IST

Should candidates for particular positions in the government be permitted to agitate for changing the recruitment process itself?

The candidates have to meet the requirements of the jobs rather than ask for their own standards to be accepted as the requirement of the jobs.

Those who cannot meet those criteria should seek other jobs that match their skills, says T P Sreenivasan.

The announcement by the central government that the “compulsory English language comprehension passages will not be counted in for gradation or merit", seems to be a token populist measure in order to satisfy the raging protestors and to divert attention from the actual problem.

By removing the compulsory English questions, it appears that the government is sending out a highly incorrect message that even rudimentary knowledge of one of the official languages of India is not required for the future administrators of India.

This very notion dents the all-India nature of the Civil Services, where English still serves as one of the most widely used languages in official and legal transactions.

Coming to think of it, when the Constitution of India itself was drafted in the English language, how could a creature of the Constitution like the Union Public Service Commission do away with the English language?

But the irony does not end there. When the CSAT was introduced in 2011, it was received with much fanfare by candidates and tutors alike all over India, with just a few dissenting voices. After three years of existence, the exact reason for this acute eruption of protests remains unexplained.

Moreover, the CSAT II paper in question, with a total of 200 marks, carries a meagre eight questions spread over three English language passages with a weightage of 20 marks in the entire paper. There is no cut-off in the preliminary examination and one could easily bag a cumulative score above the threshold percentile in both the papers, amounting to a maximum score of 400.

So the solution of downgrading the importance of compulsory English in the exam accrues to a problem of 20 out of 400 marks. The announced cut-off scores for the 2013 Civil Service Preliminary exams ranged from 241 out of 400 for the General Category Students to 200 for ST category students.

What the protestors also overlook is that once they clear the CSAT and appear for the Civil Services Main examination, they ought to obtain qualifying marks for the Compulsory English Language paper which is set for a whole 300 marks. Hence, escaping the test for 20 marks to face the wrath of 300 later on does not seem logical.

Or are they going to agitate later to have English eliminated there also?

No doubt the Civil Services Aptitude Test is tough, not because of English, but because clearing it requires familiarity with a wide spectrum of knowledge from rocket science to simple arithmetic. Many have found CSAT a bigger hurdle than the Mains Examination as there is no precise syllabus like for the latter.

Improper translation of comprehension passages and questions into Hindi was also detected to be a culprit, which could easily be sorted out by resorting to accurate manual translation by qualified personnel than vague electronic web-based translations.

It is surprising that the government or the UPSC has not proposed this simple solution as yet. It is more frustration than grievance that has driven the aspirants to agitate for the elimination of CSAT itself. The English language argument is only a cover.

If Hindi-speaking candidates play their language skills or lack of it as their card against CSAT, which is conducted in English and Hindi languages, how disadvantaged are the non-Hindi speakers at this examination? A candidate trained in a vernacular language has no other go but to give the CSAT in English. If ease of medium is a consideration for the examination, CSAT should be conducted in every one of the 18th Schedule languages.

But that does not defy the importance of familiarity with the global language of today, the language of modern technology, the language enlisted as one of the five official languages at the United Nations -- English. The inclusion of a miniscule English section was aimed at testing the basic knowledge of the candidates in one of the official languages, which acts as a link language for a large part of the country.

Many Hindi-speaking officers may well be spending their official careers in non Hindi-speaking states. Needless to say, recruiting officers who know only Hindi to the Indian Foreign Service is an anomaly, which will strike at the roots of our diplomatic skills. A few months of English at any English institute will not equip them with the skills to handle delicate negotiations, particularly at the UN. India has long abandoned the move to introduce Hindi into the UN as impractical.

An important point of propriety is whether candidates for particular positions in the government should be permitted to agitate for changing the recruitment process itself. The candidates have to meet the requirements of the jobs rather than ask for their own standards to be accepted as the requirement of the jobs. Those who cannot meet those criteria should seek other jobs that match their skills. By bending over backwards to meet their demands, the government is ruining them even before they enter the service. Trade unionism before entering a trade is unheard of!

The most lamentable aspect of all these is the fact that the sincere aspirants who have been preparing for the 2014 Civil Services Examination are being subjected to cruel treatment by the government by leaving them in limbo. To study with rapt attention for an exam which seems to be postponed one day, undergoes a pattern change the next day, and gets cancelled the third day, is almost impossible.

If the credibility of the UPSC and the Civil Services examination should remain intact, a speedy solution with a sound logic behind it must be reached, putting an end to this cacophony of demands and protests.

The government must insist on a certain minimum knowledge of one of its official languages for those competing for the all-India Services to maintain its integrity. It should also not discriminate against those who do not have the opportunity to use their mother tongue to compete for these services.

Whatever be the device the government may use to overcome the present crisis, the search must continue for a level playing field and the UPSC alone should be the arbiter in this matter.

Image: (Top) Police lathi-charge UPSC aspirants during a protest demanding a rollback of the CSAT in front of the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission office in Allahabad on Wednesday.

Image: (Bottom) A protest underway at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, on Wednesday with AAP leader Yogendra Yadav (2nd from right) lending support to it. Photographs: PTI Photo. 

T P Sreenivasan (IFS 1967) is former Ambassador of India and Governor for India of the IAEA; Executive Vice-Chairman, Kerala State Higher Education Council; Director General, Kerala International Centre.

T P Sreenivasan