The government is unlikely to roll back the aptitude test — introduced in 2011 — from the civil services preliminary examination and would stick to the 2014 format that kept English comprehension out of the first stage of the three-phased exam.
Faced with protests on the streets and disruption in Parliament in 2014, the Modi government had promised to review the changes carried out in the format of the exam, conducted to pick India’s top police, civil and foreign services officers, by the Congress-led UPA ruling combine in 2011.
But the government is coming around to the view that tinkering with the examination process would not just be counter-productive but also unfair to hundreds of thousands of aspirants.
Late in April, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), which conducts the three-stage recruitment process, also told a parliamentary standing committee that the government was expected to maintain status quo on the examination.
“The committee did not make any recommendations to the UPSC on this issue since it was indicated that status quo was being maintained,” EM Sudarsana Natchiappan, who heads the panel, said.
The Natchiappan committee — which had asked the UPSC to introduce the reforms several years back — only advised the commission on reducing the time that it takes to complete the process, which goes on for more than a year. The commission was also asked to explore moving the exam online.
Till 2010, the preliminary objective-style screening test comprised two papers. The first was a general studies paper and the second, an optional subject, selected by the candidate from a list of 23.
From 2011, the second paper was replaced by a second general studies paper that tests the aptitude and assess candidates’ understanding rather than memory. This paper is commonly referred to as the civil services aptitude test, or CSAT paper.
There were widespread protests with claims that that the test was biased in favour of technical and management students and urban candidates.
A government official said there were no fresh concessions for civil service aspirants who, if selected, would be serving the government till around 2050.
Already, the government has pledged to give aspirants, who may have lost out due to changes in the exam pattern, two additional attempts. Also, the English comprehension portion removed from the CSAT paper would not be back.
Nearly 940,000 candidates applied for the examination in 2014. A little less than half of them, 450,000, sat the preliminary exam. This time, the UPSC expects at least a million applications and has increased the number of exam centres from 2,137 to about 3,000.
The formal order spelling out the examination rules is expected on May 16. The first-stage preliminary examination is to be held on August 23, the exhaustive second-stage main exam is in December. The final interviews will be in conducted in April/May 2016.