Last week’s decision by the Central government, to make the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) a qualifying paper in the UPSC exam, has come as a huge relief to lakhs of aspirants.
From this year, the General Studies Paper-II in the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination (CSAT) will remain a qualifying paper with a minimum qualifying marks fixed at 33%. This means that every student will be required to score the minimum 33% marks in this paper and its marks will not be added to the final results of the preliminary exam.
The English language comprehension skill portion from the General Studies Paper-II of the CSAT will continue to remain excluded. Students preparing for the civil services exam have been campaigning for CSAT to be either scrapped or made qualifying in nature so that students from rural/Indian languages and non-technical backgrounds are given an equal platform.
Reacting to the development, Sunil Kumar Singh, who is also one of the campaigners, says, “By introducing CSAT in 2011, the purpose of conducting the preliminary exam was defeated. The civil services exam is a three-stage exam, with stage two being extensive and detailed. Stage one was introduced in 1979 to eliminate non-serious candidates. So traditionally, stage one exam which is an objective exam, is a mini version of the stage two exam. Since the introduction of CSAT, the syllabus of mains and preliminary exam had no co-relation. Stage one and stage two became independent of each other. This was against the principles of testing. With the present changes, this will be corrected.”
Since the introduction of CSAT, several aspirants had been complaining of discrimination against the students from rural background and those from the humanities stream, say aspirants. “Students have been protesting since May last year. Now, students have barely three months to prepare. I wonder why the government took so long,” says Sunil Kumar Singh
Aspirants like Devendra Singh, who was part of a delegation that met union minister Jitendra Singh last week on the issue, have been preparing for the exam for many years. “This year will be my fourth attempt at the civil services exam. We are thankful to the government for considering our demands. This will create the much-needed level-playing field among all candidates. Another reassurance is that the government has also formed a committee to comprehensively examine various issues raised from time to time namely, eligibility, syllabus, scheme and pattern of the civil services examination,” he says.
Devendra Singh also presented a book written by him, titled Civil Services Exam: Issues and Solutions- An Initiative to the minister. The book addresses the issues faced by aspirants including those in the CSAT paper.
K Muthukumaran, another aspirant, says that at a time when India is completely engaging itself with the global economy, the need for an administrator to possess modern managerial and aptitude skills like reading comprehension, logical reasoning and arithmetic skills is ever growing. “The government by making CSAT paper II as a qualifier has reiterated the fact that all civil services aspirants should mandatorily learn the minimum required aptitude skills. At the same time, by making CSAT as an qualifier, the government sent a strong signal that the aptitude skills are only eligible skills and the aptitude skills will not grant them a rank in the merit list. Rather, social skills comprising a student’s knowledge in Indian history, geography, environmental awareness, economic governance and the finer understanding of the Constitution will only grant him the final place in the merit list of civil service exam. The civil services exam is the only inclusive exam in India, for it allows even graduates from open universities to appear in the exam. These changes will ensure that all graduates from regular colleges to open universities, students from regional mediums to English medium, and finally the humanities to professional courses graduates are all provided an equal opportunity,” adds Muthukumaran.
The CSAT controversy
Earlier, the UPSC preliminary test comprised a general studies paper and an optional paper
In 2011, this pattern was replaced by the CSAT which included two compulsory papers — CSAT-I and CSAT-II
The UPSC’s decision to make significant changes in the format of the main exam in 2013 led to a major controversy. The Commission issued a notification stating that the English language paper would be competitive and not just a means for qualification. After several protests by aspirants and a PIL filed by Dinanath Batra in the Delhi High Court in 2012, the UPSC was forced to drop the English comprehension section in paper II
Students questioned how the UPSC could check the administrative aptitude in a candidate through such a format (paper II). The SK Khanna Committee in 2010 was tasked to detail the specifics of the aptitude test.
It is important to note that the Nigavekar Committee formed to review this pattern stated that general studies is the ‘bedrock for eligibility’
Another change, seeking to bar candidates from taking an Indian language paper as one of their optional papers if they had not studied in that language up to graduation level, was also revoked after strong resistance in the Parliament
Other changes were, however, retained: such as more weightage to the general studies paper and only one optional subject of two papers, instead of two optional subjects. This was aimed at eliminating any unfair advantage for candidates going for ‘scoring’ optional subjects
Two additional attempts and age relaxation were announced a year ago. Now, all students get two extra attempts.