The UPSC Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) row has escalated with protests by aspirants intensifying with each passing day. The agitating students want CSAT to be scrapped as they say the pattern of the test puts English-language candidates at an advantage, which is unfair for Hindi and regional language aspirants.
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. Amid the controversy, there are some pertinent questions that arise. Should the CSAT be scrapped? Does it create a level-playing field among aspirants from different backgrounds?
Some aspirants allege that the CSAT favours English-medium students and those from technical backgrounds like engineering and management.
“The final results of the Civil Services Examination (2013) were declared in June 2014 in which Indian languages and Hindi were given discriminatory treatment. None of the top 24 students had opted for any Indian language. The Hindi-medium topper secured 107th rank. The percentage of successful candidates from Hindi medium is now reduced to less than 3%, which was more than 15% before CSAT was introduced in 2011,” says Anurag Chaturvedi, who is one of the leading protesters.
The affected students are expecting immediate relief as the exam date is approaching. “We want the CSAT date to be postponed from August 24 with consequent resolution of the controversy so that candidates from different languages and the humanities stream are given a fair chance,” says Abhishek Mall, another aspirant. Some aspirants assert that the UPSC is discriminating against humanities students and favouring engineering students. “This is evident if you take into account the people who designed the CSAT test. The CSAT was introduced in 2011 after recommendations from Professor SK Khanna, who formed the one-member committee constituted by the UPSC. Professor Khanna is a former IIT professor and has also been the AICTE chairman. Prof DP Agrawal, who is the UPSC chairman since 2008, is also a former IIT professor. Rakesh Kumar Gupta, IAS, who was in charge of examination reforms and CSAT, is again a civil engineer from IIT Delhi. So all the people involved in the designing and implementing the CSAT are from an engineering background,” says Sunil Kumar, another aspirant who started the FightUPSC campaign.
Kumar says that CSAT has been designed along the lines of tests such as GMAT, CAT, XAT. In 2008, the percentage of engineers joining IAS was around 30% and that of humanities was also 30%. By the time CSAT was implemented, the percentage of engineers recommended in IAS increased to around 50% and that of humanities dropped to around 15%, Kumar adds.
This is also reflected in the fact that there were about 500 students from engineering and management backgrounds and about 300 from arts in various courses of the 2013 batch at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, says Kumar.
Test candidates say that there are two main flaws in the CSAT paper. “First, the Hindi version of the question paper, is just a virtual translation of the English paper. Second, there is a compulsory English comprehension component which automatically puts Hindi medium students at a disadvantage,” says Chaturvedi.
On the challenges faced by such candidates, Nitin Gangwar, who wrote the test last year, says, “The paper has an exact translation of English words to Hindi using Google translator. When you read the entire sentence in Hindi, it is not logical. This leads to confusion about what is being asked. The analytical and logical reasoning part is also a challenge.” The 2012-13 data suggests that out of those selected in the main exam, 46% were from an engineering background and just 27.2% were from humanities.
He says that even the Nigavekar Committee formed to work out a revised version of the main exam, highlighted some of these points. “The Nigavekar Committee report says that the preliminary examination pattern introduced from 2011 seems to be skewed in favour of candidates with a science background and the Commission’s endeavour should be to provide a level-playing field. There should be equal weightage in all the sub-sections,” he adds.
CS prelims: then and now
The pattern of the preliminary examination up to 2010 was based on the recommendations of the Kothari Commission. It comprised two examinations - one on general studies of 150 marks and the second with another paper of any one of the 23 optional subjects worth 300 marks
From 2011, the preliminary examination was called the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT). It aims to test analytical, reasoning and English language skills of candidates and includes two papers of two hours duration and 200 marks each
The changes so far
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, the UPSC was forced to take a u-turn, as a result of which the marks scored in English were not taken into account while preparing the merit list
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
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 two months back. Now, all students will get two extra attempts