Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has overruled the department of personnel officials to scrap the language paper and an optional paper in the civil service examinations to select a 1,000 government officers including the IAS, IPS and IFS.
The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) had set the examination process in motion late on Wednesday evening after the government notified the rules for this year's civil services preliminary examination.
The reforms would bring a semblance of a level playing field amongst lakhs of candidates appearing in different subjects.
Civil Service aspirants earlier had to clear two language papers; English and a regional language.
The regional language paper has been completely withdrawn. About 6 to 11% candidates - who passed the preliminary qualifying examination - flunked in the language papers in the second-tier examination.
As first reported by HT, the UPSC has doubled the number of general studies papers to four and halved the weightage for optional papers.
The PM, however, did not go along with the suggestion to make candidates take two optional papers with reduced weightage.
Instead, the final version of the new exam pattern has scrapped one optional subject, a move that would encourage candidates to opt for a subject they had graduated in.
There is a still a list of languages - such as Malayalam, Telugu and Punjabi - that candidates can take as an optional subject.
But this choice will only be available to those candidates who graduated in the literature of the same language.
"There were many languages that are considered scoring subjects... So you had instances where candidates picked up languages such as Pali as an optional subject," a government official said.
The notification, however, could mar chances for foreign language students who had the civil services in mind when they decided to study languages.
Along with Pali, the UPSC has knocked out Arabic, French, German, Chinese and Russian from the list of languages for optional papers.
Incidentally, a new General Studies paper has been introduced on Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude.
But an aspirant wondered how a paper could test a candidate's attitude and approach to issues of probity. "Instead, it will end up testing the candidate's knowledge about integrity issues, not character".