The government agreed not to test candidates for English skills in the civil services preliminary examination scheduled for August 24 to address concerns that the exam pattern was biased in favour of urban candidates.
But, it was not enough for protesting civil-service aspirants, who vowed to continue their almost month-long stir. They insisted nothing less than scrapping the civil services aptitude test (CSAT) introduced in 2011 would do.
Watch: Minister Jitendra Singh says English marks won't be included for UPSC exam gradation
A similar sentiment echoed in Parliament too when minister of state in the PMO Jitendra Singh announced the concession.
In the Lok Sabha, B Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal and Dharmendra Yadav of the Samajwadi Party promptly demanded that the aptitude test be done away with. Many Rajya Sabha members wanted aspirants to be asked questions in regional languages as well and forced the House to adjourn for the day.
Outside, Congress spokesperson Randip Surjewala questioned the relevance of the English exam if marks were not to be included.
Since the Union Public Service Commission -– which conducts the three-stage prestigious examination -- had already started the process to print question papers for the exam on August 24, Singh said the government was of the opinion that English language comprehension skills in the preliminary examination “should not be included for gradation or merit”. The section accounted for 20 of the 200-mark aptitude test.
Also, candidates who failed the 2011 exam — when the test was first introduced —will be allowed to sit the exam again in 2015.
The UPA had given candidates two extra attempts earlier this year, a concession that benefited those who took the exam in 2012 and 2013.
Former banking secretary Devi Dayal said the government shouldn’t have knocked English out of the preliminary examination. “After all the kind of role a civil servant is expected to play, a basic minimum level of English knowledge is a must,” Dayal said.
But government sources told HT that the impression was inaccurate.
Candidates would still be tested for their proficiency in English and an Indian language in the second-stage -- the mains examination. The marks secured in these two language papers are not counted while drawing up the list of successful candidates but clearing the exams is mandatory.
According to information provided by the UPSC under the right to information law, 6-11% candidates who cleared the preliminary exams in 2010 and 2011 failed the English test in the mains. They were edged out of the competition.
“This change is an eyewash and clearly shows the government didn’t understand our opposition,” said Sahil Jha, a civil-service aspirant. “It is not just about the language but the entire format of CSAT which favours the urban elite and those from science backgrounds.”
Read: Voices for and against the new pattern
A government official suggested claims of language bias found traction with the opposition as it tried to corner the Modi government in Parliament. “But in the process, the high-pitched protests over English skills overshadowed the basic objection to the aptitude test that the students didn’t want,” the official said.
Government sources, however, stressed that the Centre, which determines the syllabus for the exam, was unlikely to roll back the aptitude test. This was the first bit of reforms introduced after deliberations that went on for 20 years.