Union Public Service Commission civil service examination aspirants have been demanding scrapping of the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) introduced in 2011.
They claim the second paper of the CSAT, which tests among other things logical reasoning, analytical ability, basic numeracy and English language comprehension, puts rural students and those from non-English medium school background at a disadvantage.
The protesters also want the civil services exam, due this month, postponed.
The centre will now decide its course of action over a report submitted to it by a three-member panel.
Read | CSAT row: govt says decision on Varma panel report soon
What is CSAT
The CSAT-II paper carries questions on comprehension, interpersonal skills including communication skills, logical reasoning and analytical ability, decision-making and problem-solving, general mental ability, basic numeracy, and English language comprehension skills (of Class 10 level).
Before CSAT 2011, there was a paper of general studies (GS) which carried 150 marks and a second paper where the candidate had the option to choose from 23 optional papers, carrying 300 marks.
Under the revised pattern, there are two papers now each of 200 marks.
When it was introduced
The CSAT came into effect from 2011 to enable screening of candidates with a right aptitude for the civil services. The changed preliminary exam was supposed to be called CSAT, but the UPSC never used the term when it issued the notification for the 2011 exam. It just stuck to CSP or Civil Services Preliminary Examination.
What is the controversy
Hindi-medium aspirants are against the pattern and argue that the CSAT questions have more weightage than the general studies questions.
They also claim that Hindi translation of the English comprehension questions in CSAT is so bad that even a Hindi scholar or a professor will fail to comprehend them.
According to the protesting aspirants, the quality of the translation needs improvement.
Some of the civil service aspirants argue that sheer lack of English proficiency among millions of youth puts these Hindi-medium students at a disadvantage in CSAT.
But English comprehension accounts for no more than 22 marks in a 200-mark paper.
According to Hindi-medium aspirants, the level of math and aptitude tests also is so high that they or humanities students can't answer them as well as their science-background colleagues.
"This is conspiracy to stop the aspirants from rural background from entering into the system. It seems the civil service is now reserved for the elite class of the society only. If the government does not scrap the CSAT, there will be no place for Hindi-medium students or students from rural background in the government," said an angry Ratan Kumar, who appeared in the CS examination in 2013.
"Why the aptitude test? Are English comprehension and reasoning questions more important than the general studies questions in the preliminary examination? Shouldn't an administrator know in detail about the geography, social character and history of the country?" Kumar questioned.
"Why does the UPSC not release the answer sheets of the CSAT papers? Where is the democracy and transparency in the system?"
He argued that the analytical and quantitative questions in the CSAT favour only the science students.
Read: UPSC aspirants continue protests, govt urges calm
However, a section of students and experts don't see any bias in the new pattern and believes that doing away with the CSAT may not be a good decision.
“The numerical ability, basic English comprehension and decision-making skills are important for future civil servants. As they also need to be checked on thinking ability, ethics and basic communication skills. Thus, the new pattern is a very well thought decision,” said Ashish Srivastava, who appeared in the CS examination in 2012 and 2013.
Ashish is now pursuing a management course from XLRI, Jamshedpur.
However, he agrees that the Hindi-medium aspirants face problems in answering many questions and suggests few changes in the CSAT pattern.
"Math questions should be easy for the non-science background students. The level of aptitude test is fine and there is no biasness when it comes to English comprehension test. Even if the Hindi translation is bad, as many aspirants claim, you should be able to understand and answer. If you can't read and solve simple questions in the paper (in your own language), you can't solve major issues as an administrator in today's world. If you think you can become a good civil servant, you should fine-tune yourselves in many areas," he said.
“The CSAT is the most important screening procedure. The level of CSAT is not very difficult. The questions are easier than other graduation-level competitive exams like SSC, Bank PO, etc. Everything is fair as the UPSC has to select brilliant administrators," said Ashutosh Sinha, another aspirant who has completed his graduation in Commerce from Zakir Husain College in Delhi.
What the experts say
Experts believe that students of Hindi or other regional languages should realise the need to attain a proficiency in English at the earliest. This is because the civil service examination demands an understanding of national and international developments.
"The language skills tested under comprehension, the most scoring topic, are not English language specific as it is a bilingual topic available in Hindi as well. Hindi translation is provided for 90% of the questions, and the statement that the CSAT is anti-Hindi is clearly far-fetched," Shailaja Chandra, former secretary to the Government of India and former chief secretary, Delhi, wrote in her column in Hindustan Times.
Manjesh Kumar, assistant professor at Delhi University’s Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, says the UPSC should prepare the questions in Hindi to understand the real issues behind the controversy.
"Once in a UPSC paper the Hindi translation of the term economic reform was bhumi sudhar which actually means land reform. Isn't this injustice against the Hindi-medium aspirants?”
"Let the UPSC prepare the comprehension question in Hindi once and provide its English translation to the English-medium students. They will see its impact in the results," he said.
Kumar said if the UPSC is using Google Translator for translating CSAT questions, it's really a disastrous experiment.
"Hindi translation of the English comprehension is the biggest problem in the CSAT paper."
Video: Decision on CSAT will be balanced, says govt