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The Civil Service Exam conducted by the UPSC has witnessed some sweeping changes in the recent past. The objective behind these might have been to align the pattern of the exam in accordance with the dynamic changes taking place in India and world over, or to create a level playing field for all the candidates, or to make the selection process more robust, transparent and fair. What the real reason has been, we simply donot know.

Also, the rationale behind reducing the number of seats, when there is actually a huge need of candidates to fill up the relevant posts and the huge backlogs created over the years, is something only the people in the government can answer.  Moreover, the logic behind drastically reducing the age limit of the candidates to be eligible for Civil Services is not clear.

But one thing is certain. These policies and changes are wreaking havoc on the merit system and the objectivity of the selection process and thereby impacting in a huge way the Steel frame of India, turning it into a steel cage.

Civil Service aspirants - The victims of whimsical persecutions

The exam witnessed introduction of CSAT for the Prelims stage in 2011, which has been a matter of great contention and has been under constant criticism for its supposedly biased nature against the candidates belonging the arts, humanities and non-English backgrounds.

The Transparency International’s “Corruption Perception Index” saw India performing very poorly globally, when it came to corruption. Suddenly there was a realization that the candidates lacked Ethics, morality and the desired values. Hence, the Mains pattern was changed, which saw elimination of one optional and introduction of 4 papers of GS, out of which one was a new paper called “Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude”, as if this was enough to instill the desired values in the candidates and to ensure the selection of candidates with moral values.

The limits of idiocy were crossed when the prelims exam of “Indian Forest Service” exam (IFoS), whose nature is supposed to be different from the Indian Civil Service Exam, was clubbed with the Civil Service Prelims. To account for this, undue importance was being given to Geography and Environment in the CS Prelims exam ( sometimes more than 30 questions were based on these subjects alone), creating an undue advantage for the candidates having those backgrounds or for those having geography as their optional subject. The succeeding years also witnessed unjustifiably low importance to Polity and Economics, which are traditionally considered to be very important. The current affairs didnot get much importance back then.

Because of campaigning by the CSAT affected students, CSAT was made qualifying. This was again done without allowing enough time, to the students who got used to the CSAT pattern, to adjust to the changes. Surprisingly, NO COMPENSATORY ATTEMPT was granted for so many aggrieved students. Out of the blue, it was again thought that the current pattern was not up to the mark and could not create a level playing field. More importance came to be given to current affairs to supposedly rectify the situation. The height was crossed in 2016, when the paper was full of petty current affairs questions, and lacked polity or economy related questions. Candidates who mugged up certain coaching institutes current affairs notes and who might have been poor with their concepts, got through. While those with a balanced preparation of the traditional subjects and concepts, as well as the current affairs, suffered a lot. This exam saw the elimination of many serious candidates and qualifying of some of those who were not even targeting Union Civil Service Exam specifically and who had no idea as to how to go about in the Mains. This was much against the purported objective of the selectors of "eliminating the non serious candidates".

Thereafter, there was a tacit realization of the colossal stupidity that had been committed. So the year 2017 saw drastic reduction in current affairs questions and many ambiguous questions with uncertain answers and a really tough CSAT, much to the dismay of many. In General studies, it was pure game of luck, with the uncertain questions. As with every time, a drastic, haphazard experimentation took its toll on many sincere and serious aspirants.


Thus, there have been sweeping changes almost every year since 2011. A ‘trial and error’ method employed by the selectors has caused tremendous damage to the objectivity of the selection process, compromised the quality of the candidates selected and failed to achieve the desired objectives.  The prelims exam has been turned into a gamble and a huge “luck factor” has been introduced into it. This reflects the indecisiveness, lack of conviction and vision and shortsightedness of the selectors. It also reflects their insensitivity towards the future of the young candidates, who are indeed the future of this country.

Compensatory attempts and age relaxation is the only way out

The damage done to the prestige of the Civil Services and the selection process cannot be undone. However, the candidates whose future has suffered due to the irrational decisions and whims of the selectors from 2011 to 2017, ought to be given justice. At least a compensatory attempt and at subsequent relaxation in age for the 2018 exam, for all who appeared from 2011 to 2017, is the bare minimum that should be done to recuperate for the losses of those who have invested the most productive time of their lives to pursue their dreams.

The government should be pro active and take this rational decision and the UPSC should implement it at the earliest. An objective process of selection should be gradually evolved. Stability should be imparted to the pattern of the exam. More transparency could be brought in the process and speedier result declaration could be done. It would indeed be unwise and a mockery of our democracy if students pay dearly for the indecisiveness of the selectors and inaction of the government.


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