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COVID-19 and UPSC CSE: The Case for a Compensatory Exam Attempt

COVID-19 and UPSC CSE: The Case for a Compensatory Exam Attempt

The “win-win” results of the general elections 2024 as described by political professionals and analysed by experts and psephologists alike, where PM Modi is starting his historic third consecutive inning as the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democratic republic, return of coalition government at centre after a strong and alleged authoritarian regime, with Nitish Kumar and Chandrababu Naidu playing vital roles of kingmakers; strengthening’s of the opposition with Congress almost doubling its seats and Samajwadi party capturing a good share of electoral numbers in Uttar Pradesh- politically the most crucial state to form government at the centre, with Mamta Banerjee consolidating her position in her stronghold. The EVM is happy among the all being coming out as clean and poise as after the dip in holy Ganga. The election verdicts not only silenced those Western prophets of democracy who always diminished India’s democratic soul since the Selig Harison ‘Most Dangerous Decade’ of the 1960s to ‘electoral autocracy’ in 2028 to the ‘one of the worst autocratisers lately’ just before the commencement of the 2024 general elections but has vindicated that the poor and semi-literate masses of India has the highest “Democracy Intelligence Quotient” or DIQ in the world to elect a full majoritarian government whenever required and to never shy away from curtailing the wings of their loved and revered charismatic leaders, from Indira Gandhi to Modi, if they smell the traces of authoritarianism or arrogance of ruling elite or any perceived threat to the constitutional model of democracy, diligently crafted by the founding fathers of the modern democratic Bharat.

MODI’S FOUR CASTES AND CIVIL SERVICES EXAMINATIONS

The enchanting slogan of ‘ab ki baar 400 paar’ and the four biggest castes of Modi: the poor, the youth, the women and the Farmers, hold the key to the post-verdict analysis which will continue for a long time to come. However, one critical issue which simultaneously accommodates these four castes and has silently and minutely but critically impacted the verdict of the election is the demand for one-time COVID-19 relaxation for UPSC CSE aspirants who have exhausted their precious attempts during the pandemic years of 2020 to 2022, now joined by the 2023 batch of aspirants having suffered the double discrimination of covid-19 and CSAT-23. The dream of serving the nation and enhancing one's socio-political prestige in one of the most unequal societies is pulling the demographic dividends of India into the narrow streets and confined rooms of Old Rajender Nagar (ORN) and Mukherjee Nagar, the hubs of CSE coaching centres in the National capital. These youths popularly take pride in calling themselves ‘UPSC Aspirants’ while preparing for the toughest exam in India mainly belong to poor and marginalised families who have been left with no choice but to spend their precious years of youth until their selection or exhaustion of the prescribed attempts, once they enter into the preparation by risking their exiting meagre family resources. The stories of students coming for exponentially inflammatory coaching by selling their farmlands or mortgaging their homes have become a new normal in the era of complex globalisation marked by straitjacket vicious competition with shrinking government employment prospects. The journey of women aspirants to accomplish the dream of becoming the ‘Collector Bitya’ or Collector Madam, is the true reflection of the destructive repercussions of the patriarchal society and glass ceiled employment space, where they usually get the chance to get a study environment and sent to coaching with a real ultimatum of getting ready for marriage as per family honour, in case of failures. Many of these aspirants have to simultaneously work in the coaching institutes as a desk boy/girl, receptionist, mentor, evaluator or content writers to continue their studies till their last attempt at civil services exams whose success rate is always below 1%, as family support perished after few initial years and aspiration converts into struggle. This chunk consumes a maximum lot of first-generation educated youth of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes asserting to somehow balance the historic plight of caste discrimination and subjugation. These aspirants are individuals carrying the burden of Modis four castes in one, who were not convent educated or had the privilege of attending reputed educational institutions or the luxury to get a couple of free years to able to focus on their studies, either financially or emotionally, thus constituting the Deprived Aspirants Castes- ‘DACs’.

COVID- 19 AND UPSC ASPIRANTS

It is often claimed that public memory is short-lived but actually, that’s a delusionary sophism. The public never forgets the defining moments of their life and even won’t let others relegate their memories into dustbins of history. The horrific memories of the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastation caused by it are alive and active in our public conscience. Every section of society and every individual was hampered by its devastating havoc, UPSC-CSE aspirants having no expectations. Most of them were infected with Covid as the concept of Herd Immunity suggests, and many lost the lives of their family members and close friends. Many aspirants choose to serve society as front-line workers, like those working in essential services, and others help the administration by following their guidelines. In the absence of mobility and scarcity of proper guidance due to the closures of coaching classes and study libraries, the Internet was the only available source. Those who have ever tasted the salt of UPSC preparation shall approvingly accept that the internet is essential but not a sufficient source of preparing for this examination, especially when the internet was flooded with content of remorse, depression and a pessimistically miserable environment in the country of ‘digital divide’. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted ‘everything’ but the UPSC cycle of Civil Services Examination, in which the constitutional body went ahead with conducting 2020, 2021 and 2022 UPSC CSE examinations with un-impactful, pretentious relief of changing dates and postponement, despite the staunch opposition by the candidates who were forced to appear in the examination due to compulsions of numbers of attempts and maximum age limits, despite their gloomy surrounding and challenged state of preparation and quadriplegic cognitive capacity. The plight was not restricted to forcing the candidates to either ‘appear or disappear’ in the examination but their serious life-threatening clashes of genuine interests like, what an affected candidate in a containment zone or under quarantine ought to do? If she appears for the examination by breaching the COVID guidelines, she risks the lives of many others, and if she chooses to follow the guidelines and doesn’t appear for the examination, she loses her most precious attempt. Many candidates could not enter the venue of examination centres, both in Prelims and Mains, due to their high temperature after being scanned at the gates. Many serving in the essential services were not provided the leave to appear in the examination, while many others were struggling to arrange oxygen cylinders. The student community mainly coming from marginalised and disadvantaged sections is still trying to cope with the post-COVID financial, emotional and health issues. The government both at the union and state levels have tried to provide relief to the masses which every welfare state is duty bound to do. The Union government specifically provided many relief packages in tune with ‘Jaan bhi, Jahaan bhi’, giving relief to the sector of the economy and every section of society, unfortunately excluding the DACs. When these COVID-19-impacted aspirants approached the government, specifically the concerned DoPT ministers of state, his logic was that exams were held smoothly, and deserving candidates had successfully cleared the exams despite COVID-19. He has rejected the demand of one extra UPSC attempt to compensate for the loss during the pandemic, the stand on which he remained consistence, and these candidates are demoted to the ‘Bunch of Failures’.

PRAYER, PETITIONS, PROTEST AND PARLIAMENT

Since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, students preparing for competitive exams have been demanding relaxation comparable given to others in every sector and section. The government postponed the CSE prelims in 2020 to October of that year but that was a symbolic relief as the exam was conducted despite the first lockdown having not been lifted and all the guidelines of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health tandemly persisted. The aspirants who often start their preparation by studying Indian Polity and the Constitution of India, went for a never-ending struggle which has now been diminishing. They approached the Government with their prayer, within their understandable limitations. Many members of Parliament have written letters to the Prime Minister and urged the MoS- DoPT to consider the case of these aspirants. These aspirants have formed an unorganised interest group and moved to the highest court of the land seeking one extra attempt to get a fair chance of opportunity. The supreme court in Abhishek Anand Sinha v. UOI, although refused to pass any direction, however, advised the executive to take a “Lineant view” in the light of the circumstances in the nation at the time of the Pandemic. Similarly in Arjit Shukla v. UOI, the apex court hinted at using discretion under Rule-4 of the Indian Administrative Services (Appointment by Competitive Examination) Regulation, 1955 for providing one-time relaxation. Failing to get the desired results after Prayers and Petitions, they although not having any such experience or support, also staged various small but peaceful protests, the December 2022 protest at Old Rajender Nagar (ORN) even getting National media coverage. One thing where they could play smartly was to never let their peaceful protest be highjacked by any political outfit and their only anti-government slogans were ‘DoPT down-down’, ‘UPSC hosh me aao- UPSC come to senses’.

However, the matter is not that much straightforwardly simple. There is an internal division between the attempters- those who have attempted any of the three stages of the examination and non-attempters- those who could not attempt any of the stages of the examination due to Covid-19 and its various implications, government being tilted little in the favour of the latter. There are also diverse opinions of experts both in favour and in opposition to this demand in the name of maintaining administrative efficiency. It should be noted that the Union government had provided relief to other aspirants of various government competitive exams like SSC-GD, SSC-CGL, IIT-JEE, UGC-NET, and CA Exam owning to reasons having a connection with ‘Covid Pandemic Hardships’. The various State Public Service Commissions in more than 18 states of India, many ruled by the BJP governments like Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh, have provided attempt and age relaxations in their respective State PCS examinations. The One Hundred Twelfth Report of the Department Related Standing Committee (DRSC) on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice of Parliament headed by BJP stalwart late Sushil Kumar Modi has also strongly recommended the one-time relaxation. To quote the report, Para 4.16: “The Committee thinks that COVID-19 has caused untold agony and insurmountable sufferings to many. The whole of India had come to a standstill, lives and livelihoods got disrupted and the student community was also adversely affected. Keeping in view the hardship faced by the student community during the first and second COVID waves, the Committee recommends the Government to change its mind and sympathetically consider the demand of CSE aspirants and grant an extra attempt with corresponding age relaxation to All Candidates”. Despite the demand from all the quarters, including the letter of request from the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister to the Prime Minster apart from other leaders, the DoPT has only hardened its stand to not provide any relief to candidates, who had exhausted their prescribed attempts, to avoid setting a wrong precedence. In his reply to the questions raised by the parliamentarians, Dr Jitender Singh, the MoS in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, clarified that the matter has been considered and it has not been found ‘Feasible’ to change the existing provisions regarding the number of attempts and age-limit in respect of the Civil Services Examination.

JUSTICE EVEN IF HEAVEN FALLS

These hundreds of thousands of DACs were not figured into the Vote bank calculus of the ruling BJP, despite maximum of them being the admirers of PM Modi. The Congress party have added a minute although exclusively inconsistent reference in its manifesto- Nyay Patra promising a one-time relief to applicants due to the pandemic. The malaised dejected aspirants who are comparatively well-educated and cognizant, having the capacity to influence not only their family but their villages and communities, voted either NOTA or against the BJP as per their silent dictum of ‘No Vote without Opportunity’. Now that the general elections are over and with the absolute majority to NDA, PM Modi taking charge of the Nation with a new energy of strength, dedication and resolve, the time is appropriate to undo the historic wrong by providing a one-time COVID Compensatory UPSC CSE attempt to all those candidates who were eligible to write exam during the 2020-2023, as students are not demanding any change in the existing rules of CSE but a one-time exceptional welfare measure for exceptional circumstance. COVID-19 has not discriminated between the attempters and non-attempters nor between the first attempter and last attempters; the democratic government should not only change its mind but also the heart and take a democratic call by implementing the DRSC report in letter and spirit to provide the inclusive relief to all candidates without any discrimination. The new NDA government should sideline the bureaucratic resistance to the cause and shall announce a special inclusive Covid CSE examination with appropriate age relaxations, to fill the vacancies of IAS, IPS, IFS and other positions in 2024 itself to undo the injustice to the demanding aspirants, taking precedence from 1979,1992 & 2015 when the extra chance was given due to various compelling reasons. This is the right time to come out of the colonial hangover of exclusivist Imperial Civil Services practically opened for the elite individuals and decolonising the Indian Civil services to make it substantially accessible to subalterns and disadvantageous, taking a clue from the 2014 reforms increasing the attempts from 4 to 6, apart from consolidating the existing provisions of affirmative actions. The constitutional ethos and principles of social justice demand a one-time compensatory attempt at UPSC-CSE. Let Justice be done though the heavens fall.

Senior Research Fellow, Department of Political Science and Adjunct Faculty, University of Delhi

Sumit030686@gmail.com

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author

COVID-19 and UPSC CSE: The Case for a Compensatory Exam Attempt

COVID-19 and UPSC CSE: The Case for a Compensatory Exam Attempt

The “win-win” results of the general elections 2024 as described by political professionals and analysed by experts and psephologists alike, where PM Modi is starting his historic third consecutive inning as the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democratic republic, return of coalition government at centre after a strong and alleged authoritarian regime, with Nitish Kumar and Chandrababu Naidu playing vital roles of kingmakers; strengthening’s of the opposition with Congress almost doubling its seats and Samajwadi party capturing a good share of electoral numbers in Uttar Pradesh- politically the most crucial state to form government at the centre, with Mamta Banerjee consolidating her position in her stronghold. The EVM is happy among the all being coming out as clean and poise as after the dip in holy Ganga. The election verdicts not only silenced those Western prophets of democracy who always diminished India’s democratic soul since the Selig Harison ‘Most Dangerous Decade’ of the 1960s to ‘electoral autocracy’ in 2028 to the ‘one of the worst autocratisers lately’ just before the commencement of the 2024 general elections but has vindicated that the poor and semi-literate masses of India has the highest “Democracy Intelligence Quotient” or DIQ in the world to elect a full majoritarian government whenever required and to never shy away from curtailing the wings of their loved and revered charismatic leaders, from Indira Gandhi to Modi, if they smell the traces of authoritarianism or arrogance of ruling elite or any perceived threat to the constitutional model of democracy, diligently crafted by the founding fathers of the modern democratic Bharat.

MODI’S FOUR CASTES AND CIVIL SERVICES EXAMINATIONS

The enchanting slogan of ‘ab ki baar 400 paar’ and the four biggest castes of Modi: the poor, the youth, the women and the Farmers, hold the key to the post-verdict analysis which will continue for a long time to come. However, one critical issue which simultaneously accommodates these four castes and has silently and minutely but critically impacted the verdict of the election is the demand for one-time COVID-19 relaxation for UPSC CSE aspirants who have exhausted their precious attempts during the pandemic years of 2020 to 2022, now joined by the 2023 batch of aspirants having suffered the double discrimination of covid-19 and CSAT-23. The dream of serving the nation and enhancing one's socio-political prestige in one of the most unequal societies is pulling the demographic dividends of India into the narrow streets and confined rooms of Old Rajender Nagar (ORN) and Mukherjee Nagar, the hubs of CSE coaching centres in the National capital. These youths popularly take pride in calling themselves ‘UPSC Aspirants’ while preparing for the toughest exam in India mainly belong to poor and marginalised families who have been left with no choice but to spend their precious years of youth until their selection or exhaustion of the prescribed attempts, once they enter into the preparation by risking their exiting meagre family resources. The stories of students coming for exponentially inflammatory coaching by selling their farmlands or mortgaging their homes have become a new normal in the era of complex globalisation marked by straitjacket vicious competition with shrinking government employment prospects. The journey of women aspirants to accomplish the dream of becoming the ‘Collector Bitya’ or Collector Madam, is the true reflection of the destructive repercussions of the patriarchal society and glass ceiled employment space, where they usually get the chance to get a study environment and sent to coaching with a real ultimatum of getting ready for marriage as per family honour, in case of failures. Many of these aspirants have to simultaneously work in the coaching institutes as a desk boy/girl, receptionist, mentor, evaluator or content writers to continue their studies till their last attempt at civil services exams whose success rate is always below 1%, as family support perished after few initial years and aspiration converts into struggle. This chunk consumes a maximum lot of first-generation educated youth of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes asserting to somehow balance the historic plight of caste discrimination and subjugation. These aspirants are individuals carrying the burden of Modis four castes in one, who were not convent educated or had the privilege of attending reputed educational institutions or the luxury to get a couple of free years to able to focus on their studies, either financially or emotionally, thus constituting the Deprived Aspirants Castes- ‘DACs’.

COVID- 19 AND UPSC ASPIRANTS

It is often claimed that public memory is short-lived but actually, that’s a delusionary sophism. The public never forgets the defining moments of their life and even won’t let others relegate their memories into dustbins of history. The horrific memories of the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastation caused by it are alive and active in our public conscience. Every section of society and every individual was hampered by its devastating havoc, UPSC-CSE aspirants having no expectations. Most of them were infected with Covid as the concept of Herd Immunity suggests, and many lost the lives of their family members and close friends. Many aspirants choose to serve society as front-line workers, like those working in essential services, and others help the administration by following their guidelines. In the absence of mobility and scarcity of proper guidance due to the closures of coaching classes and study libraries, the Internet was the only available source. Those who have ever tasted the salt of UPSC preparation shall approvingly accept that the internet is essential but not a sufficient source of preparing for this examination, especially when the internet was flooded with content of remorse, depression and a pessimistically miserable environment in the country of ‘digital divide’. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted ‘everything’ but the UPSC cycle of Civil Services Examination, in which the constitutional body went ahead with conducting 2020, 2021 and 2022 UPSC CSE examinations with un-impactful, pretentious relief of changing dates and postponement, despite the staunch opposition by the candidates who were forced to appear in the examination due to compulsions of numbers of attempts and maximum age limits, despite their gloomy surrounding and challenged state of preparation and quadriplegic cognitive capacity. The plight was not restricted to forcing the candidates to either ‘appear or disappear’ in the examination but their serious life-threatening clashes of genuine interests like, what an affected candidate in a containment zone or under quarantine ought to do? If she appears for the examination by breaching the COVID guidelines, she risks the lives of many others, and if she chooses to follow the guidelines and doesn’t appear for the examination, she loses her most precious attempt. Many candidates could not enter the venue of examination centres, both in Prelims and Mains, due to their high temperature after being scanned at the gates. Many serving in the essential services were not provided the leave to appear in the examination, while many others were struggling to arrange oxygen cylinders. The student community mainly coming from marginalised and disadvantaged sections is still trying to cope with the post-COVID financial, emotional and health issues. The government both at the union and state levels have tried to provide relief to the masses which every welfare state is duty bound to do. The Union government specifically provided many relief packages in tune with ‘Jaan bhi, Jahaan bhi’, giving relief to the sector of the economy and every section of society, unfortunately excluding the DACs. When these COVID-19-impacted aspirants approached the government, specifically the concerned DoPT ministers of state, his logic was that exams were held smoothly, and deserving candidates had successfully cleared the exams despite COVID-19. He has rejected the demand of one extra UPSC attempt to compensate for the loss during the pandemic, the stand on which he remained consistence, and these candidates are demoted to the ‘Bunch of Failures’.

PRAYER, PETITIONS, PROTEST AND PARLIAMENT

Since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, students preparing for competitive exams have been demanding relaxation comparable given to others in every sector and section. The government postponed the CSE prelims in 2020 to October of that year but that was a symbolic relief as the exam was conducted despite the first lockdown having not been lifted and all the guidelines of the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health tandemly persisted. The aspirants who often start their preparation by studying Indian Polity and the Constitution of India, went for a never-ending struggle which has now been diminishing. They approached the Government with their prayer, within their understandable limitations. Many members of Parliament have written letters to the Prime Minister and urged the MoS- DoPT to consider the case of these aspirants. These aspirants have formed an unorganised interest group and moved to the highest court of the land seeking one extra attempt to get a fair chance of opportunity. The supreme court in Abhishek Anand Sinha v. UOI, although refused to pass any direction, however, advised the executive to take a “Lineant view” in the light of the circumstances in the nation at the time of the Pandemic. Similarly in Arjit Shukla v. UOI, the apex court hinted at using discretion under Rule-4 of the Indian Administrative Services (Appointment by Competitive Examination) Regulation, 1955 for providing one-time relaxation. Failing to get the desired results after Prayers and Petitions, they although not having any such experience or support, also staged various small but peaceful protests, the December 2022 protest at Old Rajender Nagar (ORN) even getting National media coverage. One thing where they could play smartly was to never let their peaceful protest be highjacked by any political outfit and their only anti-government slogans were ‘DoPT down-down’, ‘UPSC hosh me aao- UPSC come to senses’.

However, the matter is not that much straightforwardly simple. There is an internal division between the attempters- those who have attempted any of the three stages of the examination and non-attempters- those who could not attempt any of the stages of the examination due to Covid-19 and its various implications, government being tilted little in the favour of the latter. There are also diverse opinions of experts both in favour and in opposition to this demand in the name of maintaining administrative efficiency. It should be noted that the Union government had provided relief to other aspirants of various government competitive exams like SSC-GD, SSC-CGL, IIT-JEE, UGC-NET, and CA Exam owning to reasons having a connection with ‘Covid Pandemic Hardships’. The various State Public Service Commissions in more than 18 states of India, many ruled by the BJP governments like Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh, have provided attempt and age relaxations in their respective State PCS examinations. The One Hundred Twelfth Report of the Department Related Standing Committee (DRSC) on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice of Parliament headed by BJP stalwart late Sushil Kumar Modi has also strongly recommended the one-time relaxation. To quote the report, Para 4.16: “The Committee thinks that COVID-19 has caused untold agony and insurmountable sufferings to many. The whole of India had come to a standstill, lives and livelihoods got disrupted and the student community was also adversely affected. Keeping in view the hardship faced by the student community during the first and second COVID waves, the Committee recommends the Government to change its mind and sympathetically consider the demand of CSE aspirants and grant an extra attempt with corresponding age relaxation to All Candidates”. Despite the demand from all the quarters, including the letter of request from the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister to the Prime Minster apart from other leaders, the DoPT has only hardened its stand to not provide any relief to candidates, who had exhausted their prescribed attempts, to avoid setting a wrong precedence. In his reply to the questions raised by the parliamentarians, Dr Jitender Singh, the MoS in the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances, clarified that the matter has been considered and it has not been found ‘Feasible’ to change the existing provisions regarding the number of attempts and age-limit in respect of the Civil Services Examination.

JUSTICE EVEN IF HEAVEN FALLS

These hundreds of thousands of DACs were not figured into the Vote bank calculus of the ruling BJP, despite maximum of them being the admirers of PM Modi. The Congress party have added a minute although exclusively inconsistent reference in its manifesto- Nyay Patra promising a one-time relief to applicants due to the pandemic. The malaised dejected aspirants who are comparatively well-educated and cognizant, having the capacity to influence not only their family but their villages and communities, voted either NOTA or against the BJP as per their silent dictum of ‘No Vote without Opportunity’. Now that the general elections are over and with the absolute majority to NDA, PM Modi taking charge of the Nation with a new energy of strength, dedication and resolve, the time is appropriate to undo the historic wrong by providing a one-time COVID Compensatory UPSC CSE attempt to all those candidates who were eligible to write exam during the 2020-2023, as students are not demanding any change in the existing rules of CSE but a one-time exceptional welfare measure for exceptional circumstance. COVID-19 has not discriminated between the attempters and non-attempters nor between the first attempter and last attempters; the democratic government should not only change its mind but also the heart and take a democratic call by implementing the DRSC report in letter and spirit to provide the inclusive relief to all candidates without any discrimination. The new NDA government should sideline the bureaucratic resistance to the cause and shall announce a special inclusive Covid CSE examination with appropriate age relaxations, to fill the vacancies of IAS, IPS, IFS and other positions in 2024 itself to undo the injustice to the demanding aspirants, taking precedence from 1979,1992 & 2015 when the extra chance was given due to various compelling reasons. This is the right time to come out of the colonial hangover of exclusivist Imperial Civil Services practically opened for the elite individuals and decolonising the Indian Civil services to make it substantially accessible to subalterns and disadvantageous, taking a clue from the 2014 reforms increasing the attempts from 4 to 6, apart from consolidating the existing provisions of affirmative actions. The constitutional ethos and principles of social justice demand a one-time compensatory attempt at UPSC-CSE. Let Justice be done though the heavens fall.

Senior Research Fellow, Department of Political Science and Adjunct Faculty, University of Delhi

Sumit030686@gmail.com

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author

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