Seeking to resolve the row over the alleged discriminatory nature of the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT), the Centre said on Monday that it was “of the opinion” that the marks for the section on ‘English language comprehension skills’ should “not be included for gradation or merit”. It also said the 2011 candidates may get a second chance to appear for the exam next year.
Whether this “opinion” actually translates into policy is still to be seen but if it does, it will redress one of the key issues being raised by the protesting aspirants by ensuring that questions on ‘English language comprehension skills’, worth 22.5 marks out of the total 200, will not be counted. The protesters have been demanding the scrapping of the CSAT, alleging that it puts Humanities students and those with a Hindi background at a disadvantage.
If implemented, this “opinion” will also allow the government to conduct the Civil Services Preliminary Examination as per schedule on August 24. The government had earlier asked the UPSC to postpone the exam. The UPSC was learnt to have opposed this, citing the largescale logistical preparations that have already gone into the exercise.
“The government is of the opinion that in the Civil Services Preliminary Examination Paper II, the marks of the question section on ‘English language comprehension skills’ should not be included for gradation or merit,” Dr Jitendra Singh, MoS, Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, told Parliament on Monday.
He also said that “candidates who appeared in Civil Services Examination 2011 may be given one more attempt in 2015”. This, ostensibly, is to provide a fresh chance to those who may have felt disadvantaged when the pattern of the exam was first changed in 2011.
Till 2010, the Civil Services Preliminary exam consisted of two papers — one on general studies and one on an optional subject (aspirants could choose one of 23 listed subjects). From 2011, the UPSC decided to replace the optional subject paper with a paper that tests the aspirants’ aptitude.
This second paper, of 200 marks, comprises comprehension, inter-personal skills including communication skills, logical reasoning and analytical ability, decision making and problem solving, general mental ability, basic numeracy (numbers and their relations, orders of magnitude, etc — Class X level), data interpretation (charts, graphs, tables, data sufficiency, etc — Class X level) and English language comprehension skills (Class X level).
While the issue has led to uproar and adjournments in Parliament over the last few days, the government’s statement on Monday triggered more protests — this time by parties from non-Hindi speaking states. As soon as the minister read out the statement in the Rajya Sabha, Trinamool Congress, DMK, AIADMK and Left members stood up seeking clarifications. Amid the ruckus, CPI’s D Raja was heard saying that the government’s move would have “repercussions” for students in other parts of the country.
The minister sought to clarify saying that the government has only removed the widespread perception of “language-based bias” that existed in the present examination process. He said the government has made it “language-neutral”, sparking protests about bias against students from non-Hindi speaking states and leading to three adjournments within an hour.
AIADMK’s V Maitreyan said “people from South are always given second class treatment,” while CPM’s P Rajeeve and Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’ Brien sought to know whether the papers would be set in regional languages.
“Instead of finding a solution, it has further compounded the entire matter. I don’t know what does language-neutral mean. What does that mean,” Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said.
Although Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu sought to convince the members that it would make no difference to other languages, the members wanted a discussion. “All the languages in the eight schedule remain unchanged,” Naidu said.
In the morning session, too, the Opposition continued with its offensive in the Rajya Sabha, serving a privilege notice and forcing the House to adjourn, demanding a clear timeline on the resolution of the issue. Before that, Question Hour was washed away by AIADMK members agitating over derogatory references to Jayalalitha by a Sri Lankan government website.
Raising the UPSC issue during Zero Hour, JD (U)’s Sharad Yadav said the government reneging on its promise to the Chair to resolve the matter expeditiously was worrisome. Deputy Chairman P J Kurien said Yadav’s privilege notice on the issue was under consideration. An assurance from Prakash Javadekar, MoS, Parliamentary Affairs, that the government was working on the matter failed to pacify members as MPs from Congress, SP, DMP, Trinamool and JD(U) continued to agitate.
“The government is sorting out the issue amicably to give justice… The issue was troubling the students for the last three years. We are sorting it out. As soon as there is a solution, the House will be informed,” Javadekar said.
SP’s Naresh Aggarwal raised a point of order when Kurien said he could not direct the government, as demanded by members, to resolve the issue within a given time frame. “This is a helpless government, ministers are helpless because nobody can say a word unless cleared by the Prime Minister,” Aggarwal taunted.
Pramod Tiwari of the Congress said the chair had asked the government to expedite the matter but no resolution was in sight, and hence the government had shown disrespect not only to the House, but to the chair. Derek O Brien said ministers should stop giving bytes to television channels outside Parliament and speak in the House instead.
Despite Kurien’s repeated pleas, SP members trooped into the well of the House and the House was adjourned till lunch.