The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Services Examination (CSE) aspirants claim that the pandemic has affected their preparations. Most worried are those who have either reached the upper age limit or exhausted all the attempts in 2020. Several aspirants have also moved the court with public interest litigations (PILs)
One such aspirant, Sohan Kumar, who is from Haryana, has spent more than 10 years in UPSC preparations. He is currently pursuing a Masters in Economics from the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). Kumar along with five other petitioners had filed a PIL in the Supreme Court demanding an extra attempt to appear for the exam.
“We are in favour of an extra attempt as we believe that our demand is genuine considering the unprecedented effect of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has ruined our preparation and hammered heavily on our dreams of becoming a civil servant. During the pandemic, we struggled psychologically and financially. Most coaching institutes were also shut, which impacted our preparation,” Sohan said.
Having cleared the prelims, 30-year old Ujjwal Dalmia was busy with preparation in Delhi for the Mains exams and interview. In the initial weeks of November 2020, he had to return to his village, Sundargarh in tribal Odisha, as his parents and younger sister had contracted Covid-19.
“Despite the psychological and mental trauma, I was still making efforts to continue my preparation in my village, which does not have adequate digital connectivity, any options for libraries or provisions for getting printouts. Having no chance to change my centre for Mains from Delhi to my state (which was frozen by July 2020), I had to move back to Delhi in the next few weeks leaving my family vulnerable. Since this was my last attempt, I appeared for the Mains exam on October 4, 2020, but could not get through,” Ujjwal said, who is also rooting for another attempt.
Another aspirant from Chennai, R Dev Abhishek, said the difficulties and challenges were not limited to only those whose last attempt was in October 2020. “I would not mind aspirants being given an extra attempt, but I am not for any possible parity being shown only for those groups of aspirants who have exhausted their attempts or for those who are part of a certain profession. The UPSC factors in various criteria while deciding on the number of attempts a candidate gets. This is the reason why each candidate gets multiple attempts,” added 28-year old, Abhishek, who earlier worked as a team manager at Amazon, India.
However, experts, too, are divided: there are those who believe that aspirants deserve an extra attempt due to the unprecedented situation and the others who believe that the commission’s existing rulebook provides fair chances to everyone in all circumstances.
Retired IAS officer JK Dadoo told indianexpress.com that the decision regarding an extra attempt lies with the UPSC members who can very well handle the crisis.
“If exams would have been cancelled due to the pandemic, then it would have been aspirants’ right to get an extra attempt. But exams were postponed and then conducted after diligent discussions on the situation. Those who have exhausted their attempts should not be given the extra chance as multiple attempts are already provided as per law. Those who have genuine concerns and faced hardships must represent themselves to the UPSC and appropriate decisions would be taken,” said Dadoo.
The indianexpress.com reached out to M Sathiyavathy, member, UPSC, Vasudha Mishra, secretary, UPSC, additional secretaries Rajkumar Gathwal and Pushpendra Rajput for comments and plans to address the issue. Despite multiple follow-ups, the commission did not respond to any queries.
Mohammad Tarique, faculty (history) and deputy director, Residential Coaching Academy, Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), highlighted that UPSC has provided extra attempts to aspirants in the past and this is not an alien concept.
“In 1990, extra attempts were provided after the Mandal Commission’s involvement. In 2014 also, provision for two extra attempts was incorporated due to the demand of civil services aspirants for more time to adapt to the changes affected in the CSE pattern in March 2013. Most of those who aspire to join civil services are from a humble background and they have been adversely affected by the pandemic. There should be some relaxation on humanitarian grounds,” Tarique said.
However, in its July 22 judgment, the Supreme Court had refused to grant an extra chance to all such civil service aspirants. The bench comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and Sanjiv Khanna gave the candidates the liberty to submit representations before authorities concerned seeking extra an attempt. The apex court had rejected a similar plea in February 2021.