For the past two years, Civil Service aspirants have been in the news for agitating against the Union Public Service Commission rules relating to various issues like change in examination pattern, increasing the age limit and number of attempts, having English as a criteria for qualification etc. Since February 2014, the agitation with respect to the age limit has been gaining ground across the country.
To understand the complete issue, it is important to know a bit of the background facts. In June 2014, the UPSC came up with the notification that every candidate shall be permitted six attempts (increase from the earlier four attempts) with an upper age limit of 32. This was greeted with enthusiasm as more people could now appear for the exams. However, the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances had recently posted on its website that the age limit to appear for the UPSC Examinations will again be reduced to 26 for general candidates, along with the number of attempts being reduced to three. Though this decision has not been confirmed by the Commission and most probably does not seem to be able to see the light of the day , it has nonetheless given rise to unnecessary confusion among the candidates.
The rationale behind such a policy change has been said to be the fact that 35 years is too old for a person to learn the nuances of administration, get trained for a bureaucratic set-up and begin a career in the civil services for the nation. Further, it reduces the chances of that person reaching the top echelons of their cadre since they have started off so late.
I personally agree with the reasoning behind this policy decision; joining the elite services at an early age ensures that the person has the flexibility to adapt herself in a new environment. It is important that she is not so set in her views that it acts as an impediment to the working of the department. After all, by the age of 35 a person does formulate his/her own opinions and has a certain fixed notion of how things need to be done. Having said that, it is the timing and the
manner in which it has been executed that I have reservations against. Given that the age limit and attempt relaxation had just been increased in June 2014, it was an imprudent decision to reduce it again within a span of five months.
The Civil Services Examinations are an overall test of knowledge, articulation, ability to form opinions, awareness of ones surroundings, and patriotism, integrity and leadership skills of a candidate. It requires immense patience and hard work for a candidate to crack the exam. People prepare for years at a time. In such a situation, if the exam pattern or the eligibility criteria keep changing every year, it becomes extremely frustrating for an aspirant to continue her preparation. Stability is one of the major requirements in UPSC and if the commission itself is not clear on what the age limit for candidates should be, then it contributes negatively to the morale of the aspirants. For example, may candidates, due to financial constraints, take up a job after graduation and then decide to pursue CSE in course of their career. If the age limit is suddenly reduced, so many candidates would be rejected even before they sat for the exams! Moreover, this discrimination leaves out potentially able candidates and thus counts for unfair competition among the candidates. I know quite a few people who decided not to pursue CSE when the exam pattern was suddenly changed in 2013 with only one optional paper and more emphasis on mathematical questions; this was because they were preparing according to older pattern for the past couple of years and now could not afford to prepare according to the new pattern for another two years!
Thus, the changes, though well-intentioned, must be implemented gradually; a phased modification in exam pattern and eligibility criteria might be a better option than a sudden overhaul of the rules. Or, giving a minimum of two years period after announcement of a policy change before its implementation would definitely go a long way in helping the students prepare well in advance for any eventuality. Lastly, it obviously has to be kept out of political manoeuvres so that with every change in government at the centre, the bureaucracy does not suffer.