March 15: The Centre today promised to keep in abeyance a Union Public Service Commission notification that gives more weight to English in the civil services examination after furious protests in the Lok Sabha by all parties.
“The government will call a meeting of the UPSC and resolve the issue. In the meanwhile... we will keep the notification in abeyance. Status quo ante will be maintained,” junior personnel minister V. Narayanasamy told the House.
The March 5 notification had said that the marks gained in the English language paper in the civil services (main) examination would be added to a candidate’s overall score and therefore count in selection to services such as the IAS, IFS, IPS and IRS. Earlier, candidates had to just pass the English test but the marks were not added to their tally.
MPs today invoked visions of a return to colonial “slavery” and alleged the new rule would discriminate against candidates from rural, impoverished and socially disadvantaged backgrounds.
Civil servants have been divided over the notification, with some of them welcoming it and stressing that certain aspects of an IAS officer’s job require a good grasp of English.
The point was indirectly underlined by then home minister P. Chidambaram in December 2011 when he blamed worsening drafting skills within his ministry for a controversy provoking Opposition calls for his head on the charge of favouring a former client.
“Drafting skills have sharply deteriorated,” Chidambaram had said referring to a ministry letter prepared by a botanist-turned-bureaucrat who apparently created an inadvertent misunderstanding through a misplaced word.
A secretary-rank officer from Bihar, too, said that civil servants needed to be well versed in English.
“At important meetings, where discussions are often held in English, an IAS officer has to understand the issues, note the key points and communicate his or her views clearly,” he said.
Another senior IAS officer, posted in Patna, said English was the only option for a civil servant posted at a place whose local language he doesn’t understand.
“Besides, English is a unifying language and helps officials from different parts of the country to interact,” the officer added.
But an IAS officer posted in Calcutta said: “What’s important is the ability to communicate. Officers must be taught how to communicate — with the people, with one another, with politicians — in simple and clear language. The language may be the local language... giving more weight to English in itself doesn’t make much sense.”
In the House, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad led the protest with party MP Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Samajwadi members. The Left, AIADMK, DMK, Trinamul and others joined in.
Some protesters shouted “Angrezi me kaam na hoga, phir se desh ghulaam na hoga (No work will be done in English, we won’t be slaves again)” and “Angrezi hatao, desh bachao (Banish English and save the country)”. The Speaker was forced to allow an impromptu discussion.
Janata Dal (United) chief Sharad Yadav demanded the sack for the UPSC chief.
“Since the new chief has joined, he has been trying to marginalise the Indian languages and promote English…. If he fails to take this measure back, he should be sacked and impeached,” he said.
Congress members V. Arun Kumar and Sis Ram Ola and the BJP’s Gopinath Munde too spoke against the notification.
The CPM’s Basudeb Acharia, CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta and Trinamul’s Saugata Roy made it a point to speak in Hindi rather than English.
Narendra Modi has written to the Prime Minister against the UPSC proposal and Shivraj Singh Chauhan has asked fellow chief ministers to oppose the move.