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Support for English, not ‘regional’ hurdle

New Delhi, March 17: Teachers have backed a proposal to make aspiring civil servants’ English marks relevant to final selection but opposed suggested curbs to their freedom to write the other papers in their regional languages.

The proposed reforms, notified by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) on March 5 for introduction this year, are being held in abeyance by the Centre following an uproar in Parliament. (See chart)

An expert panel had recommended the changes, one of which relates to making candidates’ marks in the General English paper count in selection to services such as the IAS, IFS, IPS and IRS.

Earlier, candidates had to pass the English paper but the marks they gained in it were not added to their overall score that determined their rank on the merit list. The idea was to ensure that civil servants knew a bare minimum of English — questions in this paper are of Class X standard — so that they could better handle their day-to-day responsibilities.

The suggested change increases the importance of a candidate’s proficiency in English to his or her success in the exam.

D.P. Singh, a counsellor at Rau’s IAS Study Circle, which coaches candidates for the exam, welcomed the proposal. He pointed out that government files are written in English in most states and at the Centre, and that the questions in this paper are not very tough.

“I don’t see any reason to oppose the plan to add the English marks to a candidate’s overall score,” he said.

Lok Sabha MPs cutting across parties had argued yesterday that the move would discriminate against candidates from rural, impoverished or socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Emotions had flared as some of them invoked visions of a return to colonial “slavery”.

Ajay, a Madhya Pradesh-cadre IPS officer who cleared the exam in 2009, said that any rural student who is poor in English needs to work hard for just 15-20 days to improve his performance in the paper.

P.S. Ravindran, director of the Vajiram and Ravi coaching institute, said many state governments had set up their own coaching centres for aspiring civil servants from the Dalit, tribal and backward communities. But these coaching institutes themselves hold entrance tests before admitting students to their classes, he added.

“That they hold entrance tests for would-be trainees shows that the state governments do care about the quality of students they admit. They should not oppose the changes mooted by the UPSC on the English paper,” Ravindran said.

One of the few dissenters was S. Satpathy, head of the English department at Delhi University. “After all these decades of exposure to English, less than 15 per cent of Indians are proficient in English,” Satpathy said.

“I don’t see why the civil services should demand high proficiency in English. By insisting on proficiency in English, the civil services will only become more exclusive.”

Many teachers and students have opposed the other major reform suggested: a set of conditions for candidates looking to write the exam in a regional language of their choice.

“These criteria are discriminatory. Students from the Hindi belt can still take the test in Hindi even if they haven’t studied for their graduation in the Hindi medium while students speaking regional languages have been handicapped,” Ravindran said.

He described as “unfair” the condition about at least 25 students having to opt for a certain regional language for them to be allowed to write the exam in it.

Neeraj Kumar, an All India Students Association representative, said the organisation would oppose these language curbs.

“The Kothari Commission had suggested in 1979 that national-level recruitment exams should be designed to ensure that every successful candidate knows at least one of the regional Indian languages, but the UPSC is trying to overrule this,” Kumar said.

Shantaram Naik, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on personnel and public grievances — the administrative department for UPSC — said the panel would examine the reform proposals in detail.

“Those who want to write in a regional language should not be deprived of the opportunity,” Naik said.

But he supported the proposal about the English paper. “Unless a person knows English, he cannot march forward,” he said.