New Delhi, July 25: The government today sought a week to resolve the dispute over the changed format for the civil services exam, assuring protesting candidates that yesterday’s issuance of admit cards did not mean the Centre would not act on their demands.
Aspiring civil servants have been agitating for a month against the aptitude assessment paper that is part of the preliminary test, scheduled on August 24. They say the paper, introduced in 2011, handicaps those who studied in vernacular-medium schools. (See chart)
As Rajya Sabha members today cut across parties to demand a rollback of the aptitude paper, the Centre promised a decision after a government committee submitted its report next week.
“Today we have told the committee to give the report within one week. We will decide once the report is submitted,” said Jitendra Singh, junior minister for personnel, public grievances and pensions.
Jitendra added that the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) had issued the admit cards in keeping with its calendar of events. He said the government was sympathetic to the agitating exam candidates, and the issuance of the admit cards would not deter it from acting or influence its decision.
The three-member Arvind Varma committee was set up in March and asked to hand in its report within a month. It later received a three-month extension, before getting a further week today.
The students had last week called off a 12-day hunger-strike after the government promised an early solution but resumed their street agitation yesterday after the online issuance of admit cards began.
Some 400 exam candidates staged a dharna in front of Parliament today, and another 400 were detained while marching towards the building. About 20 were arrested last night in north Delhi when agitators clashed with cops and torched a police jeep, forcing a baton charge.
The students have suggested two possible solutions. One, scores in the aptitude paper should stop counting once an examinee has cleared a cut-off mark; and two, the civil services exam return to the pre-2011 format.
“We want an immediate solution. We don’t want any more assurances,” said Raghav Jha, a civil services aspirant.
“We will not stop agitating until the government resolves the issue,” said Sunil Singh, another exam candidate.
The protesters have been meeting MPs from all parties to push their case. The matter was raised in the Rajya Sabha today as soon as the House sat at 11 am.
Members from the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (United), the communist parties, Trinamul, Biju Janata Dal, Bahujan Samaj Party and the DMK demanded an immediate discussion. The government said the minister would make a statement around noon.
Chairman Hamid Ansari had to adjourn the House for 15 minutes and, when the din continued, till noon.
After the House reassembled, Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav cited statistics to claim a sharp fall in the number of non-English medium candidates on the final merit list since the aptitude paper’s introduction. He said the preliminary test should be postponed.
Samajwadi member Naresh Agrawal cited Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurances on the promotion of Hindi and claimed the aptitude test belied that promise.
Congress leader Satyavrat Chaturvedi said it was unfortunate that the UPSC was prioritising a foreign language.
His party colleague M.S. Gill, however, went to the opposite pole of arguing in favour of making English the sole medium for the examination.
“It is not advisable to hold the examination in so many languages. There may be a problem in moderating the scores,” he said.
The leader of the Opposition, Congress member Ghulam Nabi Azad said Gill’s views were his own.
Trinamul’s Derek O’Brien cited how Mamata Banerjee, when she was railway minister, had allowed the railway recruitment exam to be written in regional languages.
Rashtriya Janata Dal member P.C. Gupta said that countries like China, Germany and France gave priority to their own language.
“In our country, English-speaking people are considered more knowledgeable while people speaking in the regional languages are considered ignorant,” he said.
Commuters in central Delhi had a harrowing time as the Metro shut two of its busiest stations, Central Secretariat and Udyog Bhavan, from 12.45pm till 3pm to try and prevent agitating students from reaching Parliament.
“Around 400 students were detained when they tried to march towards Parliament from Central Secretariat station. They were let off in the evening after a warning,” a senior police officer said.
Additional commissioner S.B.S. Tyagi said the force had not caned any protesters today.
“We used minimal force. We had to physically evict them as they lay down on the roads. Three hundred protesters including six girls were detained,” he said.
Neeraj, an agitator at Mukherjee Nagar, northwest Delhi, doused himself in kerosene but was saved by an alert police patrol.