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Govt elbow room cut in UPSC row

New Delhi, Aug. 1: The government had its elbow room reduced in the civil services exam controversy today with an expert panel appearing to cut its options and the exam authorities declining to relax the timetable for a solution.

The government-appointed Arvind Verma committee backed the existing pattern of the preliminary test — the first leg of the two-part exam — which thousands of agitating candidates want changed.

Sources said the Union Public Service Commission, which conducts the exam, told the government in answer to a query that it was against postponing the preliminary test, scheduled for August 24.

The double setback forced the government to miss the seven-day deadline for a solution it had set itself in the Rajya Sabha last Friday, prompting an Opposition furore and walkout that mounted further pressure on the executive.

Sources said the government might be able to work something out by Tuesday.

At the heart of the row is the Civil Service Aptitude Test — one of the two papers in the preliminary test — that the agitating candidates want junked.

They believe the paper, introduced in 2011, favours examinees who studied in English-medium schools, especially those preparing for B-school entrance tests.

But sources said the much-anticipated report of the three-member Verma committee, submitted yesterday, endorsed the aptitude test while leaving it to the government to make any changes it wants.

In these circumstances, the sources said, the government might consider the option of retaining the Civil Service Aptitude Test but treating it as a qualifying paper.

Till now, the merit list from the preliminary test, which determines which candidates can take the subsequent main exam, was prepared on the basis of examinees’ combined scores from the aptitude test and the general studies paper.

If the aptitude test becomes a qualifying paper, the examinees will only have to gain a certain minimum score in it but the merit list will be decided solely on the basis of their marks in the general studies paper.

This is one alternative the agitating candidates had themselves suggested while pressing for abolition of the multiple-choice-type aptitude test that is said to resemble the management entrance test CAT.

Union home minister Rajnath Singh and the junior minister for personnel and training, Jitendra Singh, went into a huddle with bureaucrats today to discuss the stands taken by the expert committee and the Union Public Service Commission.

With no decision arrived at yet, the government failed to give the Rajya Sabha a new timeframe by when it hoped to settle the matter.

As the previous deadline had ended today, the Opposition demanded a statement from the government in the upper House.

Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav raised the matter during Question Hour, telling the House the commission had told the government it could not postpone the exam.

“The government must now clarify what solution it has found out,” Yadav said.

Parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said the government would make a statement at noon. But members from the Congress, Dal (United), both communist parties, Trinamul, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party continued to protest, leading to two adjournments during Question Hour.

As the House reassembled, the members demanded a clear timetable for a solution. Jitendra said the government was examining the expert committee report and would get back to the House with a decision “very soon”.

“We have got the report. We are consulting stakeholders. We should be given time to examine and come back to you,” Jitendra said.

Sitaram Yechury of the CPM immediately asked how long the government would keep dragging the issue.

Rajnath said at one point: “The issue has been taken very seriously by the government. The committee’s report has been received a day ago and is being studied and the matter will be resolved at the earliest.”

The same pattern — the Opposition insisting on a fresh deadline and the government giving evasive replies —repeated itself through the day till the Opposition walked out.

The students ended their weeklong hunger strike in Mukherjee Nagar, north Delhi, after a police baton-charge on Wednesday and shifted their protest to Jantar Mantar, located just about 1km from Parliament.

Vikash Kumar, convener of the agitating Chhatra Adhikar Manch, said the police assaulted the candidates during a candlelight march.