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SC junks bias charge, civil services test on

New Delhi, Aug. 23: The Supreme Court today refused to stay tomorrow’s all-India civil services preliminary exam, telling a petitioner that science graduates’ better scores reflected their intelligence and not necessarily a bias in the test.

“Where do the most intelligent students go? The cream goes to science and medicine. So students from those streams score marks higher than the students from a humanities background. No system is perfect, that you should know,” a two-judge bench said.

Hundreds of students had agitated last month demanding changes to the exam’s format and postponement of the August 24 test, alleging the existing pattern was biased towards science graduates and those from urban, English-medium backgrounds.

Many MPs backed the agitators. But the government offered only a small concession on August 4, saying a 20-mark English comprehension test that is part of the 400-mark exam would be left out of merit list reckoning, leaving the students unhappy.

The court cited the concession to tell petitioner Angesh Kumar’s counsel Vishal Sinha that there was no reason for complaint now, that too at the eleventh hour.

“See, Mr Counsel, you have pointed out only one point that is with regard to comprehension and that has been removed. The defect has been remedied. So what’s your complaint — why don’t you appear and write the exam?” the bench of Justices J.S. Khehar and Arun Misra asked.

“You can’t be complaining at this point of time when the exams are scheduled for 24th. See, everything is the same —the syllabus is the same — so why do you need more time? You must also understand that 9 lakh students have already prepared and are ready to appear.”

Although the Supreme Court does not function on Saturdays, it conducted the hearing at 11am for 45 minutes at the instance of Chief Justice R.M. Lodha after the petitioner pleaded “urgency” as the exam was scheduled for Sunday.

The bench said that matters relating to academic excellence were better left to the government, with the courts intervening only when exam authorities adopted an arbitrary approach.

The petitioner had cited the findings of a committee set up by the UPSC, which conducts the civil services exam, to assess changes it had introduced in 2011.

The Arun K. Nigavekar Committee had concluded:

• Sections of the exam were not part of the humanities curriculum and were thus skewed in favour of science and engineering graduates;

• The success rates of urban English-medium and science/technology students had increased at the expense of non-urban and humanities students;

• The English comprehension section should be dropped.