UPSC vs Civil Service Aspirants: From Fresh Attempts to Removal of CSAT, List of Demands by Candidates
Since the announcement of the results of the UPSC CSE 2023 preliminary examination, a group of aspirants has been engaged in protests, demanding the removal of CSAT from the civil services exam pattern. They have taken their grievances to court, petitioning the central government to address their concerns. Additionally, these students held a press conference to communicate their demands to the media. This is not the first time that civil service aspirants have taken to the streets to voice their concerns. This article will provide an overview of the history of protests led by students against the Union Public Service Commission.
The series of events began on June 28, 2023, when several UPSC aspirants filed a petition in the Delhi High Court challenging the UPSC CSE prelims 2023 and requesting a re-conduction of the examination. A group of 17 aspirants sought the central government's intervention to reconduct both UPSC CSE prelims and general papers 1 and 2. Furthermore, the student association also filed a case in the Central Administrative Tribunal, urging a reduction in the qualifying criteria of CSAT from 33 percent to 23 percent, similar to the reduction implemented in the UPSC-CDS examination of 2019.
In addition to the aforementioned demands, the students highlighted the alleged unfair treatment faced by aspirants from Hindi and vernacular language backgrounds, the need to revise the qualifying criteria for the UPSC-CSE CSAT 2023 exam, compensatory attempts for aspirants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the necessity of an expert committee to evaluate the GS paper for UPSC aspirants. It is worth noting that these concerns have remained largely unchanged over time.
In 2013, students protested against the change in the UPSC syllabus, specifically objecting to the exclusion of foreign languages like Persia and Arabic from the optional list for the UPSC mains examination. The protest garnered support from both students and teachers from leading universities, with several groups considering the modification as an "elitisation of UPSC Syllabus" and demanding a rollback.
Another incident occurred in 2013 when the student body submitted a memorandum to the then UPSC Chairperson, questioning the format of the CSAT examination and alleging that it favored students with a medical, science, or engineering background. They argued that this modification disadvantaged those from arts and humanities backgrounds. Despite opposition to the UPSC decision, some UPSC aspirants disagreed with the protests, stating that the purpose of civil services tests is to identify the best minds capable of leading the country, regardless of their academic backgrounds.
In 2014, numerous UPSC aspirants marched to Jantar Mantar to demand the removal of CSAT from the preliminary examination. The demand still lingers today. The protest gained momentum when the central government announced that English test scores in CSAT would not be included for grading or merit in the UPSC CSE prelims. Protesters occupied North Delhi's Mukherjee Nagar for over 26 days before relocating to Jantar Mantar. Several opposition leaders supported the students' demands. Tensions escalated when students managed to enter the Parliament during the winter session, condemning the Commission's "arbitrary move." Alongside the removal of the CSAT examination, the students demanded three additional attempts and three years of age relaxation due to UPSC changing the examination pattern without giving students sufficient time to prepare. Various slogans, such as "Fight Injustice Against UPSC Civil Service Aspirants," trended on Twitter. Then-Minister of State for Personnel and Training, V. Narayanasamy, remarked, "Around 57 percent of the UPSC syllabus was changed by the decision." However, the Commission did not respond, and the central government seemed helpless in resolving the issue. The concern stems from the fact that UPSC is an autonomous institution, and the government cannot directly dictate its actions.
Many protesting students argue that the changes in the UPSC CSE syllabus have marginalized rural students and non-English speaking candidates. They cite data from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) website, claiming that the number of non-technical aspirants has significantly decreased compared to engineering candidates. According to data shared by previous protesting students, prior to 2011 when CSAT was introduced, the percentage of students with an arts background who passed the civil services examination was roughly equal to those from an engineering background (between 28 and 30 percent). However, the proportion of students with an engineering background increased to 49.7 percent, while the percentage of students with an arts background who qualified for the exam dropped to 15.38 percent in 2011.
The UPSC faced controversy in March 2013 after making significant changes to the format of the main test. The most notable change was to the English language test, which had previously only been intended for qualification purposes. Due to the outcry from both inside and outside of Parliament, the government was compelled to retract its decision. The UPSC subsequently released a new notification stating that English test scores would not be used to determine the merit list.
The demands of UPSC aspirants were again expressed by a group in 2019. Candidates who appeared between 2011 and 2015 believed that they were put at a disadvantage. In 2022, following the COVID-19 pandemic, students asked the UPSC to grant an extra attempt to those affected. Consequently, students staged a protest in Delhi's Rajender Nagar, known as the IAS coaching hub. The aggrieved students argued that SSC (GD) and Agniveer were given an extra attempt, which was not the case for them.