The row over scrapping the preliminary English language comprehension from the UPSC exam has been doing rounds for some time. With students’ protest and pressure from the opposition, the government was forced to intervene and scrutinise the issue before landing at a conclusion and make necessary amendments to suit all students’ needs. The discussion over the government’s decision led to a massive uproar in the Parliament with the opposition hitting at the BJP as the government had arrived at the conclusion that in the preliminary test, the English language comprehension would not be considered for marking. Ministers claimed that if the exam was allowed to be written in Hindi, then it would be a problem for candidates appearing for examination coming from non Hindi speaking states. Besides, CPI, CPM, AIADMK tried to play their own politics to suit their vote banks. These regional parties demanded scrapping of the CSAT format and preliminary exams being allowed to be written in regional languages.
Let’s look at the structure of the UPSC exam. There are two general studies papers at the preliminary level. Candidates have to answer these two papers in English or Hindi. These papers have questions pertaining to general knowledge, the CSAT and a comprehension passage. Students who qualify for the main exams have additional nine papers to answer. Among them, two are qualifying papers, English and one modern Indian language. The English paper is of 300 marks. Thus this paper is compulsory. Even if a candidate escapes from English at the preliminary level, they cannot do so at the main examination. Apart from these two papers, the candidates have to answer four general studies papers and two papers in any subject of their choice. These papers can be written in various languages. This is the format of the UPSC exam.
Now the question is, should English be scrapped from the preliminary level? Certainly, students who have gone to English medium schools are at advantage when they answer these exams. And it need not be said that many students who have a flair to become public servants come from rural areas or poor families and they do not have adequate knowledge of English. How should one bridge the gap? Also there are some bitter truths that for example, if a public servant does not know English, and if they are posted in the southern states, then how will they work? Language barrier is a big issue. Also a certain chunk (the creamiest layer) of civil servants enter the IFS (Indian Foreign Service). For this rank, one needs profound knowledge of English. This chunk is even taught a foreign language while undergoing training as ultimately they become diplomats. So here lies the problem.
To conclude, this is an issue which is difficult to tackle. Let’s see what solution the government arrives at.