The system of competitive exams, a long drawn out process in the northern states, is taking a toll on young aspirants who are under pressure to get a government job, come what may. Covid has delayed the process and the only hope on the horizon is a Common Eligibility Test for non-gazetted posts
Recently, many students on 5 September — mainly in the Hindi belt of UP, Bihar, Jharkhand, MP and Rajasthan — protested against the government for not conducting exams for government jobs. And also for not making any appointments in those services for which results have been announced.
When the protest for postponing the NEET, JEE exams was going on, this protest for government jobs had also escalated. Hashtags like #speakupforSSCRaliwaystudent, #RRBExamDates, #StudentLivesMatter and #SSCreforms have been trending on Twitter since then, with millions of posts in support of the aggrieved students.
On 9 September, these aspirants switched off lights and lighted diyas for nine minutes. The hashtag #9Baje9Minute exploded on Twitter in a matter of hours in support of government job exams.
Aspirants were complaining about delay in declaration of results of Combined Graduate Level (CGL) exam and recruitment, and also against the delay in conducting the Railway Recruitment Board’s Non-Technical Popular Categories (RRB NTPC) recruitment test.
Results of the CGL exam, organised in 2018 by the Staff Selection Commission (SSC), have not been announced, CGL 2019 is stuck in preliminary stages.
Similarly, the RRB NTPC test has not even been conducted, more than a year since registrations began in March 2019.
Not only this, aspirants are protesting for conducting SSC CHSL 2018, SSC MTS 2019, Railway group D 2019, Bihar STI 2019, UPSSSC, MP TET and dozens of state services exams in UP, Bihar, MP, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Their logic is simple: If the government can conduct entrance tests for admission in medical and engineering courses — why not CGL or any other government exam?
Within a few days, those at the helm of this protest — SSC and railway job aspirants — forced the government to announce SSC CGL 2018 Tier 3 exam dates in October. Haryana SSC announced exam results. Bihar SSC announced the 2014 mains exam. All this provided a little relief to aspirants.
The Indian Railways also responded, with CEO VK Yadav saying in a web press conference, “We have invited some applications for recruitment in various categories for 1.4 lakh posts. These were notified during the pre-Covid period.
“Scrutiny of these applications was completed but due to Covid-19 pandemic, a computer-based examination cannot be completed…Railways has decided to start exams for all three categories of vacancies from December 15. A detailed schedule will be announced very soon.”
Yadav also added that Railways got 2.42 crore applications for 1.4 vacancies. That tells volumes of the unemployment situation in India.
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal promised in 2019 that Railways would give 4 lakh jobs in the next two years. Ironically, at that juncture lakhs of students were already waiting to join after passing their exam. Even now aspirants are waiting for the RRB NTPC and group D exams.
Patriot tried to get a response from SSC. The story will be updated when we get a response.
When this protest sparked, educator Varun Awasthi criticised PM Modi in a video shared as #speakupforSSCRaliwaystudent. Wearing a Unacademy t-shirt he said, “Students will pick AK-47 instead of pen.” He added, “I am very sorry to say this” but “if students don’t have food and means of earning, how long will their parents help?”
His comment sparked huge controversy. Many Twitter users, including several BJP politicians and IT cell members, claimed that he incited students to take up arms.
Unacademy distanced itself from Awasthi saying, “We have taken appropriate action against the educator in compliance with our internal Code of Conduct guidelines. Awasthi also tendered an apology.”
National Recruitment Agency
Amid all the protests, the government has decided to form a National Recruitment Agency. The agency will conduct a common eligibility test (CET) for selection on non-gazetted posts in the Central Government and public sector banks.
As per C Chandramouli, Secretary, Department of Personnel and Training, on an average 2.5-3 crore aspirants appear for about 1.25 lakh vacancies in the central government every year. Now the NRA will conduct a common eligibility test (CET) and based on the CET score a candidate can apply for a vacancy with the respective agency from RRB, IBPS, SSC, etc.
Students are hoping that this decision may speed up the tedious and lengthy process of the exam. In 2017, UPSC also decided to share exam scores to boost hiring in PSUs and private sectors, which was also appreciated by experts and students.
Like Waiting for Godot
In India middle class households, getting a government job is considered a way of ensuring a secure life ahead. Lower middle class families, especially in Tier 2 and 3 cities, groom and educate their kids to realise this dream.
This obsession with government jobs coupled with high unemployment in India often results in bizarre scenarios — like in 2018, 93,000 people applied for a peon’s job including 3,700 PhDs in UP. Stories like this play out in every state. Aspirants are ready to do any job even when it is not incommensurate with their qualifications. This results in high underemployment, a condition when work doesn’t reflect their actual skills and financial need.
On top of that, the state service exams in states like Bihar, Rajasthan, UP, MP, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal are delayed and frequently stuck either due to paper leak or other discrepancies.
Sunil Bisnoi, who is preparing for Rajasthan Administrative Service, got his 2016 RAS mains result recently. The process took four years to complete. “What else could I do? I could only wait” he says.
We spoke with 27-year-old Anand Kumar from Lalitpur, UP, who quit his private job to prepare for government jobs in Indian Railways. He has wasted five precious years of his life and is still sitting idle with no job in hand, hoping for his luck to shine, “I believe a government job is about security, that’s why I am preparing.” he says.
Aspirants fill forms paying hefty fees with high hope, but many times some issues arise that result in cancellation of the exam itself — like cheating or some discrepancies in recruitment. Those bodies who conduct these exams earn crores of rupees and nobody holds them accountable when exams are cancelled or delayed for years.
‘Students face a lot of struggle’
Giving more insights on the issue is Anupam, founder and leader of Yuva Halla Bol, a youth driven organisation formed in March 2018, which emerged out of the nationwide student agitation. Anupam is a trained mechanical engineer turned full-time political activist for the last 6-7 years.
“In the last few years, there has been a gradual decrease in vacancies in almost every government job—SSC, IBPS, Railways. It is like some undeclared policy, not because of Corona. It is a gradual decrease.”
“Earlier in banking sector, there used to be 10,000-20,000 seats but the number of vacancies have come down to 1,500-2,000 seats. It is the same with SSC and railways. This is not sufficiently covered under our political narrative. The fact is that we really don’t have jobs. Almost 90% people work in unorganised sector and rest is organised; a very small percentage is in government jobs. But the number of aspirants for the small percentage of government jobs is huge. We are talking about the youth, especially the marginalised and middle class who prepare for these services. Youth is very frustrated because of the lack of attention from the government side.”
In 2018, Yuva Hulla Bol collected data that there are more than 24 lakh sanctioned vacant posts. Even if the government fills the sanctioned posts, it still won’t meet the actual requirement.
“In our country, students always have to sit on dharna or protest for issuing the job notification. The problem is not associated with a particular party; students have been struggling with every government.”
Yuva Halla bol had drafted a model code for examination which says that any recruitment process should not take more than nine months. And students should at least know the tentative dates of notification announcements and exams.
As per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, the latest unemployment rate is at 8.4%. The Covid-19 pandemic has added to the woes of the Indian working class — private companies are firing their employees and wages are getting lower with less new jobs.
Indian youths who waste years to prepare for government jobs are rendered unemployable in such a scenario, as they don’t have experience for private jobs after wasting crucial years in preparation. We spoke with many youths who were preparing for competitive exams even in their 30s.
Amit Goswami, 32, is an example of this crisis. He did electrical engineering from a prestigious government college of Jabalpur, now has almost zero years of experience. He prepared for government jobs all through this time. He is now married and has a daughter.
The obsession with security associated with government jobs creates huge pressure on aspirants as the entire family sees them as a prospect of better career and marriage prospects.
This pressure affects mental health of the aspirants, which sometimes results in suicide. As per 2018 NCRB data, 35 unemployed and 36 self-employed youth died by suicide accounting for 26,085 death in 2018, which was more than number of farmer suicides that year. Though the data doesn’t reveal how many of these youths were government job aspirants, it can be said that their number must be significant, considering the large population of unemployed youths preparing for government exams.
On top of that, there is corruption in the recruitment process. The VYAPAM (acronym for Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal) scam in MP is a telling example of this. Very few exams are conducted without any court case or protest.
‘System is failing us’
Rakesh Pal, 26, Ghazipur UP
He has been living in Mukherjee Nagar, New Delhi for the past three years. He completed his graduation in 2015 and since then he has been aspiring to pass SSC CGL. His family includes parents and two siblings. Rakesh’s father runs a grocery shop, the only source of family income.
“I shifted to Mukherjee Nagar three years back to prepare for SSC exams. I have been attempting exams since 2016 but no luck. There is huge competition as every year the number of seats gets reduced. In 2017, there were some issues with the SSC website so many students missed their chance. I made the payment but because of the server issue it couldn’t proceed and I missed out.”
One year got wasted just like that. After two years, he thought he couldn’t rely on one single exam, so he also filled out a form for UPSSSC (Uttar Pradesh Subordinate Services Selection Commission) in 2018. But the selection process for state government jobs is so bad that it might take five years to complete. “After filling the form in 2018, I sat for the exam in December 2019: now I have to wait for another one year or maybe more than that for the results. There is no well-defined process that they follow,” he rues.
He also points out that every year the government announces fewer seats. He said, “If you look back to 2012-13; you’ll see that the vacancies were around 15,000-20,000. In recent times, the number of vacancies has been reduced to 5,000 only. Sadly, vacancies are going down and the number of students sitting for these exams is increasing. This is not a balanced ratio between unemployed youth and government services; it also makes the exam tough by increasing the cut-offs.’
Rakesh took professional coaching classes for one year. After that, he has been preparing on his own. He said, “There is a lot of money involved in preparing for government exams. I used to pay Rs 15,000-20,000 per month for my coaching classes. And you at least need Rs. 8,000-9,000 for living here, including stay and food. I don’t do anything except studying. And I feel the pressure from home for a job because it is not very easy for them too.
“I haven’t been home for any festival in the last three years. I feel like I will only go home with a job in hand. Twice I visited my parents when I filled in the form for UPSSSC as my exam centre was near my hometown. Everybody is looking at me with hope and I have to get something. I feel demotivated when I have to suffer because of the system.”
‘Only UPSC goes by a calendar’
Amit, 23, Delhi
A 2017 graduate from Patna, Amit decided to prepare for UPSC, while simultaneously takes other exams too. Amit’s father is in government service and mother a housewife.
“I went to Delhi for a year to take coaching. The biggest demotivation for state government services is that the recruitment process has no timeframe. It is better to take five attempts in UPSC.”
He has seen how people leave everything and go to Delhi to prepare; it is a struggle for a student. And after doing this much if the government does not process the exams or results on time—you feel disheartened. So that is why I want to stick to UPSC only as this exam at least happens every year and I might make it if I work hard.”
‘How can they play with our career?’
Paromita Pal, 23, Kolkata
She completed her graduation in 2018 and since then preparing for state government jobs, mainly for non-technical posts.
“I am preparing for a selection service organised by SSC only. These are mainly non-technical jobs. I filled the form in 2018 and sat for the exam in November 2019. I have been selected but no further processes are taking place like typing test, medical test.”
It might take another year as they are completing the processes of phase 5 exams and she sat for phase 7. The recruitment process has become so lengthy these days that it is a huge demotivation. Another problem is that she knows she has cleared the exam but they didn’t publish the merit list. So there is still uncertainty about that.
The West Bengal government does not follow a fixed schedule. The School Service Commission (SSC) has not conducted exams for years now. Same with WBSSC. Railways have also given the tentative dates a few days back.
“I am hoping that they stick to the dates,” she prays fervently. “How can the government play with our career? I always fear that the hard work of so many years might go in waste. If you have a proper calendar—like you know you have exams in three month then the enthusiasm is high. But when you know nothing then you also feel demotivated. As a student I can’t decide that this job is my final destination and keep on trying another because it is like luck. You don’t know who will come up with the result first.”
She points out, like many others, that the number of vacancies has been decreasing each year. It is a serious concern. “They should see that the student:vacancy ratio is pretty imbalanced,” she asserts.
“Doing a government job is my passion, but if I don’t make it on time—I will have nothing for myself. I have dedicated my full time for preparation and it actually leaves you with nothing except studies. I don’t go out or meet friends. And after a few years I’ll be married. I have been preparing for two years now and haven’t got anything and I don’t even see a fair chance of getting anything soon. There is a lot of pressure from home. My mom keeps asking me when I would get a gob. As girls we don’t have that liberty like a man to prepare till the eligible age. If I get a job at 28, I’ll be married to someone just after that. I will have no life for myself. This thought also bothers me sometimes.”
‘It’s taking a toll on me’
Titirsu Mondal, 28, Barasta, West Bengal
He has been preparing for more than five years now. His family includes father, mother, grandfather and a younger sister.
“My main target is WBCS but I have also sat for other exams like SSC CGL, WB-PCS. The recruitment process for government exams, especially those organised by the West Bengal government, are very lengthy. We have to wait for an uncertain time to see the results. At one point you don’t feel motivated but then you push yourself. For me cracking WBCS is a passion. But every year vacancies are decreasing.”
He aims to clear WB-PSC, but to know about his preparation, he needs to know where he is going wrong. WB-PSC does not release individual scores; so he has no idea. “In fact, the whole government’s recruitment system is pathetic. Unemployment is on rise, there are no jobs—it’s a systematic failure,” he says.
To prepare for 4-5 years, one also needs to have a strong financial background. Sitting at home takes a toll. People tend to ask “Have you got a job? When will you get it? It’s been years, you are still preparing?”
“I don’t know what to answer. There is the family plus social pressure. And now you can’t leave it also as you have dedicated more than five years of your life in this,” he rues.
‘It’s my only hope’
Abhinav, 25, Patna
He belongs to Patna and is preparing at home. Abhinav’s family includes parents and a younger brother. He is preparing for multiple exams as he believes in having options.
“I first started preparing for UPSC just after my graduation. In 2017, I attempted UPSC to get an idea about the exam and next year I took the attempt with preparation. But I could not make it in both attempts. That is when I realised that I should also prepare for SSC. I took one year of coaching in Delhi and then came back home. I have to crack a government job before I turn 28. Right now I am more focused on SSC but the scenario of SSC exams is bad; in fact worse. But what to do?”
If he doesn’t get a job through UPSC or SSC, he will go for teaching. He is under huge pressure from his family. His father has given him a two- year ultimatum. It’s a matter of upholding the family reputation.
“I have to do it. If I get SSC—I will have something in my hand and then I can take a one-year study break to prepare for UPSC. But before that, I need something in hand. I completed my B Ed in 2017 and now I am planning to sit for NET as well.”