Civil services aspirants left in cold

UPSC aspirants take to streets demanding relaxation in age limit and compensation for the two years lost to Covid. Many, who served in essential services during lockdown, are staring at hopeless future

High pitch: Protestors face off with the police behind the barricade

For over a year, scores of UPSC aspirants have been peacefully protesting in the national capital’s Jantar Mantar with a demand to be allowed more attempts in the civil services exams. However, their demands have fallen on deaf ears as the response from the government hasn’t been forthcoming.

On December 20, the aspirants faced brute force as they led a sit-in in the Bara Bazaar area of Old Rajinder Nagar. The police cracked down on protesters and detained around 40 of them. They were later released.

While the police said that their permission to protest was rejected, the aspirants have levelled allegations of manhandling against cops.

Demands on the table

The aspirants demand that the government should take a “sympathetic” view and allow two compensatory attempts in view of the damage caused by Covid-19 pandemic in the past two years.

“Due to Covid-19, our preparation was badly affected. Many of us, including me, have lost a parent. Some have lost both. Besides, the wave hit each family, so countess aspirants were either infected, in quarantine, or symptomatic so were barred from exams. Some lost their family members. Hence, a fair opportunity was not provided to many candidates. So, two compensatory attempts with corresponding age relaxation is our only demand,” Gaurav Thakur, the moderator of the protest, told Patriot.

“Many had to hurriedly take their attempts because they feared exhaustion of attempts or meeting the age limit. This is totally tragic because the government has shown leniency in other government examinations such as IIT JEE, SSC CGL. So why not the UPSC, which is the hardest examination in India,” asked Subhash, a protestor.

In view of the Covid pandemic hardship, the government extended relaxation in central government exams such as IIT JEE (two times one time relaxation of one year each), SSC CGL (one time age reckoning), Indian Army (one time two years relaxation), Delhi Judicial Services (one time two years age relaxation), UGC NET (one time one year age relaxation) and CA exam (one time Opt-out window).

At present, a general category candidate can make six attempts from 21 years to 32 years. While OBC candidates can take a shot at the civil services exam nine times until 35 years of age, those from the SC/ST communities are allowed to sit for the UPSC examination till they turn 37 years, with no cap on attempts.

An attempt is counted when one appears for the Prelims examination. Even if one has appeared in any one of the Prelim exams, their attempt will be counted.

“The UPSC exams were taken by those who are into essential services such as police officers, doctor, lawyers and media professionals among others. They were all swamped with work during the Covid pandemic, especially medical professionals. The Essentials Services Act, 2021 was in place during that time so all these people were obligated to work. So, most of them could not sit in the examination and exhausted their attempts because they are no more eligible age-wise. Why is the government so indifferent towards them now,” said Subhash.

“We had been protesting at Jantar Mantar for really long, but the government never took notice of us. Therefore, we decided to demonstrate at Rajinder Place,” he added.

“After having explored all avenues, we were left with no option but to protest. A due intimation was given to authorities regarding our protest, on December 19 and 20 from 2 to 9 PM. The protest was all peaceful, but police came and ordered us to leave the site. When we requested them to let us sit till 9, they started to disperse us. Tents were uprooted, the mats on which we were sitting were snatched away. Aspirants were manhandled, female aspirants were manhandled by male police, later we all were detained,” says Thakur.

“A group of 60 to 70 aspirants had assembled at Bada Bazaar, Old Rajender Nagar (near Thalassery restaurant), around 7 pm on Tuesday with banners and posters,” Deputy Commissioner of Police (central) Shweta Chauhan had told media.

The group had applied for permission to protest, but it was rejected, the DCP said.

Determined: Protestors are seeking an extra attempt in the annual civil services examination

“The protesters were raising slogans against the department of personnel and training and were asked to disperse from the spot,” Chauhan said.

According to the police, when the protesters refused to budge and were seen preparing to pitch a tent there and settling with mattresses in front of the media, additional force was called in to remove them.

The agitators were held at Rajender Nagar Police Station under Section 65 of the Delhi Police Act and were later released, Chauhan said.

Legal recourse

The petitioners had approached the Supreme Court, which had observed (not ruled) in favour of the aspirants, asking the government to take a lenient view of their plight. The observation had come in the Abhishek Anand Sinha vs Union of India case.

Meanwhile, in the Arijit Shukla vs Union of India, the petitioners appealed to the apex court that many “after clearing the preliminary examination, could not appear in the final examination owing to being infected by Covid-19 at the relevant time, as is evident from the medical certificate (testing reports)”.

The top court had disposed of this petition with directions to the appropriate authority to “re-examine the representation made by the petitioners and similarly placed persons afresh and take appropriate decision, as may be advised, within two weeks”.

Besides, it also recognised Union government as the one who has been bestowed with “such discretion under Regulation 4 of the Indian Administrative Service (Appointment by Competitive Examination) Regulations, 1955”.

The petitioners had relied on the favourable recommendation made by the Parliamentary Committee vide report dated March 24, 2022, where it said, “The Committee is of the opinion that COVID19 has caused untold agony and insurmountable sufferings to many. The whole of India had come to a standstill, lives and livelihoods got disrupted and the student community was also adversely affected. Keeping in view the hardships faced by the student community during the first and second COVID waves, the Committee recommends the Government to change its mind and sympathetically consider the demand of CSE aspirants and grant an extra attempt with correspondent age relaxation to all conditions.”

Challenges

The central Delhi locality, where protests took place, is a hub of UPSC coaching centres and accommodates hundreds of aspirants.  Thousands of aspirants land up in the national capital from humble backgrounds to fulfill their dream of cracking the UPSC exam, the gateway to the esteemed IFS, IAS and IPS services, among many others.

While few survive comfortably with their savings or inflow of money from home, most of these aspirants run errands to pay their rents. “Our friends (fellow aspirants) become tutors to school children during the day and attend their own classes from afternoon to evening so as to prepare for the back-breaking exams. Some of our friends distribute newspapers in the morning to earn money. We are not privileged enough to depend on our families to support our preparation. So, when something unprecedented like a health crisis of Covid scale occurs, the government should help us,” said Subhash.

“The rent is skyrocketing in Delhi, especially in this area because the landlords know there is always demand for rooms here. In fact, they don’t sign agreements. First month, you pay Rs 15,000 for one room and the next month, they will demand Rs 17,000. We are asked to vacate immediately if we are unable to pay. So people put in inhuman amount of work to survive in Delhi just so they can live their dream. Besides, we are not causing any anarchy, like the protestors of Agnipath scheme. We are abiding by the constitution and peacefully protesting for our demands, but nothing seems to be working,” he added.

“During Covid, many aspirants migrated back to their home states, thinking that lockdown will be over in 10 days or so. But it got extended for months. Aspirants travelled without books and notes, and many in villages faced problems with internet. Later, when many aspirants returned to Delhi, they found to their surprise that the books and notes that had been kept in libraries were lost. Years of hard work went to waste,” Thakur lamented.

The protesters are now considering meeting executives for taking note of their grievances and police excesses.

“Further a section of students is mulling to move court too so as to challenge the decision of the government,” Thakur says.

 

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