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A few months back, I met a junior and enquired about his further propulsion to his career upon which he informed that he was coaching for UPSC at an institute. I wished him good luck upon which he said, “UPSC nohole o nai kintu APSC tu hoi jabo (Even if I do not crack UPSC, I will definitely breeze through APSC)”. I reverted, “Okay, I know UPSC preparation helps in the other but the syllabus and exam patterns are quite different”. He interrupted, “No brother, there is a rumour flying about that this year they are amending both the syllabus and pattern to more or less like UPSC”. I took leave gathering this piece of knowledge.
The Department of Personnel, Government of Assam, on 5th August released the most awaited notification for civil service aspirants of the state “Assam Public Service Commission Combined Competitive Examination Rules, 2019” repealing the “APSC CCE Rules, 1989”. The rules were deemed to be amended. The amendment notification has provisions of pattern, syllabus and services to be allotted. Aspirants thought that the notification will be somewhat similar to the UPSC scheme. The syllabus is crib from Civil Services Examination (CSE) prelims notification of 2019 with an extra paper on Assam. The government didn’t even bother to change the format of that notification. This brings the aspirants to a new paradigm shift in their strategy and also some unintended conflicts.
The notification will bring a sigh of relief for those who will be preparing this year onwards and the ones preparing for both state and central services. The notification will help in the timely conduction of combined competitive examination (CCE). Also, the online application process shall help students to apply easily and dissipate the epidemic of cancellation of application due to incomplete and/ or wrong form fill-up. The new pattern of prelims will rule out the guesswork or luck. The exam will give new dimension of knowledge for the aspirants. The aspirants will have to invent their own strategy. The syllabus gives due recognition of the world and Indian context which were missing in the earlier syllabus. The UPSC syllabus is robust and will impel a progressive mindset. Also, the exam pattern will create confidence for the state commission.
However, we need to look into the other side of the coin.
The notification will decide on the dreams of many aspirants’ in hopes of becoming a bureaucrat. There are pitfalls from this amendment: first, the students shall be evaluated in a more laborious and mammoth syllabus than UPSC but still there will be difference in positions and postings. After completing the exam process one that comes through UPSC, suppose an IAS posted as Sub-Divisional Magistrate and other coming through APSC, an ACS, gets Assistant Collector. The IAS gets promoted quickly and may end up as the Chief Secretary or Secretary of any Central ministry while the poor ACS might not get up to that rank. This will create a sense of discrimination in the minds of young bureaucrats and might create tense situations between the two cadres.
Second is the disadvantaged position of vernacular medium aspirants. They will find great difficulty in gathering study resources for the syllabus. The Hindi medium aspirants in UPSC exams still don’t get resources like their English medium counterparts. This results in less number of vernacular medium aspirants in the hallowed list. Thirdly, the state cadre officer will have more affinity to appear for UPSC and jump to prestigious all India services. This will create vacancies and loss of public exchequer money used for their training. Fourthly, the coaching industry will boom from this amendment, the syllabi are same and their burden for the two exams decreases. They can even charge more from the students due to the five general studies papers. Lastly, those who are preparing for this exam for the last few years and are nearing the maximum age limit will require herculean effort to complete the syllabus in less than a year and will find them in a hopeless position.
The CCE amendment rules were drastic and not well coordinated between stakeholders. The rules should have brought in a phased manner so that aspirants could tackle it. In the first phase, the optional subjects should have been reduced (from two to one) and an essay paper in place of General English should have been introduced. Also, the general studies paper should have been bifurcated into three general studies paper in UPSC line. Then finally, an ethics paper should have been introduced. The additional General subject paper on Assam would add more burden on the aspirants. The commission should have studied other state commission syllabus and pattern rather than just duplicating the UPSC syllabus. The model of Andhra Pradesh State Public Service Commission is unique and could have been taken for inspiration. They have combined India and Andhra Pradesh history, culture and geography into one paper. APPSC does not have any optional paper. The UPPSC also has a similar tone of exam pattern but they have evolved a bit of syllabus fit for their regional aspirants. Finally, the earlier syllabus of APSC had a regional tone with Assam specific units. The optional subjects’ syllabi were according to the syllabus of state universities. In Anthropology paper 2, Group D, there was a specific unit on the study of material culture and socio economic life of schedule tribes of Assam which is also part of Gauhati University curriculum, but now only a few topics are out of state universities curriculum like epidemiological anthropology, applied anthropology, demographic theories, etc. If such were the intentions then they should have asked just UPSC to merge our CCE into CSE, saving both time and money of state and the aspirants.
This shows that the government has brought up this amendment without any deliberation with other intellectuals from state universities and other stakeholders. The government must not think of the one size fits all approach. The amendment would have been in a better state if those modifications were gradually introduced. Now the UPSC is thinking of going away with optional papers (encourage coaching) and introduce other papers in place, so APSC needs to deliberate on this matter with our sate constraints. Finally, the state commission should look for better implementation of the amendment and not perpetrate the same actions done by earlier editions of combined entrance exam for engineering and medical graduates where they reproduced old questions from IIT-JEE papers. And, I also asked my junior to think of UPSC as his initial aim keeping CCE as a last resort and come out with flying colours. This will yield more fruit for us as we lack regular recruits to the All India Services officers, especially IAS. On that note may luck be on the aspirants’ side and they shine in this new format.