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Tempered pride

There is a widespread sense of pride across Assam with as many as 17 civil service aspirants clearing the grueling test conducted by the Union Public Service Commission. Considering the public dismay in this State with the APSC, the UPSC stands as a revelation in conducting this 3-stage, nearly one-and-half-year long exam process in transparent manner year after year. How could the polity in Assam allow the State’s public recruiter APSC to go to the dogs in so shameless a manner? Disgraced APSC chairman Rakesh Paul continues to cool his heels in jail as more damning exposes keep tumbling out about how the entire examination process was subverted and corrupted in shocking manner. The present State government is overhauling the APSC, but the effort remains pitiful and painful, and hardly inspires confidence even as a large number of aspirants hopeful of a better deal sat for the latest edition of Assam civil services test last year. It is therefore encouraging and welcome news that aspirants from Assam are cracking the UPSC-conducted test, as has been the trend in the last few years. Of course, the numbers ought to be better. It is hardly surprising when aspirants from States like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh do well, such is the craze over this examination there. But States like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh too consistently send a large number of aspirants into the national civil services, not all of them based for long years in Delhi.
For other reasons too, the fervor seen in this part of the country with the UPSC civil services examination results needs to be tempered. How many aspirants from Assam found their home State atmosphere and facilities conducive enough to prepare for this test? After all, we are living in an age in which some successful aspirants speak of Google and YouTube as their gurus, when many resources are available online. The coaching centres mushrooming in the State and boldly advertising their wares, need to introspect whether they are equipping their candidates adequately to clear this test. As for those who succeed, there are hard questions being asked at the highest administrative levels in the country. There is still no system in place available for mid-career evaluation of civil service officers. Despite the occasional tough talk, there is no provision to offload those officers who turn out to be dead wood, or to induct talent from the private sector through an effective lateral entry process. There is justifiable criticism about the civil services test still being skewed in favour of the economically well off classes, despite the success of large number of aspirants from small towns and rural areas. Many such officers are themselves criticized later of being unconcerned about the problems and hard reality of the very places they hail from. The measurement index of the performance of many civil servants, especially in the Northeastern States, is how close one is to his or her political bosses. The straight jacketed narrative associated with the civil services has to change if the country is to benefit from their abilities. Not long ago, a newly inducted pass-out from the training academies was sent to an unknown place with the responsibility to look after the wellbeing of its populace, of which he had little knowledge or concern about. It is only in the past 3-4 years that successful aspirants in the top echelons of those selected by the UPSC, are being mentored in ministries and departments before being posted elsewhere.
For a State like Assam, most of its top civil service posts are manned by officials hailing from other States. Many of them have eyes firmly fixed on greener pastures in the country’s capital or other top metros, bending their backs to go on deputation for plum postings outside. The upshot is that IAS/IPS/allied service officers who remain in this State have to shoulder crushing workloads of several posts simultaneously, which in turn has a deleterious effect on the State administration down the line. One also wonders as to how many successful civil service aspirants from Assam actually opt to work in their home State if given the choice. Be as it may, the UPSC’s civil services examination for 2017-18 had nearly 4,57,000 aspirants sitting for it, with 13,366 qualifying for the Mains, 2,568 candidates called for personality test and only 990 finally recommended for appointment to various categories of the services. That is how tough the entire process is, which is why aspirants taking this exam have to focus one-dimensionally for a long haul over several years. This in turn calls for enough family resources to last those hard, lonely years without needing to take up employment, as well as to pay for expensive coaching. All this calls for great sacrifices, both for the aspirant and his/her family. The fact that the powers-be in Assam have so far failed in building a good enough base and conditions for aspirants here to take this test, has resulted in loss of precious human resources. For instance, in a State where job interviews and personality tests are scrapped because these are compromised (or rather ‘fixed’), can aspirants hope to receive reliable guidance on this front here? Only if we have a base to ensure sufficient quantity can we hope for infallible quality. The State justifiably takes pride in its aspirants cracking the exams conducted by UPSC and other top recruiters, but stakeholders here need to do much more to help their cause. 

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Ankur Kalita