Post-Agnipath, Time For Serious Reforms In The UPSC

by Tushar Gupta - Jun 22, 2022 05:42 PM +05:30 IST
Post-Agnipath, Time For Serious Reforms In The UPSC 
Red siren flashing atop a government Ambassador car.
Snapshot
  • Why must the government stop at the military alone, and why not also push for reforms in one of the most critical workings of the system—the bureaucracy?

The violent backlash, witnessed in a few pockets across India, against the Aginpath programme serves as a testament to two facts.

One, there is a prevailing dependency on government jobs, even if it means idling away the youthful years of one’s life in the hope of cracking an exam with a success rate of less than one per cent.

Two, the reforms or the government’s push for more skilled labour in the public sector is not the problem, be it the banks or the military; it is the mindset that needs an upgrade, especially given the arguments that have been made around pensions and job security.

Several stakeholders and military veterans, defending the Aginpath programme, argued for a younger force, acquainted with the technology of the day. To further strengthen the case for Agnipath, examples from forces across the world were cited in several press conferences.

The government, discounting the argument being made about the pensions, has all the right reasons to go ahead with the recruitment. However, why must the government stop at the military alone, and why not also push for reforms in one of the most critical workings of the system—the bureaucracy?

Perhaps the most infamous arms of the state, the bureaucracy, including the officers in the police, revenue, and foreign services, need a revamp.

For years, observers have been debating the need for reforms, but fixing the rigid system is easier said than done, especially when the resistance is from the system itself.

Some hope does arise from the scattered success of the lateral entry programme, but taking a cue from the Agnipath programme, the government must now embark on a series of reforms to better the UPSC recruitment process.

Firstly, work experience must be made compulsory for aspirants to be recruited in the top-5 services, that is administration, foreign, revenue, police, and railways. Ideally, the government should make work experience mandatory for all the services listed within the UPSC, but as a pilot project, start with the top five.

Consequently, the age limit must be revised, especially on the higher side. Thus, keeping a minimum mandatory work experience of three years, the upper age limit can be revised to 35 years for the general category with 25 being the minimum age for the top five services, the ones most sought after.

The whole argument of unemployment being a deterrent for attaining work experience is bogus, for if an aspirant, post-graduation, is not good enough to land a job for three years, how will they survive the grind in the top-five services?

Two, the government must open up lateral entries at mid-level roles as well, say with a work experience of five to seven years, on an ad-hoc basis. Complementing the existing lateral entry programme, this recruitment process can aid the hiring of tech-savvy engineers, healthcare experts, revenue officers, and even human resource professionals, to cite a few examples.

The idea should be to open up the public service sector for professionals working in the private sector, who want to go back after garnering experience worth a few years. Also, the addition of such a workforce at relevant levels will add only add to the efficiency and innovation prowess within the system.

Three, the government must debar serving officers, in the top five services, to begin with, to appear for the examination again. Often, it is seen that serving officers in the police department take the UPSC exam to get a branch of their choice, mostly the administration or foreign ones.

While this can be attributed to the ranking system, it does not only waste the time and resources invested in the serving officer but is also a mockery of the entire recruitment process, given the aspirants are not in for the job or the service, but to make hay within the sunshine branch. This mindset alone needs to be dealt with firmly at the recruitment level.

Four, the ranking system must go. For the 700-odd aspirants that make the final cut to the UPSC merit list, the allotment of the services is based on the rank they have attained in the exam. This ranking system is plagued by the reservation system, unfortunately, and often one’s luck on a given day, especially during the interview.

Nevertheless, the recruitment process must add another filter in the form of an aptitude test for all the selected candidates. For the top-five services, an interview process can also be conducted at the training premises. The idea should be to get the right minds for the right service.

Five, the CSAT exam, right now a qualifying one where aspirants are warranted to score 33 per cent for their preliminary exam to be considered for evaluation, must be tweaked. The percentage can be increased to 50 per cent, given the questions asked are mainly from the curriculum of Class-10 or below.

As much as we must be proud of our multiple languages, the services within the UPSC warrant a grasp on the language and basic mathematics. This will also act as a filter for the preliminary round. If the students from an engineering or commerce background can study social sciences, no reason why arts graduates cannot master Class-10 level English and Math.

The one argument made against Agnipath was the lack of certainty for personnel who would exit the forces after four years, even with an experience in some of India’s toughest terrains and a generous payout not many between the age of 21-25 can hope to earn in India.

However, no one asks this question to the UPSC aspirants who fail to crack the exam, who toil away their 20s, paying off hefty fees to institutes without garnering any real-world work experience. The said reforms will also dent the coaching ecosystem running in several cities of India, starting with Delhi, for UPSC.

If the sovereign’s security lies with its forces, its sustainability lies with its bureaucracy, and for reasons beyond the scope of argument here, the system has been let down by the latter more often than one would expect. There are no easy fixes to the inherited problems of the bureaucracy from the previous decades, but for the future, an attempt can be made to dilute the imperfections at the root level- the beginning.

Tushar is a senior-sub-editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @Tushar15_
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