In a state of ours, the changes, discourses, transformations and paradigm shifts retain their status quoist nature for decades. The pace and speedy approach to deal with things remains often an absent syllabus in government affairs. It may be unfortunately said that government is itself characterized by slow and lethargic institution that runs on precedents and old adages. New things thus become obsolete norms in government.
There is a body called the Public Service Commission for every state .Jammu and Kashmir too has its commission in place which has done a credible job in past to supply efficient personnel to the state. Among various examinations that the commission conducts, the most prestigious of all is the Civil Services Combined Competitive exams known as KAS. Keeping in view the interests of huge number of students in the administration, the commission has by and large relied on the norm of conducting the exams every year and, in addition to this, the stockpiling of vacancies pulls the government to carry the recruitment.
Before 2014, the commission succeeded in conducting five back to back exams and the 2010 exam was conducted in spite of the agitation and disturbances in the valley. From 2014, the commission seems to be in a state of dilemma as it has failed to conduct a single exam in full and without errors and omissions. The 2014 notification for 51 posts was met with a petition in the court after the commission conducted preliminary exams, and the court dismissed the said case after one and a half year. In February 2017, the commission conducted the mains examination for 51 posts but half of the year is gone and the commission is yet to declare the list of successful candidates.
Going back to 2016, the commission in July 2016 advertised 277 posts and this time, the commission was seen in a jubilant mood. The notification fixed dates for the exams was in advance and it was stated that that Preliminaries would be held in September 2016 and the Mains in December. But that summer was met with an uprising in the valley and the commission had to rethink its policy in winter when valley returned to normalcy again.
In March 2017, the Preliminary was conducted with full preparations and it took the commission one month to declare the results of successful candidates. Again, the commission met with the same fate, candidates who had scored more than the cut off number failed to get figured in the merit list and after months of lull, many moved to court, scores thronged to ministries to pressurize the commission to look into the matter. The genuine concern of the aspirants remained that, the commission has failed to provide the right answer keys to the different optional papers and in some cases many questions were believed to be set wrongly. After mayhem and brouhaha, the commission was forced to withdraw the mains notification and the preliminary result was kept in abeyance and three member team formed to look in the mass errors. The State Times , a few weeks back published a story which read, ‘For JKPSC oncology is study of mountains’ in which it reported that answer key for 24 questions showed the wrong answers which raised the aspirants up in arms against the commission.
Now that the three member team is in full swing to declare and rectify the errors, the commission seems to be in no mood as to how to do away with the ‘Petition Charged Preliminary Exams’, which has now become a norm in KAS case. From 2014, the commission is sitting just on two notifications and the aspirants are grilled with no fault of their own. Either the commission should reorient the exam pattern of preliminary or there should be a process of framing question papers and answer keys by subject experts and not by laymen. In the first case, the commission should do away with the process of keeping optional subject as mandatory in Preliminary exams as we are converting the service into Urdu Administrative service, zoology service, veterinary service and Public administration service. Once we remove the optional from the preliminary exams, the process should be now to adjust CSAT type of paper of qualifying nature and a General studies paper as it is.
By this way, we may first, l have nothing to worry about bringing subject experts in setting the paper and next there will be no clash on who was born when and why? It may, in turn, save the precious time of the commission which is having a very tough schedule from the last few years. The untiring efforts of the commission to recruit professors, lecturers, doctors and engineers in thousands is a commendable job at the time when state is passing through a very difficult stage. Once, the commission is done with reorienting preliminary exams, the making of answer keys public will be no issue; it will rather add to the credibility and reliability of this school.
For the second option of keeping optional in preliminary as it is, the commission should then reduce the current 300 marks for subject to either 100 or something else. The weightage should be then given to the General studies paper, and optional must then retain its status as a mere qualifying one; this may too save the commission from inviting dozen subject experts and making civil service more competitive.
In order to adopt the UPSC pattern of not showing answer key of CSAT, the PSC has to evolve itself. The process should be to contain question papers in such a way that there is no room left for the query and questions are set in such standard that confusion may not prevail among the aspirants. Once the commission is done with this process, the next idea may too follow.
Taking a cursory look on the mains examination stage, all we can say is that the pattern is workable, but few things demand too much change. As government attains more complexities, the need of the hour is to absorb the change. The norm should be to select the best out of best who can serve the state better. State civil services should rather be characterized by the toughest service among all the states, keeping in view that a good number of KAS officers are inducted into IAS in later part of their career and a terrific scope in a state where people badly feel the need of an efficient governance. The current pattern of two optional subjects should be replaced by just one optional subject and a general studies paper should be included in place of another optional. The general studies syllabus may contain science and technology, administrative problems and ethics, vexed issues, economic affairs, developmental programmes and so on. Though this may sound bit difficult in the initial but it may turn civil service into the mother of all exams.
At the final stage, the commission conducts the interview of the candidates selected for the mains. This stage has been given a weightage which, it in no way deserves. Rather than tagging this stage with 250 marks, the policy should be to reduce it to just 100 marks. The interview creates a sense of confusion in all aspirants as a matter of fact. In order to avoid criticism and emerge as a more transparent body, the interview should be made only of a qualifying nature. A candidate’s score should be kept between 50 to 60 out of 100 and, in no way, the score should cross more than the fixed cap. This will do two things to the commission: firstly the interview will be reduced just to a formality and next commission can conduct interview in a very little time. In terms of relevance, mains stage of exam will then decide the final list, unlike current policy in which luck favors many, favored many and they scored 200 in interview!
The Public Service Commission must transform and be reformed. The Civil service exam may provide a lead to it in this goal. The commission must understand the nature of exam and time. Disturbances in Kashmir apart, the PSC should follow a calendar type exercise. As to, in how many months , the preliminary results will be declared, how much time will be given for writing mains and what will be the time frame in which interview will be held. This can serve commission in a favorable way again: firs, aspirants can strategize their preparation according to the prescribed schedule and next PSC will receive less deputations in terms of aspirants who throng the commission as to know the exact dates of exams and so on. There are a thousand number of aspirants who study in outside colleges and universities, there is a good number of aspirants who are already in jobs, there are people who manage the study expenses in a very hard way, there are students who come from very far off areas to settle in city for their preparation, there are others as well who are caught in a situation of thedevil and a deep sea, for them exams, unemployment and family stand as barricades to their goals.
If we talk from ground level, there is a hue and cry among the aspirants from last three years as no exam has been fully conducted. While waiting for their preliminary exam, a good percentage of aspirants skip their banking exam, SSRB exam, UPSC exam and so on. Some even leave their regular courses and join the chorus of preparation. In the middle of this, they are updated either about the rescheduling of exam or the news of withdrawal of mains notification, some are made to hear court petitions and some are set busy in encircling their calendars about the next hearing. This is how KAS remains a career and dream of creamy layer in Kashmir. This is how aspirants are lured for no mistake of their of own, this is how we are opening the new gateways ‘All Jammu and Kashmir unemployed KAS aspirants’, this is how we make civil service such a costly affair that nothing in this service remains a thing that can be called ‘civil’ the affair is too much rigorous.
Rather than creating an army of intellectual unemployed aspirants, the commission must look to revamp the entire recruitment process of civil service exam. In Kashmir, students have already been pushed to the wall and PSC in no way should try to add itself to the list of enterprises. The back to back two notifications 2014 and 2016 have already raised the fingers about the efficacy of commission. It is for the first time that aspirants seem to be so ambiguous about the PSC that when their issues are not resolved by it, they knock the doors of court either or throng the offices of ministers. Till date , the commission has served as the darling of aspirants and it is because of the honesty and integrity of commission that students thrust their entire belief on the commission and they work hard.
PSC should not let its credibility to be downplayed in any case. It has performed as an ideal institution and it must be apprised about the same. The difficult task for it right now is to maintain the image. Changes will fall flat if commission fails to rectify its errors. This is high time that commission rethink its policy by changing the very narrative of civil service exams. The restructuring of KAS will serve better for now. There is nothing left now for Kashmiri students unlike PSC where they bury all their dreams in search of a job and career.
The author is a Post Graduate in Journalism from Media Education Research Centre University of Kashmir and is a “failed” journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.