Post-Agnipath, it’s time to seriously reform the UPSC

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The violent reaction, observed in some pockets across India, against the Aginpath program testifies to two facts.

First, there is a reliance on government jobs, even if that means idling the younger years of one’s life in hopes of passing an exam with a pass rate of less than one percent.

Second, government reforms or pressure for a more skilled workforce in the public sector is not the problem, be it the banks or the military; it’s the mindset that needs improving, especially given the arguments that have been made about pensions and job security.

Several stakeholders and military veterans, advocating for the Aginpath program, argued for a younger force familiar with the technology of the time. To further strengthen Agnipath’s case, examples of strengths around the world were cited in several press conferences.

The government, ignoring the argument put forward on pensions, has every good reason to go ahead with recruitment. However, why should the government stop at just the military, and why not also push for reforms in one of the most critical cogs in the system: the bureaucracy?

Perhaps the most infamous arms of the state, the bureaucracy, including police, tax and foreign service officers, needs an overhaul.

For years, observers have debated the need for reform, but fixing the rigid system is easier said than done, especially when the resistance comes from within the system itself.

Some hope stems from the scattered success of the lateral entry scheme, but taking inspiration from the Agnipath scheme, the government must now undertake a series of reforms to improve the UPSC recruitment process.

First of all, professional experience must be made compulsory for aspirants to be recruited in the first 5 services, ie administration, foreign affairs, tax authorities, police and railways. Ideally, the government should make work experience mandatory for all services listed within UPSC, but as a pilot, start with the top five.

Therefore, the age limit needs to be revised, especially on the upper side. Thus, keeping a mandatory minimum professional experience of three years, the upper age limit can be revised to 35 years for the general category, 25 years being the minimum age for the first five services, the most sought after.

The whole argument that unemployment is a deterrent to getting work experience is bogus because if an aspirant after graduation isn’t good enough to land a job for three years, how will he survive he in the first five services?

Of them, the government must also open side entries to mid-level positions, say with five to seven years’ work experience, on an ad hoc basis. Complementing the existing side-entry program, this recruitment process can make it easier to hire tech-savvy engineers, healthcare experts, revenue officers, and even HR professionals, to name a few. some examples.

The idea should be to open up the civil service sector to professionals working in the private sector who wish to return there after having acquired a few years of experience. Furthermore, adding such a workforce at the relevant levels will only add to the efficiency and innovative prowess within the system.

Three, the government must prohibit serving officers, in the first five services, to begin with, from taking the exam again. Often it is seen that serving officers in the police department take the UPSC exam to get a branch of their choice, mostly administration or foreign.

Although this can be attributed to the ranking system, it not only wastes the time and resources invested in the serving officer, but is also a travesty of the whole recruitment process, since the midshipmen are not not for office or service, but to make hay in the branch of the sun. This state of mind alone must be dealt with firmly at the level of recruitment.

Four, the ranking system must go. For the approximately 700 aspirants who make the final cut on the UPSC Merit List, the awarding of services is based on the rank they achieved on the exam. This ranking system is undermined by the reservation system, unfortunately, and often its 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 selected candidates. For the first 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, currently a qualifying exam where aspirants are required to score 33% for their preliminary exam to be considered for assessment, is to be modified. The percentage can be increased to 50%, given that the questions asked come mainly from the syllabus of class 10 or less.

While we should be proud of our multiple languages, services within UPSC ensure proficiency in basic language and math. This will also serve as a filter for the preliminary round. If students with an engineering or business background can study the social sciences, there’s no reason why arts graduates can’t master English and math at class 10 level.

The only argument advanced against Agnipath was the lack of certainty for personnel who would leave the forces after four years, even with experience in some of India’s toughest terrains and generous payment that few people between 21 and 25 can hope to win in India.

However, no one asks this question to the UPSC aspirants who do not pass the exam, who are struggling in their twenties, paying high fees to the institutes without gaining any real-world work experience. The said reforms will also shake up the coaching ecosystem running in several cities across India, starting with Delhi, for UPSC.

If the sovereign’s security rests on his forces, his durability rests on his bureaucracy, and for reasons beyond the scope of the argument here, the system has been abandoned by the latter more often than one would expect. There are no easy solutions to the problems inherited from the bureaucracy of previous decades, but for the future an attempt can be made to dilute the imperfections at the root level – the beginning.

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