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18 August 2014 National controversy: upsc exam

A Commission Of Errors

UPSC itself is not accountable to anyone, its appointments remain questionable

Among the multiple-choice questions set by the UPSC for the 2013 civil services examination was one that asked what ‘balance of payments’ meant. Four options were given, one of which had to be ticked as the correct answer. How­ever, what the UPSC put out as the correct answer on its website in June 2014 too was incorrect. It described balance of payments as “a systematic record of all import and export transactions during a year”.

That, as any CBSE Class X economics textbook will tell you, is what ‘balance of trade’ is, not ‘balance of payments’. This is no isolated incident; the civil service exam carries dozens of such howlers every year, say civil service aspirants. The Commission remains unrepentant, though, never expressing regrets of any sort.

Citing yet another example from the 2012 mains examination, they point out how while the question in English sought the ‘objectives’ of something, the translation in Hindi asked for ‘aapatti’ or ‘objections’ to the same. Needless to say, the aspirants writing the exam in Hindi answered something else entirely and lost out because the examiners are under strict instructions to go by the question in English. In ano­ther such instance, PPP (public-private partnership) was translated wrongly as ‘gair-sarkari’ (non-governmental).

There were 17 such errors out of the 25 questions in one section of the 2012 mains paper (GS- III) alone, say experts. But far from issuing any apology, the UPSC is reluctant to even admit its errors.

In fact, till 2013, the Commission was unwilling to let candidates know their marks in the civil service exam. They had to relent following a Supreme Court order. Even so, while individual candidates are informed of their marks, the Commission does not allow any systematic analysis of marks candidates get on the basis of their subjects, state of domicile, language, etc. There is no data, therefore, should one want to track changes or performance over the years.

Of late, the very process of appointments to the UPSC has been called into question. The lack of any system of public scrutiny or parliamentary oversight leaves the executive with a free hand to pack the Commission with members of its choice. The UPA appointed A.P. Singh, a retired CBI director, and Chattar Singh, former principal secretary to the Haryana chief minister, as members of the UPSC. Even among the examiners and members of the interview panel it appoints, deemed to be a ‘secret’, some are alleged to be not just undeserving but either related or close to the members of the Commission.

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OUTLOOK: 18 August, 2014
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