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A government panel called this week for a reduction in the upper-age limit of candidates for India’s civil services examination, prodding the NDA administration to ditch a decades-long practice of raising the ceiling under political compulsion.
The government indicated it is likely to accept the recommendation, with Union minister Jitendra Singh asking Lok Sabha on Wednesday to evolve a consensus on reducing the upper-age limit.
“I do not know whether the House is aware that the last cut-off (age) for appearing for civil services today is 47 years, and at 50 years they are eligible for retirement,” the minister of state for personnel told MPs. “The age went up due to pressure from political sections, not on merit.”
The panel headed by former education secretary BS Baswan submitted its report on Tuesday to the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) that conducts the examination.
“A decision will be taken by the government in consultation with the UPSC,” a senior government official told HT. Baswan was unavailable for comment.
The current upper-limit for general, able-bodied candidates is 32. The committee recommended it be reduced to 27 over five years after a two-year freeze.
This suggestion was made because thousands of students who spend years preparing for the examination might find their careers jeopardised if suddenly declared ineligible.
The examination is conducted in three stages — preliminary, main, and interview — to recruit officers to 23 civil services including the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Foreign Service (IFS) and Indian Police Service (IPS).
The age limit is relaxed by five years for candidates from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes while those from other backward classes get a three-year relaxation. Disabled aspirants get an additional 10-year cut.
Half-a-million young men and women sit for the gruelling examination every year that offers less than a one in 400 chance of success. Those who succeed often don’t score more than 50% in the main written examination.
A general category candidate is permitted six attempts (nine if disabled) and an OBC candidate nine. There is no cap on the number of attempts for SC & ST candidates.
In the past, several panels have advocated a reduction in the upper-age limit but successive governments have done the opposite and raised it, from 26 in the 1960s to 28 in the 1980s and now, 32.
Over the past 50 years, any attempt at tinkering with the exam has proved to be politically sensitive and has been nixed especially by parliamentarians from rural areas, who say slashing the upper-age limit will hurt candidates from under-developed regions.
In 2013, parliamentarians forced the then UPA government to drop an English essay paper of 100 marks and revert to an earlier system where candidates had to score qualifying marks in the paper. But marks scored in the language paper were not counted for ranking successful candidates.
In 2014, the Modi government removed a 22-mark English section in the first of the three-stage examination process, a move demanded by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) – the students’ wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, the ruling party’s ideological mentor.
And in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided that marks scored in the civil services aptitude test (CSAT) paper at the preliminary examination would not be used to shortlist candidates.