Published: 26th October 2022
Fresh petition filed for UPSC extra attempt; affected aspirants speak
While another petition gets filed for extra attempt and age relaxation for UPSC candidates who appeared during the pandemic, here is what happened so far and what the affected candidates have to say
The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination extra attempt issue finds new life with the fresh petition that was filed in the Supreme Court on October 21, 2022. This has been an ongoing matter since 2020 and is witnessing the support of more students with each passing year. Right now, the group includes students who gave their final attempt in 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Despite numerous petitions filed, recommendations of the Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (DRSC) in favour of the students and the Supreme Court’s advice to be lenient; the Government of India (GOI) and the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT) has not responded positively towards the demands of the students. The students are mobilising people to stage protests in Delhi on November 11. “This is about the right to a fair opportunity which is a constitutionally protected right,” says Amulya Animesh, who is in charge of the legal front of the UPSC COVID Compensatory Attempt movement. The hearing for the recent petition which was filed by Sohan Kumar has been adjourned and the next date of hearing is on November 28.
Other petitions filed so far
The first petition Rachna vs Union of India (UOI) was filed in October 2020, demanding age relaxation and extra attempts for candidates who were directly affected by the pandemic that year. However, a bench of three judges dismissed the petition in February 2021. The Supreme Court refused to interfere stating that it is the conscience of the Government to act on it and does not fall under the powers of the Court to decide.
“The Supreme Court did not wish to encroach on the domain of the Executive and this was the main reason for our defeat in the case. Further, it has been detrimental also because we failed to properly present our case. The other cases were much stronger and we heard positive responses from the Supreme Court,” says Gaurav Thakur, who has been a leader on the ground for this movement for more than two years. Thakur had appeared for his final attempt in 2020 and lost his father two months before his exam. He has appeared for mains previously and was looking forward to making his final attempt count but COVID wiped away his efforts. “My last attempt was washed away by the COVID avalanche,” says Gaurav.
Images from previous protests
In the other cases, the Supreme Court asked the government to take a “lenient view” by weighing all factors and considering the circumstances prevailing at that pertinent time. The Court also asked the aspirants to make representation to authorities for a further chance. “Isn’t this a positive statement? We appealed to authorities so many times and got no response at all. We were forced to take to the streets later,” says Ambarish Pathak, who gave his final attempt in the year 2021, adding, “This is a gross violation of Article 16 of the Constitution that promises equality of opportunity in matters relating to employment.”
The movement also has its website with a section that states the prominent Supreme Court declarations which were in favour of the students. They are as follows:
1. Explore the possibility of an extra attempt - Vasireddy vs UOI case
2. The discretion to take any stand, whatsoever, is left open for the authorities - Rachna vs UOI
3. Authorities can take a lenient view of the situation - Abhishek Anand Sinha vs UOI
4. Directions to the authorities to re-examine the matter in light of DRSC 112th report recommendation.
Background of the movement
Owing to the pandemic, quite a few candidates were in an adverse situation. “About 40,000 candidates have been directly affected by the pandemic,” says Amulya, “The Disaster Management Act states that basic minimum relief must be given to those affected and the government has all the power to do so. Thus, at least the ineligible candidates deserve an opportunity as basic minimum relief.”
The UPSC Covid Compensatory Attempt’s website lists the candidates that the movement represent and they are: “COVID-19 patients, Corona Warriors, Migrated Aspirants, Aspirants who lost their loved ones, Aspirants who lost their jobs during the COVID crisis, Aspirants in financial crisis, Homemaker Womens, Digital divide Impacted Aspirants, and many Aspirants whose stories are just lost in the COVID crisis chaos”.
Candidates have been staging protests since no relaxations were offered in 2021. The first set of protests took place in March 2021 following the notification of UPSC 2021 issued on March 4. Peaceful protests continued along with Twitter campaigns. Yagya Dutt, who handles the digital front of the protest, says, “We once reached more than 30,000 people and were trending as the main trend for hours. It was supported by many political leaders including Rahul Gandhi.” Yagya gave his final attempt in the year 2020 and has since been a practising lawyer.
The candidates also met parliamentarians like Rajnath Singh, Jitendra Singh and JP Nadda who promised relaxation at an appropriate time. Nevertheless, the promises weren’t kept. “We also sent representatives to the authorities as per the advice of the Supreme Court but got no response,” sighs Gaurav.
In March 2022, DRSC headed by Sushil Kumar Modi, MP, Rajya Sabha, advised a general two-year relaxation. The committee recommendation for UPSC's extra attempt read: “The Committee is of the opinion that COVID-19 has caused untold agony and insurmountable sufferings to many. The whole of India had come to a standstill, lives and livelihoods got disrupted and the student community was also adversely affected. Keeping in view the hardships faced by the student community during the first and second COVID waves, the Committee recommends the Government to change its mind and sympathetically consider the demand of CSE aspirants and grant an extra attempt with corresponding age relaxation to all candidates.”
Nitin Kumar, another candidate from the movement says, “It is undemocratic behaviour of the government to be this rigid despite the recommendations and the Supreme Court advisories. Previously candidates were given extra attempts; once in 1992 and again, another time in 2011. How come a global pandemic is not a good enough reason for leniency?”
PM gets to make the final decision
The Prime Minister, who is the Cabinet Minister of the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, gets to make the final decision regarding the issue of the extra attempt for UPSC. The PM is also the Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority under whose order the pandemic was dealt with as a Notified Disaster. Additionally, DoPT is required by law to suggest a relaxation to the PMO, but the Prime Minister has the final say. Thus, UPSC is in charge of overseeing the exam, DOPT is in charge of suggesting a second chance, and the PM is in charge of making the final decisions. “Our demand is to the PM to consider this and take bonafide action in the interest of the COVID affected candidates,” says Amulya, on behalf of all the UPSC candidates who have been affected by the pandemic.
Demonstrations for compensatory attempt and age relaxation
So, what's the final word?
More than 125 Members of Parliament have written letters to the Prime Minister requesting to provide compensation to the UPSC candidates. The students have also travelled miles and beyond to meet Bharatiya Janata Party President, JP Nadda and the Chairman of the DRSC Sushil Modi, who gave the students assurances.
Amulya says, “They were very sympathetic to our demand and agreed to talk to the Prime Minister and the Home Minister.” He further adds, “We have met Rajnath sir two to three times and he said this matter can only be addressed by the Prime Minister. We have met Dr Jitendra Singh sir who said that it is not in his hands to be a Minister of State DoPT.” The UPSC is considered one of the most competitive and difficult exams and takes about one whole year to complete the entire process of the examination. “There is a huge opportunity cost that comes with losing an attempt in this examination. The government had taken cognizance of the issues in other situations and considered it for so many others. That they are rejecting ours with the excuse that it’ll open flood gates of demand sounds very unfair,” concludes Gaurav Thakur as he reminds us that many states gave compensatory attempts for State Public Service Commission examinations.