Lack of clarity & lack of public transport make students, especially those from rural areas, nervous
A hesitant nasal tone at the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Facilitation Centre in Delhi forwarded the line to the Deputy Secretary, twice. After two minutes of beeps and positive rings, this journalist heard the same nasal voice say, “Line busy, call again. Tomorrow morning.”
Multiple attempts to speak with UPSC authorities yielded the same result. And students, who want clarity on the date of the preliminary exams for the civil services, are fed up with this experience.
“They never pick up the call. It always rings and beeps. So I have started relying on my Delhi friends for information on the upcoming prelim examination on October 04,” said Palani Murugan, 23, a UPSC aspirant from Chennai.
Why are students desperately trying to reach the UPSC?
This is due to the latest announcement made on July 07 by the Commission. A circular issued on that date, provides the “tentative” date for the preliminary examination for the civil services as October 04. The uncertain nature of the communique has caused an uproar amongst students and led to a faction filing a petition before the Supreme Court pleading for delay of the examination.
In the first week of August, a group called ‘Postpone UPSC Prelims’ was formed over Telegram. The group headed by a team of aspirants are seeking legal advice from advocate Alakh Shrivastava, whose petition on the postponement of JEE and NEET was rejected on August 17 by the Supreme Court of India.
Upon discussion with the advocate, the group has started a campaign to raise to Rs 1 lakh for court fees. According to their message in the Telegram group, Team Acads, who provide notes for the UPSC, RBI and SEBI exams, have promised to contribute Rs 10,000 for the cause.
The objective, on which they filed the complaint, was that the prelims exam’s tentative date of October 04 goes against the principle of equity and parity. “This is against the very principle of Article 14 and Article 21 (Right to Equality and Right to Life),” they claimed in the Telegram group.
So far, students have collected Rs 51,000.
Most aspirants across India have now stopped contacting the office and started exchanging theories on the date of the exam. “Some friends said that the UPSC might observe the situation in September and then may or may not conduct the October 04 examinations. It’s just what we feel. There has been no official notice, circular, or contact from the UPSC’s behalf other than the dates,” Murugan said.
Murugan’s friends from Delhi told him that the movement of public transport and the metro rail might restart by September end and that worried him. “At least 70,000 candidates will appear from Tamil Nadu. What if the situation doesn’t improve in Tamil Nadu?” Murugan asked.
Most states like, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are still observing a massive increase in the number of Coronavirus cases, each day. Public transportation, like buses and local trains are yet to begin operations. The only alternative for students from rural and remote areas to come to cities to the exam centres at present, is private transport, like taxis. This is beyond the reach of many like Murugan.
“The cab rate to Perambur Examination Centre is Rs 444. I come from a middle-class family whose expenditure over three days is Rs 444,” said Murugan.
Hailing from Karukkakottai village in Thanjavur district, Murugan shifted to Chennai, last month after his father’s death, to prepare for the UPSC exam.
The plight of aspirants from remote villages of Tamil Nadu is worse, as inter-district travel is limited. There are five examination centres in Tamil Nadu, all of them in cities - Chennai, Madurai, Coimbatore, Trichy and Vellore.
“Think about their transportation issue, even if they manage that, where will they stay? The exams start at 9 am. They will have to reach the place a day before,” said another UPSC aspirant from Tamil Nadu who did not wish to be named.
Confirming the complete shutdown of railways and bus services at Salem district in Tamil Nadu, Krishna KV, 23, said that the closest centres from Salem are Coimbatore or Trichy, which are 172 and 110 kilometres respectively. “On normal days, Salem is well-connected but considering the COVID situation, travelling such a distance might pose an additional problem,” said Krishna.
Alan Jose from Kottayam in Kerala said that he chose the centre in Trivandrum, which is 150 kilometres from Kottayam instead of Kochi, which is just 60 kilometres away. “I have a brother in Kottayam but where will I stay in Kochi as most lodges and hotels have been turned into paid quarantine accommodation,” Alan asked.
Having worked at a COVID Response Centre at Ernakulam in Kerala, Alan believed that in three months, the situation could get normalised and conducting a small-scale examination may not pose a problem. “But UPSC is not a small-scale exam. Every year, some eight lakh candidates appear for the examination. I do not know how wise it would be to conduct prelims on October 04,” said Alan.
A 27-year-old UPSC aspirant, who has been preparing from 2015 and has made three attempts, from a village in the Ranbir Singh Pura district in Jammu had similar troubles with the October 04 announcement, like his friends from Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
“In the last 25 days, the Coronavirus cases in Jammu has risen. To keep a check on the rising number of cases, the government has restricted the private service of transport providers’ capacity to one-third. Very few are opting to operate as it hurts their business,” said the aspirant from Jammu.
The aspirant hailing from Jammu complained that there was no bus service from his village to the district headquarters where the centre for Jammu is located. There are only two centres for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh - Jammu and Srinagar.
“So, we will have to risk everything and travel and reach because three years of hard work has been dedicated to this examination. There are a total of 20 districts if we include Jammu and Kashmir. Aspirants come from far off places like Doda and Punj, enduring a seven hours journey. How will UPSC justify this date to be fair for them?” said the aspirant.
According to the aspirants, the least UPSC could do is increase the number of centres for the examination.
Email questionnaires have been sent by The Lede to Dr Pradeep Kumar Joshi, Chairman of the UPSC, Vasudha Mishra, the Secretary and Rajkumar Gathwal, the additional Secretary, and responses are awaited.