The government offered to provide an extra chance for civil services aspirants to appear for the exam conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), as long as they have age on their side, a move that could benefit around 3,300 candidates.
Currently, candidates in the general category can appear up to six times in the exam, with an age limit of 32 years; for those belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes, there is no limit on the number of attempts and the age limit is 37 years.
The government’s offer, explained in a note submitted to the Supreme Court, which is hearing a case on this issue, is to allow a seventh attempt, as a one-off, in 2021, to those who have exhausted all their shots at the exam, and are not over the age limit.
At least 100 candidates approached the Supreme Court seeking an extra chance citing the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of the petitioners were frontline workers, and contended they did not get sufficient time to prepare. Some of the petitioners were from far flung areas who claimed they could not access study material due to poor internet connectivity. Every year, around 400,000 aspirants appear for the civil services examinations, which is the route into India’s government services.
Adopting a compassionate view, a bench of the apex court headed by justice AM Khanwilkar, on January 22, asked the Centre and UPSC to take a considerate approach and grant an extra chance to the petitioners as a one-time exception.
On January 25, the government came back with a reply that it was not inclined to grant an extra chance since this would amount to extending “differential treatment” to similarly placed candidates. But the bench, which also included justice Dinesh Maheshwari, was not satisfied with the response.
The court had asked additional solicitor general (ASG) SV Raju, who represented the Centre, that when extra attempts had been given in the past in certain exceptional circumstances, the government should consider it this time too.
On Friday, the ASG submitted before the bench that the initial decision has been revised.
He submitted a one-page note, which read: “The Union of India is agreeable for the following ex-gratia, one-time, restricted relaxation to be granted to the prospective candidates, subject to the same being part of a consent order, disposing off the petition.”
It added: “Relaxation, only to the extent of providing one extra attempt for Civil Service Examination (CSE), specifically limited to CSE-2021, may be granted to only those candidates who appeared for CSE-2020 as their last permissible attempt and are otherwise not age-barred from appearing in CSE-2021.”
The note, filed on behalf of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), further stated: “No relaxation shall be granted for CSE-2021 to those candidates who have not exhausted their permissible number of attempts or to those candidates who are otherwise age-barred from appearing in CSE-2021 as per the prescribed age limits of different categories.”
ASG Raju also emphasised that the relaxation shall not be treated as a precedent for the future.
The bench asked the Centre to circulate the note to all the lawyers appearing in the matter to enable them to respond to the proposal. The case will be heard next on Monday.