I think it is about time we started proposing long-term solutions rather than this constant criticism of the symptoms of the deep-rooted malaise. It certainly is, by now, a well-established fact the MPSC suffers from shortcomings in many aspects, the many recent issues documented by this paper being testament to that. It, thus,now warrants us to find the right way forward, instead of dwelling on the diagnosed ailments.
We forget the legislative play a defining role in the affairs of the Commission by passing laws to regulate the functioning of the MPSC. It is the political class that empowers the MPSC to perform its duties and approve the rules and regulations of the conduct of all examinations by the MPSC. What is needed now, with utmost priority, is a complete overhaul of the whole system, lock, stock and barrel? To enable that, we have to petition and pressure our elected representatives as well. Not many significant developments can be brought about other than through the legislative reforms route.
We need new regulations, new systems of conducting examinations, reforms with the parameters of selection and subjects and papers, in other words, a large-scale reform, all in keeping with the changed contemporary times.
What we have presently were formulated at least a decade or two ago, with minor amendments every now and then. The whole system with the MPSC is totally out of sync with the needs of the present times. To highlight a few particular cases, the system in the state under MPSC looks to select administrators based on the outdated method of laying great emphasis on the rote-learning approach, there is little transparency and clarity with the schedule and of course, the accountability factor, as we have witnessed time and again.
In Manipur, we have persisted with a system inherited from the 70’s and 80’s. The Combined Civil Services Examination still require candidates to write two optional papers. This system has been discarded by most states, including the central nodal Union Public Services Commission(UPSC), in all their civil services examinations. If not for political pressure from the Hindi belt of North Indian states, UPSC would have done away with even the one optional paper required now.
The issue with retaining optional subjects is manifold. First, candidates are being tested on different parameters, ending any hope of equity and uniformity. It is no secret candidates opt for subjects that are the most ‘high-scoring’, and their choice of subjects has nothing to do, in most cases, with their fields of study or expertise. No engineer would usually opt for an engineering subject, but rather choose a humanities subject. Just scan through the marks displayed by MPSC for all candidates in the 2013 and 2014 examinations. It doesn’t take a keen observer to notice the wide variance and gap in marks accorded between different subjects and the blatant liberal scores in particular subjects. No wonder, the whole gamut of aspirants opt for two subjects the most, Public Administration and Education. Do a brief reading of the subjects opted for by selected candidates. Rarely will you note a candidate who has not opted for one of those 2 subjects. The highest marks obtained in some of the very familiar subjects like Sociology and Geography wanes in comparison to those obtained in the aforementioned most sought-after subjects. Can it be that all the candidates opting for Public Administration or Education are more capable than those writing in other subjects? It doesn’t take an intellectual to understand the apparent liberal marking bias towards certain subjects. To overcome this problem, the UPSC came up with the scaling method to bring parity in marking among different subjects, which the MPSC definitely has not accommodated in its system.
The highest marks obtained in some of the very familiar subjects like Sociology and Geography wanes in comparison to those obtained in the aforementioned most sought-after subjects. Can it be that all the candidates opting for Public Administration or Education are more capable than those writing in other subjects? It doesn’t take an intellectual to understand the apparent liberal marking bias towards certain subjects. To overcome this problem, the UPSC came up with the scaling method to bring parity in marking among different subjects, which the MPSC definitely has not accommodated in its system.
The disparity in marking is not the only problem with optional subjects. The main worry is the promotion of the rote-learning system of education in the whole country. Candidates are required to read on two random subjects unrelated, in most cases again, to the studies career of the candidates or that of the administrative posts they are vying for. It is more of a ‘mugging up or memorising and pouring out during exam’ competition. It has little or no consequences in the quality of service they can provide to the common people. For example, how does scoring high marks in English literature or Physics or Education or many other subjects make one more suitable for an administrator, whose job profile is that of a generalist well-versed in all fields? This system only favours the few PhDs or those with advanced or professional qualifications, who mostly are already professors, lecturers, doctors or others professionals working in their own fields. What of the fresh young graduates, who ideally are the targets of the civil services then?
It would be progressive and beneficial to the state as a whole to abandon the optional subjects system. Instead, we should adopt more subjects on current issues that confront our society and state today, relevant to the nature of the job of an administrator. We would do better if candidates were to be tested on the socio-economic, political, cultural, geographical and historical aspects of Manipur more, along with subjects like ethics and values. This would compel candidates to familiarise themselves with the biggest troubles of our state and invigorate them to come up with creative and innovative ideas, solutions and approaches to tackle the problems we face today. It would also promote understanding and respect for the diverse cultures prevalent in the state through unbiased factual study. This can be achieved through appropriate syllabus and the right nature of questions asked in the examinations. Such a scheme of examination would not only ensure fairness, equality and parity by testing all candidates on the same parameters by way of the same question papers but also promote the economy of the state. Studies and publications on the different critical aspects of the state from respectable scholars and thinkers from the state would be encouraged to cater to the needs of the aspirants. This would also enrich the knowledge base of candidates regarding the issues of the state, compared to the superficial and limited knowledge required by the present scheme.
One other peculiar irritation worth mentioning is the absence of a regular calendar of examinations. The total unpredictability of the dates and timing of examinations leave thousands of unemployed youths in total disarray and leads to speculations and rumour-mongering of all sorts. A fixed annual calendar, or at least one released well in advance the preceding year, would be a giant leap towards order. This would help immensely with the planning of thousands of students in terms of travel arrangements, aligning dates with the many other competitive examinations and devising proper strategies of preparation. With the present system, students are expected to be prepared any time of the year on very short notice.
The malaise runs deep and the defects are many. Yet, these are just some best practices worth emulating. Every other state public services commissions in the country are constantly evolving with such new reforms. Ours have been lethargic and shown the strong reluctance to progressive change. Every citizen or native, and not only the students and aspirants, of the state, has a stake in the proper functioning of the MPSC and its related activities. We have to all contribute towards this cause through innovative and progressive possible solutions. It has to become an election agenda to bring change to the existing old rotting system. It is our right to demand a robust, transparent and accountable system in our state. The brightest minds should be selected by MPSC for the prestigious posts. Ultimately, their efficacy and ideas will not only trickle down to each of us but also dictate the growth and development of Manipur, our home.
(The writer is a civil service aspirant currently based in Delhi, waiting to appear in the upcoming Civil Services Main Examination, 2016 conducted by UPSC)