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Do English skills impact a bureaucrat's work?

Sunday March 17, 2013 06:36:45 PM, Prashant Sood, IANS

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New Delhi: Do English skills of bureaucrats impact their work? The UPSC notification giving more weight to English in the civil services examination and government's decision to put the move on hold has triggered a furious debate. IAS officers say emphasis on English is useful but it should not affect prospects of candidates from small towns and rural areas.

The civil services examination that selects candidates for the Indian Administrative Service, Indian Foreign Service, Indian Police Service among others is one of the most sought-after tests in the country with thousands of students giving it a try every year.

The changes in the examination format brought about by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) through a notification March 5 triggered a political storm in the Lok Sabha Friday with parties including the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal-United, Samajwadi Party, AIADMK, DMK, Shiromani Akali Dal, Biju Janata Dal, CPI, CPI-M and BJP forcing the government to hold back the move.

The UPSC had proposed that the English language paper of 100 marks in the civil services main examination would be added to a candidate's overall score. Earlier, the candidates had to pass the English test but the marks were not added to the final tally.

Civil servants IANS spoke to were not willing to be quoted by name and most of them said that skills in English were useful in an all -India service. They said any effort to improve linguistic proficiency should be made without affecting the prospects of rural candidates.

A woman IAS officer of Himachal Pradesh cadre said skills in English were important for discharge of duties by a civil servant.
She said the controversy surrounding the UPSC notification can be resolved by toughening up the qualifying examination in English.

"The qualifying examination in English can be made tougher. The pass marks can also be increased, from, say 35 percent to 50 percent, but marks of English paper should not be added to the total tally," the officer told IANS.

She said if English marks were added to the total tally, "some candidates can be seriously disadvantaged".

An IAS official, who has worked at both the central and state levels, said skills in English were a great asset as a senior officer has to increasingly interact with foreign agencies also.

"In additional to one's own language, it is important to know an international language. For us, international language is English," he said.

He said if there is feeling in the government that English skills of officers needs to honed up, it can take corrective steps.

"It (proficiency in English) could be linked to promotions," he said.

An IAS officer posted with Haryana government said that changes proposed by the UPSC must have been done after due deliberation.

"It would have gone through various layers. The government would have applied its mind to it," he said.

The officer said most work at the government of India level was done either in English or Hindi and linguistic skills helped in explaining the decisions logically.

However, an IAS officer posted in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation said that lack of proficiency in English was not a handicap in itself.

"What matters is integrity, commitment, knowledge of your subject and your experience. These attributes are important to solve problems of people. English is just a tool, other languages are a tool," he said.

He said very large part of an IAS officer's career is spent in states and he has to work and interact in regional language.

The officer said that changes were brought in the format of civil service examination in the late seventies and people from rural backgrounds started entering the service it in greater numbers.

"It also led to more preference among top rankers for IAS compared to IFS," he said.

Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mohan Singh said the UPSC move to add English marks to the overall tally would have gone against candidates from rural areas and political parties exerted pressure on the government.

"It will be difficult for candidates of rural areas to pass the examination if UPSC notification is implemented," Singh told IANS.

Bharatiya Janata Party MP Tarun Vijay said unity of India is cemented by flowering of Indian languages.

"Countries in Europe, even China, has not progressed by using English as a vehicle. It is colonial mindset that has seized Indian rulers and they are ashamed of their own mother tongue," Vijay told IANS.

Vijay said the UPSC move would have restricted chances of candidates who are less proficient in English but are well-versed in their own languages.

Congress leader Raashid Alvi said the government will try to create consensus among political parties on the UPSC notification.

"The final decision will be taken keeping the interests of students in the entire country in mind," he said.

The UPSC had also said in its notification that at least 25 candidates should opt for a specific language medium and if the number was less, the candidates will be required write the examination in Hindi or English. It had said that candidate opting for specified regional languages as medium of writing should have cleared the graduation examination with that language medium.
According to the People's Linguistic Survey of India, only about 10 million people - or less 0.1 percent of India's population - have given English as their mother tongue.

(Prashant Sood can be contacted at




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