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UPSC Rejected Demand for Extra Attempt in Wake of COVID-19, Leaving Aspirants Devastated

In December 2022, the students were once again on the streets of the National Capital, demanding an extra attempt

New Delhi: The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) aspirants who had their final attempt in 2020, failed to make it. Many lost their loved ones, and many tested positive during the exams and could not answer, but allege injustice as the Centre provided them with no solution.

Seema, a UPSC aspirant from Coimbatore was in a life-or-death situation during her exams back in October 2020. During her prelims, she was pregnant with twins and had to answer her exams in the same state. However, she could not do so since she was not just pregnant but also was affected due to Covid. Her lungs were affected and eventually could not answer her prelims exams. This was Seema’s last attempt.

For the two years when the world was affected by the pandemic, many lost their loved ones and others themselves suffered the brunt of the disease. However, the UPSC students allege that injustice is being done to the ones who were to take their last attempt in the year 2020-21. The Centre did give an opt-out window to the aspirants which meant that the ones who had not already taken an attempt or answered the prelims could opt out and the attempt would not be considered. Hence, they would have another shot at their civil services dream. However, for the ones who got into trouble in unprecedented situations during the pandemic, the treatment meted out was different.

Abhinav Mishra, an engineer from Uttar Pradesh’s Lucknow had never been able to clear his prelims until 2020. This year, he believed he had a shot since he had cleared the first stage. But fate had other plans for him. Post three exams of the UPSC Mains, he fell really sick and had all the symptoms of Covid along with both his parents. On getting tested, he found himself to be positive and was soon down with a high fever. “I was in a really bad headspace both mentally and physically. I still went to give an attempt,” he said. Mishra was honest and told the authorities about his situation. The centre did have arrangements for the students who had symptoms. Therefore he tried demanding a similar arrangement. But even after three hours of detention and pleading, he was sent back home.

Later, he was told to write an application to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT)- a body that makes the rules and regulations for the UPSC. Even after repeated letters and consistent calls, nobody answered his pleas. “I used to call them 15 times a day. Sometimes, they would get frustrated and sometimes show me sympathy. But there was no solution provided,” he said.

He eventually moved to the Supreme Court where his advocates even mentioned how the DoPT rules had a provision where the Secretary of DoPT in case of an exception could change the rules or give another chance to a candidate. As per what his advocate stated, “There was no bigger exception than Covid-19 in this century.” However, the Supreme Court ultimately only advised the Central Government to look into the matter and if possible, grant an extra attempt, but all in vain.

In December 2022, the students were once again on the streets of the National Capital and demanded an extra attempt. Their protests have been ongoing via several mediums for two years now. They first tried doing social media campaigns, protested at Jantar Mantar and were now protesting at the hub of aspirants- Rajendra Nagar. On December 20, as the students protested, police action against them changed the way they looked at the force.

They allege that their peaceful protests were forcefully stopped and they were dragged to the police station. Over 40 students were detained for several hours. One of them was Manisha, an aspirant originally from Delhi itself. Manisha alleges, “Male police constables manhandled us in absence of the female constables. We were being pushed and dragged by them even though our protests were absolutely peaceful. I was trying to protect my male colleagues, and in the course of that, the police did not even spare us.” She narrates how this was not just the case but the words used by the police officials were really bad. As per the other aspirants and her, even the senior police officials said, “Why do you want to do civil services? Do you want to enter politics? If you are already pursuing your PhD, what is
the need for clearing UPSC?”

In the middle of the night, students who were there even lost their tents. The students protested all day and were going to continue even further. However, the students were made to stop and all the arrangements they had, from the tents to their pamphlets were all taken away by the police.

In case of different exams, such as the recruitment of Staff Selection Commission General Duty (SSC GD) and UP PCS, the govt has provided age relaxations to the students for the year 2022 owing to the pandemic. Seeing the situation and how many students could not either answer the exams or had lost their loved ones, the DoPT has now given them an extra attempt and a relaxation in the age limit as well. It is the same that the aspirants of UPSC demand. “All we ask for is another chance,” says Abhinav.

The Supreme Court of India on September 30, 2020, advised the "Union Government to use discretion" with regard to UPSC Civil Service Exam aspirants through various cases as listed below -

a.) “to explore the possibility of one extra attempt”. (Vasireddy vs
Union of India)

b.) “decision of Supreme Court of India in no way restricts the Union of India in exercising their discretion in granting an extra attempt”. (Rachna vs Union of India)

c.) “The Union of India to take a lenient view towards aspirants in light of the heartbreak situation they faced due to the pandemic”. (Abhishek Anand Sinha vs Union of India)

d.) The Supreme Court of India has directed the Union of India in the Arijit Shukla vs Union of India case to again reconsider the representation of aspirants, and also mentioned that the Union of India is bestowed with the necessary discretion of granting an extra attempt under Regulation 4 of the Indian Administrative Service (Appointment by Competitive Examination) Regulations, 1955.

Despite the history of the aspirants, the students have had no rescue from the State end. Many have now lost all hope and have started to work somewhere as per their own qualification. Abhinav is now working as an engineer in a firm to meet his family’s ends. His father is a retired man and his mother is a housewife. The responsibility of the daily bread lies on his shoulders. Had he been given even an attempt to restart from the prelims stage, he says that he would have taken it. He still finds time to study for the UPSC and tries to do as much as possible.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law & Justice, in its 112th report presented to both the Houses of Parliament on March 24, 2022, after taking into consideration all the developments, has recommended that – "The Committee is of the opinion that COVID-19 has caused untold agony & insurmountable suffering 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 COVID-19 hardships faced by the student community during the first and second COVID waves, the Committee recommends the Government change its mind and sympathetically consider the demand of UPSC Civil Services Exam aspirants and grant an extra attempt with corresponding age relaxation to all candidates."

However, the government has continued to deny a chance to these aspirants. Several Parliamentarians also tried raising questions on the State and even came out in support of the aspirants, but as of now, these UPSC Aspirants stare at a bleak future.

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