The civil services dream

A significant number of youngsters take up civil services coaching, but many drop out. Lakhs appear for the exam and 1-2% qualify, writes Ali Khwaja
Last Updated : 06 May 2024, 23:04 IST
Last Updated : 06 May 2024, 23:04 IST

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When the British ruled India, the ultimate aim of any Indian who wanted to rise in social status and have a respectable career was to get into government service. This legacy of the British has remained so strong that tens of lakhs of aspirants dream of becoming civil service officers every year, even now (read IAS or IPS). 

Similar to innumerable other competitive exams, the ratio of candidates dreaming of becoming an IAS/IPS officer to the number of vacancies is so large that it becomes almost like a lottery. A capable candidate makes one or two silly mistakes or gets a headache during the exam, and his rank goes down.

Roughly a hundred candidates from all over India have been selected for IAS and another hundred for IPS service. Other Class I services like IRS (Income tax and customs and indirect taxes), IA&AS (audit), and many railways or defence-related services have barely one thousand probationers selected.

When the results are out, the media highlights the toppers and those who made it against difficult circumstances. This year, a former police constable made it to the Indian Revenue Service, a girl from Kerala afflicted with cerebral palsy obtained a 922 rank, and a beedi worker’s son qualified for IAS. We also get stories of how a topper changed her methodology of studies, stopped coaching and relied on newspaper reports, a former IT engineer who had qualified for IPS last year topped the IAS ranking by going through old examination papers, etc.

Drops in the ocean?

The fact is that these are drops in the ocean. Tens of lakhs of students start dreaming about becoming an IAS officer, a significant number of them take up extensive and expensive coaching, many of them drop out during the process, and yet many lakhs do appear for the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT), with barely one or two per cent qualifying.

Many youngsters continue to appear year after year till they are no longer eligible to make any more attempts. The significant thing here is that they have lost many of the prime years of their life studying for something that does not give them any advantage to take up some other career.

If one looks carefully at the profile of successful candidates, we can see that many did not take up full-time coaching but took jobs and studied independently. They would have continued their careers without a break if they had not qualified.  The other aspect to be taken into consideration is that many aspirants who do qualify go into burnout once the glamour of being a high-glamour officer wears off.

Facing politicians, being tempted by alluring corruption, and realising that they are constrained by innumerable factors that do not allow them to work as per the rules or their conscience, they find themselves stuck in a job from where they cannot quit. Though many may not admit it, mid-careers face uncomfortable situations without relief.

Movies like 12th Fail raise the hopes of candidates who may not have the ability or essential traits to crack these highly competitive exams but continue to take coaching and study year after year blindly. This craze for secure government service goes down to even lower ranks. It was reported that in a North Indian state, for 60,000 constable vacancies, about 40 lakh people appeared for the exam.

Other exams

This brings us to the fact that many students are unaware of exams other than the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT), such as the Indian Forest Service, Indian Economic Service, exams for Central Armed Police Forces, and many more.

The Staff Selection Commission (ssc.nic.in) conducts exams at a slightly lower level, which are easier to qualify for. Many officers selected through these exams eventually move up to higher levels.

Many aspirants do not have access to people who can guide them suitably in a balanced manner. Media reports and many ‘guidebooks’ paint a one-sided picture of success and a wonderful life ahead. A book published recently by Dr DV Guruprasad, former Director General of Police in Karnataka, titled ‘BSc Fail, IPS Pass’ gives a very elaborate, balanced and realistic picture.

If candidates speak to knowledgeable people, they will know how to improve their chances of qualifying, whether it is worth going through such a tough process, or whether they are more suited for other careers that are equally gratifying and well-paying.

(The author is a Bengaluru-based academic counsellor)

Published 06 May 2024, 23:04 IST

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