On the APPSC’s failure to conduct fair exams

[Zilpha A Modi]

The system of competitive exam

The system of competitive exam is embedded in the concept of merit. This concept upholds the idea that power and privilege should be allocated to an individual solely on the basis of merit. It stands in opposition to privileges allocated on the basis of social origin, such as caste, class, ethnicity, gender etc.
In the modern world, the principle of ‘meritocracy’ is also closely aligned with democracy and equality. Choosing individuals on the basis of their merit is far more democratic and egalitarian than choosing individuals on the basis of their social status and position. Thus, a competitive exam is widely accepted as a rational tool for allocating important positions and powers.
India is an ardent supporter of meritocracy. Today, competitive examinations are more or les the norm in allocating seats in schools, universities and colleges, besides in administrative and professional positions.
Competitive exams and meritocracy have come a long way. Having originated in the colonial era, its early design was not necessarily democratic and egalitarian. Leaders of independent India have consciously strived for a democratic and egalitarian merit system. Particularly given Indian’s traditionally fissured society, meritocracy has to run in tandem with democracy.
Competitive exams in Arunachal Competitive exams in Arunachal emerged around the late ’80s and early ’90s. The post-higher secondary school Joint Entrance Exam (JEE) and the Arunachal Pradesh Public Service Commission Combined Exam (APPSCCE) are among the earliest competitive exams held in the state.
Competitive exams provide a platform for a democratic and egalitarian way to choose the most deserving candidates. However, since its inception, it has met with numerous challenges. The biggest challenge of all is the disregard of the merit system by the policymakers and administrators.
For instance, an infamous policy, also known as the MLA quota, was introduced in the mid ’90s. Under it, seats for professional courses like MBBS, BDS, BE, etc, could be allocated to individuals out of turn. It rigged the entire JEE system and made possible the manipulation of the merit order. Many deserving students and their future suffered badly.
Interestingly, this practice was hardly criticized by any administrator, political leader or the general public. It was discontinued in 2002, only after an aggrieved student put up a brave fight against this in the court of law.

Is the APPSCCE leaving space for manipulation of the merit order?
The Arunachal Pradesh Public Service Commission (APPSC) was established in 1988. Its primary role is to help in the functioning of the state government. In doing so, one of its major tasks is to recruit personnel for carrying out the various administrative activities of the government. It conducts the APPSCCE.
In principle, the APPSCCE is built on the concept of merit, but in practice it has not been so. The nature in which the APPSCCE is conducted is filled with rumours and allegations of bribery and nepotism. With the rise in the number of well-educated candidates and its subsequent scrutiny, the commission has been forced to take up a fair system of examination. Yet, many instances of mismanagement surface time and again – more currently, the recently conducted prelims and mains exams.
But unlike the lone fight of a brave candidate against the manipulation of the JEE system, many students and a small portion of the academic community are blowing the whistle. However, the APPSC continues to leave scope for manipulation and unfair means.

Will re-conducting the exam solve the problem?
Previously, whenever a prelims exam was rigged the APPSC called for re-conducting the exam. It was a good decision on the part of the commission to scrap an exam that was conducted on unfair terms. Yet it did not bring any major reform to rectify the previous mistakes. It continued the practice of giving grace marks for reasons best known to them.
The system of giving grace marks may be acceptable in a degree programme, but to include it in a cut-throat competitive exam is completely bizarre. Also, the people responsible for the blunder got off only after temporary suspension. Temporary suspension has hardly brought an effective reform in the APPSCCE.
More currently, the APPSC continues to deny its mistakes. In this context, a possible re-conduct of the exam without rooting out the main problem may have the same result as the previous decision for re-conduct the exam did.

A few suggestions
Rather than charging the students, the APPSC should try to address the question of why it repeatedly fails to conduct a fair exam. As expressed by the students, a large part of the problem lies in the way questions are set, and the marking system.
A general aptitude subject like the UPSC’s CSAT may also be a good option. However, the best way forward is to involve experts and redesign the way in which the papers are set. Unless there is a complete reform in the nature in which papers are set and marked, the APPSC may find itself in a position of not conducting any exam but only re-conducting exams!
Lastly, a huge amount of money and human resource is involved in successfully conducting an exam. Repeated negligence has huge financial consequences for a fund-crunched state. And in the long run the government itself may come to a standstill by losing out on the much-needed manpower and facing a situation of widespread unemployment. (The writer is Assistant Professor, RGU)