Is the APPSC’s upcoming viva-voce already compromised?

[Zilpha A Modi]

The office of the Arunachal Pradesh Public Service Commission (APPSC) needs very little introduction. Its reputation for repeated disregard of rules, rampant corruption and complete immunity to accountability defines it all. Yet year after year, young aspirants and the unemployed throng its doors to find a foothold.
For some of them, it is the want of a steady job and income, for some, it is an anchor to the treasure and powerhouse of the state. The more motivated ones see it as a platform to build a better state and country, while a handful are simply doing because their parents and elders have asked them to. To these diverse communities of aspirants there is still some hope that the examination will be a level playing field and they still have a chance to prove themselves.
It is disheartening that the APPCS has yet again set out to disappoint its aspirants. The decision to conduct the viva-voce, the final leg of the arduous competitive exam in the middle of the Covid-crisis is a glaring example.
On 4th May, 2020, when the whole nation was under lockdown, the APPSC issued a notification to conduct the oral exam in the first week of June, despite knowing that many students are stranded outside the state. There was no public transport, such as train, taxi, plane or bus to ferry them home.Many students, through their social media accounts, tried to reach out to the state and policy makers to postpone the exam or conduct it in a videoconference mode. Instead, on 22nd May, when India’s Covid transmission had begun to tremendously escalate, the APPSC put out a notification of further confirming the conduct of the exam.
This act of the APPSC directly compels students to travel to Arunachal and in the process risk their lives and the lives of others. Students who are in high Covid-affected cities, such as Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai are put at a greater risk. Also upon arrival the students have to do a compulsory stay at state quarantine centre or home quarantine for 14 days. Such strenuous experience is bound to affect the psychology and mental health of the students. This may eventually affect their performance in the exam, if not their overall health.
The decision to conduct this exam during a national lockdown and a spiralling Covid crisis is unethical. It does not give all candidates a level playing field. Students who are in Itanagar in the comfort of their homes have the advantage of a sound mind and ample space for preparation, while students who are in transit are subjected to both physical and mental vulnerabilities. The state may be preparing a hot bed for a huge gathering amidst its own call for social/ physical distancing. It leaves even its own members- the APPSC staff and the examination members vulnerable to Covid-19.
It is ironical of the government that on one hand they want the students to stay put, even to the extent of sending cash in their accounts. But on the other hand, they compel students to move and risk their lives and the lives of others.
Why is it absolutely necessary to conduct this exam during the Covid-19 crisis? Is it because of an urgent need for new staff? But what will the new staff do when many of the current staff themselves are at their homes? Also, in case of new recruitment, how and when does the APPSC plan to conduct their compulsory training, which often lasts over a year? Will the new recruits attend training wearing mask? How prepared is the APPSC to handle an online training if they cannot even hold oral exams online?
The APPSC and the state government should urgently realize that all their hard work and the hard work of all the frontline workers might soon be washed away due to a single mistake.
If the APPSC needs new recruits urgently, they should explore online platforms without risking lives. The whole world is adapting to new ways and we should not shy away either. (Zilpha Modi is an assistant professor at the Arunachal Institute of Tribal Studies, RGU, Rono Hills.)