Saturday, September 20, 2014

Two years and counting…


It is two years almost to the day since the SPSC invited applications for filling up of 25 State Civil Services and two State Police Service posts back on 12 September 2012. Held on the UPSC format for Indian administrative services, the process this time included a prelims, mains and interview. The mains have still not been called, and officials inform that it will take at least four more months for the process to complete, provided no new complication crops up for this “recruitment drive” which has had its share of drama. In comparison, the UPSC completes the civil services exams - from call for applications to interview - within barely a year. While there is no denying that the State Public Service Commission could benefit from some professional management, it is also a fact that it is understaffed, overworked, under prepared and logistically challenged.
Things started slow at the State Public Service Commission, which, after having announced the exams in September 2012, conducted the prelims slightly over a year later in October 2013. This exam did not go too well, with candidates crying foul over the careless manner in which it was held. An uproar later, the SPSC scrapped the exam and the wait began for a retake. In the interim, the general elections happened and the prelims happened only in July 2014.
Originally, 5,431 candidates had registered for the preliminary examinations, of whom 3,189 took their admit cards and 2,679 eventually took the exam [in July 2014]. In the prelims held in October last year, which was later cancelled by the SPSC, 3,611 candidates had taken the exam.
The results were tabulated in quick time and a shortlist of 373 candidates released for the mains. Last week, on 14 September, the SPSC held the Physical Efficiency Test [PET] for the selected candidates who had opted for Sikkim Police Service. With this evaluation over, the decks are cleared for the holding of the mains.
OH Subba, the Chairman at SPSC under whom the current sequence of exams are being held, explains that as per the directives of the Department of Personnel setting the guidelines for selection, 1:13 ratio on vacancies to candidates was taken in preparing the list of selected candidates after the prelims. And then there is the roster system which also needs to be worked in.
The Sikkim Public Service Commission was set up in 1982 with the appointment of a Chairman and deputation of staff from the State Government and is charged with conducting direct recruitments in state civil services and the 40 other services through competitive examinations.
It is clearly very tough for the SPSC to manage this responsibility specially since it is also straddled with manpower shortfalls and ironically has vacancies in its own ranks which await to be filled up. Incongruously for an organization charged with conducting entrance exams and one which has already bungled seriously in recent times, the posts of Joint Examination Controller and Assistance Examination Controller remain vacant at SPSC. Surprisingly, the Commission also lacks the services of experts to prepare the question papers and conduct evaluations. This leads to further delays.
The SPSC is doing its best to conduct the examinations in time and without any controversy, the Chairperson Mr. Subba however underlines. He shares that among the more immediate challenges facing the Commission is in preparing question papers for those who have taken state government notified languages as their optional subjects.
The prelims, he points out, are relatively simple to conduct [with its multiple choice format and optical marker corrections], but conducting a main examinations is much more complicated. The SPSC has enlisted services of experts from different subjects and a variety of courses and has to coordinate their availability. However, the Commission is hopeful of getting its own question bank in place in due course of time for such examinations.
Since the state government does not have separate halls for holding of such examinations, the SPSC has to also coordinate with schools and institutions which also accommodated national level selection examinations, examinations for open school and other competitive examinations in the same facilities.
It also needs to be accepted that the SPSC had remained a token organization for most of the past years and has only recently been shaped into a working unit tasked with ensuring fair selection of candidates for government jobs at all levels. Where employment was cornered by the privileged and the well connected in the not so distant past, things have now changed in Sikkim, and as aspirations and confidence grows and spreads, favouritism is being increasingly challenged and every appointment scrutinized. For instance, an RTI has already been filed [and responded to] on the prelims held in July. SPSC will come under even more scrutiny as it conducts more exams. In that sense, it is still in the process of understanding the seriousness of its task and is on a learning curve still but will hopefully learn fast and well. Should the present exam indeed get completed in the next few months, it would already been an improvement over the “US Exams” held in 1998, the successful candidates from which were inducted into service only in 2002, four years later [and they had to given only one exam and then interview at that time]…

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