New Delhi: The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday declined to postpone the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination scheduled for October 4.
A Bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar asked the Centre to consider granting one more chance to those aspirants who may not appear in their last attempt for the exam due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Bench while refusing to postpone the exam also declined to consider the request to club UPSC civil services exam of 2020 with 2021 exams and said that “this will have a cascading effect on other examinations.”
“It was suggested that merging of 2020 prelims and 2021 prelims be done.
We are not impressed by this. Resorting to this will lead to a cascading effect on other exams as stated in the affidavit of UPSC. UPSC should make available all facilities and follow all protocols,” the apex court said.
The top court said UPSC should ensure all COVID-19 protocols are followed. It further said that UPSC has to ensure conformity of their guidelines with that of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) especially to see more than 100 candidates are not allowed in one centre.
The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by UPSC if found not in conformity, then supplementary SOP should be issued, the Bench added.
The court was hearing a plea filed by UPSC aspirants, seeking postponement of upcoming Civil Services (preliminary) Exam 2020, because of COVID-19 pandemic and floods in several parts of the country.
The UPSC has opposed the plea saying that October 4 date for preliminary exam cannot be changed and delaying this exam would delay UPSC Prelims 2021 too which is scheduled for June 27.
Advocate Naresh Kaushik, appearing for the UPSC, told the court that the commission has written to all the chief secretaries of all states and requested that public transport should run at an optimum level during the UPSC exam. “We have also given a complete list of centres,” he said.
“We have even asked the Chairman of the Railway Board to issue suitable directions. We have further stated that Civil Service Exams (prelims) 2021 will be delayed too. Not even a single instance of grievance has been received by us. In fact, we have received requests to not postpone it any further,” Kaushik added.
Kaushik further submitted that detailed precautions have been taken, from hand sanitisers, social distancing, etc, all safety methods have been adopted.
The Bench while hearing the case asked Kaushik whether the suggestion of merger of 2020 and 2021 UPSC prelims examination can be adopted.
Kaushik said that all OMR sheets have already been dispatched and it will not be possible to merge them. “It’s only three days from now. All arrangements have been made. Anything else will be self-defeating,” said Kaushik.
During the hearing, advocate VK Shukla appearing for petitioners told the court that there are doctors who are corona warriors and they are aspirants too.
To this, the Bench said that there are lakhs of aspirants; the exam cannot be customised area-wise or individual-wise. Everyone should get adjusted to it.
The Bench said that it has seen the comprehensive affidavit filed by the UPSC, and the Commission has submitted what arrangements have been made. There are 72 centres and around 2,000 sub-centres. Social distancing will be observed with 2 metres of distance among two candidates, Bench said while reading from the affidavit filed by the UPSC.
Shukla argued that all libraries, coaching institutions have been closed and most candidates have been deprived of reading material and they should get equal opportunities to appear.
The Bench during the hearing said, “How were the exams conducted in the recent past? How were the arrangements made? How long can we keep waiting for this entire problem to be over? The extraordinary situation is everywhere. You don’t know what arrangements have been made.”
The petition has sought postponement of the Civil Services Prelims Exam for 2 to 3 months so that the flood/ incessant rains go away, the COVID-19 curve may flatten and the state governments, who are otherwise “admittedly unprepared” as of today, get more time to prepare themselves for implementation of SOPs of the exam, the plea said.
The plea filed by 20 UPSC aspirants against conducting the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination 2020, on October 4, submitted that this 7 hours long offline exam, which will be taken by about six lakh aspirants at test centres in 72 cities across India, is likely to be a big source of further spread of COVID-19.
They have submitted that for fear of the risk of illness or death, they may not be able to take the examination.
The revised calendar for UPSC exams suffers from class-based discrimination and violates Article 14 of the Constitution, in as much as students belonging to the middle class and/or lower middle class will not be able to afford transport, accommodation, or other expenses to take the examination amid a pandemic, said the plea while seeking quashing of the revised calendar.
Furthermore, it violates Article 16 of the Constitution as it deprives many of the aspirants of equal opportunity in public employment, it added.
“Quash the Revised Calendar, 2020, issued by the UPSC, whereby it has been decided to conduct the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination, 2020, on October 4, despite alarming spurt of COVID-19 pandemic and natural calamities in our country, for being violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India,” the petition stated.
It further asked, “To postpone the Civil Services (Preliminary) Examination for 2 to 3 months or till the time the COVID-19 curve flattens in the majority of the areas of our country.”