Nearly 460,000 candidates appeared for the three-stage UPSC examination in 2015, hoping to join the coveted administrative services. But less than one in 400 of them made it. Over the decades, the upper age-limit for candidates from general categories has gone up from 24 years in the 1960s to 32 years for the 2014 exam. The upper age is relaxed by five years for candidates from the scheduled caste and scheduled tribes while those from the other backward classes get a three-year relaxation. Disabled candidates get an additional 10-year cut. Now, the Union Public Service Commission-appointed committee is set to tell the government to reduce the upper age-limit for appearing in the examination to get into premier civil services such as the IAS and IPS. The UPSC appointed the panel headed by former education secretary BS Baswan last August as part of an initiative by the Narendra Modi government to overhaul the civil services examination. The government had promised to review the examination after a string of protests in 2015 against a civil service aptitude test introduced by the previous Manmohan Singh-led government in the preliminary exam. “We feel that the entry age is on the higher side. At the same time, we realise that candidates should not be put to any unforeseen hardship. Therefore, we would prepare a road map which will give all candidates sufficient time to adapt to the new system,” Baswan said. A common argument is that the civil servants found it difficult to adapt and internalise the core values demanded of the civil services once they were past their thirties. But it will not be an easy decision for the government because there have been several attempts in the past to explore the possibility of reducing the upper age.
In the past, former prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh had supported the proposal but had to back out after loud protests from politicians, insisting that it put rural candidates at a disadvantage. The UPA government had even accepted the second administrative reforms commission recommendation to lower the upper limit to 26 years for general candidates. But the government ended up raising the age limit by two years, months before the 2014 general elections.