New Delhi: Continuing the trend of picking fewer and fewer civil servants each year, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) last week advertised 712 positions for its prestigious Civil Service Examination (CSE) — down from 796 last year, an over 10 per cent reduction.
Despite a shortage of IAS and IPS officers across the country, the government has been consistently reducing the number of officers it recruits through UPSC each year.
Since 2014, when the vacancies announced by the UPSC stood at 1,364, the posts advertised by the commission have dropped by 47.8 per cent as of 2020.
But it is not just for the elite civil services that the commission has been recruiting fewer candidates.
According to the government’s reply in the Lok Sabha this year, the number of candidates in total recruited by the UPSC fell from 6,103 in 2016-17 to 4,399 in 2019-2020 – a dip of almost 30 per cent.
In addition to the CSE, the UPSC conducts several other exams, including the Engineering Services Examination, Combined Medical Services Examination, Combined Defence Services Examination, National Defence Academy Examination, Central Armed Police Forces Examination, among others.
Sources in the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) said a major factor in deciding the number of recruitments and vacancies for any service is cadre management.
“While it may seem like there are widespread shortages in government posts, most of these shortages are at entry level,” a DOPT official said. “The government has to keep in mind the career progression of the people it recruits, and keep room for promotions. That’s why there is a downward trend… It is part of the government’s cadre management strategy.”
However, while the UPSC is the most prestigious of the government’s recruitment agencies, other recruitment bodies like the Selection Staff Commission (SSC), Railway Recruitment Board and the Department of Posts have also taken fewer and fewer candidates for posting in the central government each year since 2016-17.
ThePrint approached DoPT spokesperson for a comment via WhatsApp, call and email but there was no reply until the publishing of this report.
The shrinking Staff Selection Commission
The fall in recruitments of the Staff Selection Commission, according to government data, has been the steepest.
While in 2016-17, the SSC had recruited 68,880 candidates for the central government, this number fell to just 2,106 in 2020-21 — a steep fall of 96 percent.
In the 2019-2020 fiscal, this number was 14,691. For 2017-18 and 2018-19, the recruitment was 45,391 and 16,748.
The SSC is the recruitment body of the government of India that is mandated to hire for Group ‘B’ (non-gazetted) and Group ‘C’ (non-technical) posts in the Government of India. Constituted in 1975, the commission is responsible for recruiting the bulk of the government staff belonging to the Class III and Class IV categories.
Explaining the reasons behind the dip, former DoPT Secretary Satyanand Mishra said the reason is an administrative one.
“When SSC was earlier formed, it would only recruit candidates for the positions of lower and upper division clerks in the central government,” he said. “But over time, all central government bodies outsourced their recruitment for lower staff to SSC. So there was a time around 2010-11 when the SSC was recruiting lakhs of candidates a year.”
“But since then, SSC has stopped recruiting for several government agencies. And that is why, their vacancies and recruitment are showing such a sharp dip,” Mishra added.
Another reason why SSC recruitment has dropped so dramatically is the frequent cancellation of examinations due to leakages and ongoing court cases, a second DoPT official said on condition of anonymity.
“There are several court cases going on involving the SSC, which has also impacted the recruitment,” the official said. “But with the National Recruitment Agency coming up, the recruitment process will streamline in the coming years.”
Last year, in a scathing report, a Rajya Sabha panel had pulled up the SSC for the cancellation of exams due to leakages, which it said “is causing untold agony to examinees and wastage of resources besides delaying the recruitment process”.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice also noted that there has been a surge in the number of petitions being filed against SSC in recent years, with as many as 2,123 court cases in which SSC is a party.
Railways, banking — a dip across the board
While the Indian Railways is the largest employer in the country, its recruitment for the central government dropped to just 3,873 in the FY 2020-21 from 27,427 in FY 2016-17.
The decline for the Railways, however, has not been progressive like other agencies. While in 2017-18 and 2018-19, the Railway Recruitment Board hired 25,564 and 7,325 candidates respectively, in 2019-2020, its recruitment jumped to 1,16,391.
“Recruitment is a complex process,” a Railway Board official said. “Last to last year, we recruited a large number of candidates but that number cannot be replicated each year. There has to be a requirement in the government also for the government to keep advertising posts.”
Railway Ministry spokesperson D.J. Narain further said, “One figure does not explain the full picture.”
“Railways is constantly undertaking recruitment for various vacancies. Last year was the most extraordinary year for the entire world, and Railways was no exception. Yet Railways has initiated the recruitment of NTPC (Non-Technical Popular Categories) and other vacancies,” he said. “All advertised posts are being filled up in a phased manner. Call letters have been issued to more than 40,000 ALP candidates for training schedule etc in this year. As far as NTPC recruitment for which more than 1.4 crore had applied, more than 1 crore have appeared in the exam in the last few months alone.”
However, a railway official who requested anonymity also said that there is also an attempt by the government to tighten its purse strings given the financial situation.
“Even in the railways, a lot of existing re-employed staff’s tenure has been cut short, and there are other austerity measures… Fewer recruitments is a function of that as well,” the official said.
The Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS), which conducts exams for selection of probationary officers, clerks, office assistants and other posts for nationalised and regional rural banks, is no exception to this trend.
Last year, when the IBPS advertised 1,167 vacancies for the posts of probationary officers (POs) for 2020, there was a 67 per cent drop from 2019 when the number of vacancies stood at 4,336. While the decline may have been one of the steepest in recent years, the IBPS has been recruiting fewer POs each year since 2012 when the vacancies released stood at 22,000.
In the intervening years, the number of vacancies released each year was 21,680, 16,721, 12,434, 8,822, 3,562 and 4,252 between 2013 to 2018 respectively. The banks covered by IBPS, which is an autonomous Government of India body, include Bank of Baroda, Canara Bank, Indian Bank, Punjab National Bank, Union Bank of India, among others.
An official associated with the Institute said, “Several banks have been merged, and there is also large-scale digitisation and automation across banks, which has reduced the need for large-scale recruitment… Besides, the IBPS has to recruit against vacancies requested by the individual banks.”
Fall in govt recruitment despite vacancies running in lakhs
According to DoPT data, the number of vacancies at various levels in the central government as of March 2018 stood at 6.83 lakh.
“When there is massive unemployment across the country, the easiest way for the government to address the problem was to fill the existing vacancies,” said Anupam, the National Convenor of the Yuva Halla Bol, a pan-India youth organisation and pressure group against unemployment.
“The dips in SSC and IBPS recruitments have been staggering,” he added. :There was scam after scam in SSC, and that is why recruitment hit an all-time low, but across the board you see that there is no intention in the government to give jobs to the youth.”
“At this stage, it is safe to say that the youth is losing faith in the recruitment system of this country, and all these lateral entry schemes are no consolation,” he further said. “It does not feel like just an administrative detail anymore, but there seems to be a concerted attempt to shrink the government, and outsource everything to the private sector, including governance.”
The DoPT official quoted above said several of the delays and lags in recruitment will be addressed with the National Recruitment Agency (NRA) coming in place now. “The NRA is a game-changer when it comes to government recruitment… A lot of the issues will be ironed out once it kicks in,” the official said.
In order to streamline the recruitment process for Group B and Group C posts, the government last year set up the NRA – a new organisation to conduct a G-MAT like Common Eligibility Test for screening candidates desirous of appearing for the examinations conducted by SSC, RRB and IBPS.
The NRA is meant to conduct a one-stop exam for all the non-gazetted Group B and Group C posts, which currently have close to 1.5 lakh vacancies, according to government estimates. This new system is also believed to ensure that the recruitment time is reduced from 18-20 months at present to about three months.
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