New Delhi: The Union Public Service Commission’s ‘reserve list’, which is released about six months after Civil Service Examination (CSE) results are declared, has frequently run into controversy, with several complaining about the opaqueness with which the commission maintains and releases it.
It is alleged that the list is a way to reduce the intake of reserved category candidates into the civil services.
Last month, the allegations of opaqueness became louder with Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla’s daughter, Anjali, cracking the 2019 exam, with rumours doing the rounds that she did not even take the test. Anjali’s name was among 89 candidates on the ‘reserve list’ released on 4 January.
Responding to a question in the Rajya Sabha last week, Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh clarified that the ‘reserve list’ maintained by the UPSC as part of the civil service recruitment is not a waiting list.
Calling it a “routine procedure”, Singh said, “In the first instance, the result is declared by the commission after reducing it by the number of candidates belonging to the various categories who acquire the merit at or above the fixed general qualifying standard without availing themselves of any concession or relaxation in the eligibility or selection criteria.”
“After allocation of services to the candidates recommended in the first instance, more candidates are subsequently recommended from the consolidated ‘reserve list’ by the UPSC, as per the requisition in this regard sent from the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT),” the minister added.
As controversies around the ‘reserve list’ mount with the minister seeking to allay concerns in the Parliament, ThePrint explains what this list is, why the UPSC maintains it, the litigation around it, and why it is not a “backdoor” entry as has been alleged.
How the list is a ‘routine procedure’
The UPSC maintains the reserve list in accordance with Rule 16 (2) of the Civil Service Examination Rules, which states, “while making service allocation, the candidates belonging to SCs, STs and OBCs recommended against unreserved vacancies may be adjusted against reserved vacancies by the government if by this process they get a service of higher choice in the order of their preference”.
Each year, the government declares a certain number of vacancies in the civil services like the IAS, IPS, IRS, etc. against which the commission is supposed to recruit candidates.
Once the interview process is complete — the interview is the third and final stage of the CSE that follows the preliminary and main examinations — the commission decides a general qualifying standard.
The names of the candidates who qualify for the cut-off or the standard are released in the first list of successful candidates by the UPSC.
However, this number is always fewer than the number of vacancies declared by the government to begin with.
For example, in the CSE 2019, the number of vacancies declared by the government was 927, but the number of successful candidates declared by the UPSC in the first list was 829. The remaining vacancies are filled through the reserve list.
According to a former UPSC official, the number of candidates who come in the reserve list depends on the number of SC/ST/OBC candidates who qualify for the cut-off without availing relaxations granted to reserved category candidates like relaxations in age, attempts, etc.
“For example, if there are 100 reserved category candidates who have qualified without availing relaxations — known as Meritorious Reserved Candidates (MRC) — the UPSC puts 200 people on the reserved list,” the official said. “100 of them are from reserved categories and 100 from general.”
Explaining why this is done, the official said it is to ensure that a reserved category candidate who has not availed relaxations and qualified for the exam can, on a later stage, be given the option of availing the relaxations and get a better service.
“If an SC candidate gets rank one, then it doesn’t matter, but if she gets rank 300, then she has a chance of getting her preferred service by availing the relaxations,” the official added.
The general impression
When an MRC avails their reservation benefits, a general category seat is vacated, and the commission picks a general category student from the reserve list, and qualifies them as a successful candidate.
That is why there is an impression that more general category candidates make it through the reserve list, a DoPT official said.
“It is obvious that several reserved category candidates who did not avail their benefits will want to do it if they have not got the service of their choice… Once they do that, their general seats are vacated, and the commission picks other general category candidates for those posts,” the official said.
“That is why the candidates who make it through the reserve list seldom make it to the top services like the IAS, IPS, etc. It is because the reserved category candidate who first got services like railways, postal service, etc. have been moved to the IAS, IPS, etc.”
Given the complexity and sensitivity of the reserve list, it has been challenged in the courts before.
In 2010, the provision of allowing a reserved category candidate — who has qualified without using the benefits — to avail the benefits at a later stage was challenged in the Supreme Court. It was argued that the provision, in fact, is detrimental to the reserved categories.
The argument has been that by allowing MRCs to avail benefits, thereby making them take up reserved seats, the number of SCs, STs and OBCs who crack the CSE is reduced. This is because against each MRC who chooses to take up a reserved seat, a general category candidate is picked to fill the general category seat.
However, the Supreme Court in its order said that a good performance by an SC/ST/OBC candidate should not deter them from getting a service of their choice, and hence, the provision was upheld.
“The reserved category candidates ‘belonging to OBC, SC/ ST categories’ who are selected on merit and placed in the list of General/Unreserved category candidates, can choose to migrate to the respective reserved category at the time of allocation of services,” the court ruled.
“Such migration as envisaged by Rule 16 (2) is not inconsistent with Rule 16 (1) or Articles 14, 16 (4) and 335 of the Constitution.”