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National Recruitment Agency: A mega reform for job seekers and the challenges ahead

The Common Eligibility test will ultimately eliminate multiple tests and save precious time as well as resources. This will also be a big boost to transparency in all such exams.

Anupama Kumari

The Union cabinet passed an ordinance on August 19, 2020 to set up a National Recruitment Agency (NRA), a multi-agency body, for conducting a Common Eligibility Test i.e. CET for group B and group C posts in government jobs. The Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting Prakash Javadekar said, “This decision will benefit the job seeking youth of our country and bring transparency in many government exams”. The NRA will conduct a common eligibility test for Staff Selection Commission (SSC), the Railway Recruitment Boards (RRBs) and the Institute of Banking Service Personnel (IBPS).

The first question arises here is why is there a need of NRA in India? So, if we will see the current code of conduct for government entrance exam, we will able to find the cons of existing system. According to C Chandramouli, secretary, department of personnel and training, on an average 2.5 crores to 3 crores aspirants appear for about 1.25 lakh vacancies in the central government exams every year. Also, candidates appear for 50 other recruitment tests for positions at public sector banks, railways, police, paramilitary forces and other State and Central government bodies. The recruitment cycle takes at least 18 months and is often marred by clashing dates, leaked papers and examination scams. As of now, aspirants seeking government jobs have to take different exams for various posts that are conducted by various agencies.

Such exams have same eligibility criteria but the candidates need to sit in different exams. Candidates have to pay fee to multiple agencies and also have to travel long distance for appearing such exams. Especially, the female candidates depend on a guardian to accompany them in reaching their exam centres. In 2017, we also saw the SSC paper leak case following which the exam was postponed across the country and the case is still pending in Supreme Court. Keeping in mind all such problems like repetitive expenditure, law and security related issues and venue related problems, the government of India has launched the “National Recruitment Agency”.

The NRA will be a multi-agency body to encompass the first level test currently conducted by agencies like (SSC), the Railway Recruitment Boards (RRBs) and (IBPS). Going forward it is expected that other recruitment agencies in the central government would adopt the central eligibility test (CET), in upcoming years. The government has sanctioned a sum of Rs 1517.57 crores for setting of this new recruitment agency, the expenditure will be undertaken over a period of three years. Examination centres will be set up in each district, with the Centre committing to invest in the necessary infrastructure for 117 aspirational districts. Now the all the exams will be taken together for only one time in every financial year.

Benefits for government job aspirants

After the implementation of NRA in 2021, the aspirants need not have to apply and appear separately for multiple recruitment exams. They will be able to apply once for multiple recruitment exams in various departments and take the Common Eligibility Test (CET). CET will be a preliminary level test. Its score will be valid for three years.

After the CET is conducted, NRA will send the scores of eligible candidates to the respective agencies to continue the recruitment process. So, those who clear the CET will have to appear for the mains or second level of the recruitment. For example, presently, if an aspirant wants to apply for SSC, RRB and IBPS as well, he/she will have to appear for three preliminary tests (PT) and three tier-2 exams followed by the physical tests and medical examination, wherever required. With CET, the aspirant will have to take only one CET that replaces the PT and then go ahead for the mains of all three exams. From now, CET will be conducted separately for graduate, higher secondary (12th) and matric (10th) levels twice in a year. There shall be no restriction on the number of attempts to be taken by a candidate to appear in the CET subject to the upper age limit.

The most important and beneficial change is that the examination centres will be now easily accessible for the candidates. The availability of exam centres in every district would benefit the female candidates as well. Women generally depend on a guardian (father/brother/ husband) to reach their exam centres if it is far away from their home town. The location of test centres in every district would benefit the candidates, particularly women. This will be made easier for candidates by setting examination centres in every district of the country. By focusing on the formation of 117 aspirational centres to conduct CET online, will ultimately prove very much beneficial for the poor candidates, as in the present system they have to appear in multiple examinations conducted by multiple agencies. They have to incur expenditure on examination fees, travel, boarding, lodging and other things.

The single examination is expected to reduce the financial burden on such candidates. CET scores can be shared with central and state governments, PSUs, private the sector, thus reducing recruitment costs of these organisations. This will also be helpful for undertaking recruitment to state government jobs and in future, to the private sector as well.

Challenges Ahead

It is relevant to point out that as a share of the organised workforce, the job opportunity in central government sector appears to be declining. New posts are sanctioned periodically, but a large number of vacancies remain unfilled. With growing emphasis on transferring core railway services to the private sector, there may be fewer government jobs on offer in the future. Moreover, jobs under the Centre, predominantly in the railways and defence sectors, constitute around 14% of public employment, with the rest falling within the purview of States. Reform must, therefore, have a wider reach to achieve scale. It must be marked by well-defined procedures, wide publicity and open competition, besides virtual elimination of discretion.

As a preliminary screening test, the NRA can potentially cut delays, which are a familiar feature with government, boost transparency and enable wider access. Also, if there is an increase in burden on single organisation, the implementation process will become very slow and difficult. It is true that a standardised recruitment test is an advance, but more jobs are needed to recruit more people or to decrease unemployment rate.

This new reform will provide level playing field and will be a great boon - particularly for economically deprived who cannot afford travelling to multiple centres and for women candidates who cannot travel alone to different cities because of the constraints of travel, stay and safety. Hence, the entire process of candidate selection must be a model, raising the bar on speed, efficiency and integrity.

(Author is an Intern with Academics4Nation and an Economics scholar at Benaras Hindu University)



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