As protests erupt, CM says Maha civil service exams in a week (2nd Ld)

Rattled as massive protests erupted across Maharashtra after the state civil service prelims were postponed for the 5th time in 12 months, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray stated here on Thursday evening that the crucial exams will be held “within a week”.

“The March 14 exams of Maharashtra Public Service Commission were postponed due to the Covid-19 crisis. Since there are lots of administrative issues involved in the current situation, the exams shall not be held this Sunday. However, the Chief Secretary shall announce the new date on Friday,” Thackeray assured in an address to the state.

Earlier, thousands of youths took to the streets across the state protesting the government move postponing the March 14 MPSC preliminary examinations, forcing police to resort to mild caning in some parts.

Some of the angry candidates threatened to “commit suicide” outside the exam centres, while others warned that they would stage sit-ins till the government withdrew the notification.

Thackeray urged them to continue their studies and await the announcement of the fresh dates and also cautioned them against falling prey to vested political interests, though sections of the candidates expressed displeasure at the postponement.

The MPSC 2020 prelims, scheduled on March 14, have been postponed for the 5th time in the past one year owing to the Covid-19 crisis, putting the future of many in jeopardy, the candidates rued.

Previously, the exams were scheduled on April 5, September 13, Sep. 20, October 11 (2020) and the latest on March 14, but were postponed owing to the pandemic and the lockdowns in force, Pune’s Yuvak Kranti Dal Kamlakar Shete said.

An estimated 260,000 plus candidates, including several women, in the 21-30 age group, who have travelled from remote parts of the state, were hoping to appear for the prelims for two objective-type papers at various centres in the state on Sunday.

Conducted annually by the statutory body, the exams would open the doors for successful candidates in various government jobs across sectors based on merit and the applicable reservation criteria.

Taken aback by the road blockades, sit-ins, slogan-shouting and other forms of agitation that erupted in Nagpur, Pune, Aurangabad, Amravati, Solapur, Nanded, Kolhapur, Jalgaon and other places, the local police and district administrations rushed to the spots to control the tempers and the situation.

At some places, the agitating students squatted or lay on the roads, vowing that they would not move from there till the exams were conducted as scheduled on March 14.

As police took to mild caning of protesting candidates in Amravati and some other places, Thackeray spoke with the Director-General of Police Hemant Nagrale and other officials instructing them to show restraint vis-a-vis the protesters.

Ruling ally and State Congress President Nana Patole, Minister Vijay Wadettiwar and others called up Thackeray and urged him to work out a solution to the sudden crisis on priority given that emotions were running high.

Bharatiya Janata Party’s Leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis slammed the Maha Vikas Aghadi government for the move and demanded that Thursday’s notification be cancelled and the exams conducted immediately.

“Such repeated postponements of the MPSC exams result in huge financial losses and mental torture to the students who prepare for it for years. The notification must be withdrawn immediately,” Fadnavis tweeted.

MVA constituent Nationalist Congress Party legislator Rohit Pawar urged the government to resolve the issue at the earliest and said he was “personally in favour of conducting the exams” but after taking all Covid-19 precautions at all venues.

“The repeated putting off has immensely traumatized the candidates. The economically weaker students make huge efforts to pay for their travel expenses to the exam centres, repeated preparations for the exams, all this goes waste with each cancellation,” Shete said.

Moreover, some senior candidates who are in the borderline age groups are worried that such cancellations would make them age-barred and deprive them of government employment.

Several other political leaders across parties have appealed to the state government and the MPSC to consider the plight of the candidates and make arrangements to hold the exams as per the schedule.