Quota reform or elimination needs a rational perspective

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quota
Corruption
Mir Mosharref Hossain Pakbir

MNA Editorial Desk: In the past week or so, Bangladesh had been swayed by a combined outrage of the students, teachers, parents and youths qualified for competitive government jobs over a controversial quota system that, after years of fomenting anger among the concerned groups, burst into  noisy protests across the country. As usual, the situation was fuelled by politicisation and undue political interference by the pro-and-anti government academics, their friends and patrons.

Very unfortunately though, the Vice Chancellor of the Dhaka University Md Akhtaruzzaman was also caught in the middle of the catastrophic controversy, a BCL student leader of a DU female hall was awfully humiliated amid right or wrong information that she has cut off the vein of another student, an information that spread like wild fire and helped deteriorate the already vicious and explosive conditions on the DU and other universities.

The protest was the largest of its kind in recent times with participation of thousands of students and support of millions of mass people throughout the country. The protest seemed to move towards violence as clashes instigated between the general students and joint forces of the police and Bangladesh Chhatra League activists which was exaggerated by several fake news in the social media. Despite efforts and promises, the protestors were not convinced to leave their position on the roads as they created huge chaos inside and outside Dhaka by blocking roads.

At last the protest ended after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared to remove quota completely. It is still unsure if the declaration of the PM or the demand of the students was justified as there are several angles related to that quota system. Quota system reform in civil service recruitment is a highly sensitive issue considering political and economic scenario of the country as it is used to ensure the welfare of the backward segment of the citizens. The quota system was introduced in Bangladesh by an executive order on September 5, 1972, prior to the adoption of the constitution.

Nevertheless, Article 28(4) of the 1972 constitution of Bangladesh promises to take effective measures for the welfare and advancement of retrograde section of citizens. Article 29 (3a) of the constitution assures making special provision in favour of any backward section of citizens for the purpose of securing their adequate representation in the service of the Republic. In 1972, 30 per cent freedom fighter quota, 40 per cent district quota for 19 districts at that time, 10 per cent war-affected women quota and 20 per cent talent quota was introduced. Through this quota system Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman led government tried to initiate development of the war torn families while ensuring the participation of people from every corner of Bangladesh.

In 1976, the district quota was reduced to 20 per cent while increasing talent quota to 40 per cent. The woman quota was reduced to 10 per cent and 5 per cent quota was introduced for ethnic minorities and 45 per cent talent quota was secured in 1985. In 1997, the sphere of quota system expanded with inclusion of freedom fighters’ children under the benefits and 1 per cent quota was reserved for disabled people and that led the talent quota to be 44 per cent.

Though the current government declared that, unfilled positions secured under quota will be filled from the merit list, the general students demanded reduction of total quota facility to 10 per cent only.

The main conflict raised from this protest was the 30 per cent freedom fighter quota which the heirs of the listed freedom fighters are enjoying and questioned its justification even after 47 years of independence. But there is a story along which is unknown to the current generation. Though this quota was established in 1972, the freedom fighters or their families could not enjoy that fully during all these years. In the state assembly election of 1970, Awami League won 288 seats out of 300. More than 80 per cent of the then 70 million East Pakistanis, actually in support of liberation war, supported the Bangabandhu-led party. These people were tortured brutally by the West Pakistani junta in 1971 for supporting the freedom fighters.

Very few of them are listed as freedom fighter and hence their family members were always deprived of facilities provided to freedom fighters. Their children are fighting in talent quota and even to facilitate them, the quota system needs to be reformed. Moreover, in war-torn Bangladesh, in initial years, very low numbers of government jobs were created which could not even accommodate the low number of listed freedom fighters.

After the brutal killing of Bangabandhu in 1975, the country was not always governed with nationalistic ideology. Rather anti-liberation war forces were in power. Hence, in spite of the quota, the freedom fighters were deprived in all sorts of civil service recruitment. This situation prevailed from 1975-1990 and then from 2001-2006. Moreover, for being a freedom fighter or for holding pro-liberation war ideology, many were deprived from promotion or were sent to forced retirement during those periods. So, actually the freedom fighters and their families were deprived for a long time even with the quota system. The freedom fighters are the best sons and daughters of this soil and any government must work to ensure the welfare of them and their families — may be not through quota but in some other forms.

The quota system does not play an effective role if the segment covered in quota can also be included in general form.

That is, for example, if women can compete in talent quota, there is not much point to have additional quota for them because that offsets the possibility of bringing in competency in the recruitment system. Currently females comprise of 49.9 per cent of the total population of around 162 million according to an estimate of 2016. For that, 49.9 per cent, there is a quota of 10 per cent and they can also grab a share in the 44 per cent of the merit quota.

For 1.32 per cent disabled population 1 per cent quota is secured. 5 per cent quota is reserved for the ethnic minorities who comprise of 1.03 per cent of total population. The certified freedom fighters are only 0.13 per cent of the population and 30 per cent quota is reserved for them which also covers their family members. This uneven quota might be pointed out as ineffective as often candidates are not found to fill up the quota.

It will be conflicting with the constitution to remove quota completely even after our prime minister, mother of education, Sheikh Hasina’s declaration. Rather it will be wise to reform it and according to us a 20 per cent total quota can be put into practice. Among that, 5 per cent for freedom fighters, 1 per cent for disabled people, 4 per cent for ethnic minorities, 5 per cent for women and 5 per cent district quota should be reinstated.

For effective use of quota system, this facility should be eliminated for any 1st class jobs. The first class cadres must be selected based on talents only. Because, they are going to perform the roles of decision makers for Bangladesh and as Bangladesh is moving forward very fast, it will be unwise to select our decision makers based on quota. Hence, the decision of PM Hasina is very justified. Quota facility should be for 2nd, 3rd and 4th class jobs only as the segment of the population that actually gains from quota facility does not actually exist in the first class cadre segment. They are more in the next level services. So, for proper and logical use of quota facility, first class cadre service should be omitted from that.

To ensure the development of the backward segment of the population, the quota system does not play a great role rather it makes them dependent and less competent. The government needs to invest in other areas to improve their lives like behind their education and condition. The investment should be made on good schools, good teachers, education and health grants, promotion of community based businesses etc. which will positively change the quality of their lives and in long term, they will be competitive enough and will require no quota. We need to create right jobs for right people and that will require a lot of planning and effort.

We cannot undoubtedly say that, the recent protest of the students were justified because if the vacant positions of the reserved quota were filled with applicants from the merit list, that actually offsets the discrimination to the most extent. We are not sure even if the decision of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to eliminate the quota system completely is justified or not.

But it was a shrewd decision to stop the protesters as it seemed the anti-liberation forces were trying to initiate some activities in the shadow of this modest student protest on somewhat logical demands. It was like we observed in 13 point demands of Hefajat-e-Islam when 20-party alliance and Jatiya Party supported their illogical demands for their political interests leading towards violence. Sadly, it became evident on several occasions that both the ruling party and the opposition always tries to take control of any protest for logical demands to capitalize on political interests despite being harmful to the national welfare.

We are well aware of student-power as they proved it in 1952, 1969, 1971, 1990 and again in 2018. We also have full confidence on the wisdom of Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina.  Hence, an expectation to reach a consensus to eliminate discrimination and to ensure the development of different segments of the population lies in our heart as we eye on the upcoming days to find out what actually happens.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Centre (DRC).