It's a very vibrant topical issue that has become almost a talk of the country that whether merit or quota system be the standard for recruitment in the government services. The campaigners in favour of quota-reforms are regularly conducting meetings, rallies and demonstrations to reform the existing quota and a students’ organisation of the ruling party are trying to prevent the quota reformers by attacking, assaulting physically, rampaging and in other offensive means. Virtually the quota reformer youths are not in favour of abolishing the quota system. They just want to reduce the prevailing 56 per cent quota to 10 per cent to create job opportunities for actually meritorious deserving candidates. Their demand is to fill up the rest 90 per cent vacancies by the candidates on the basis of merit. Moreover, if the deserving candidates are not available to fill the allocated quota, then the remaining vacancies are to be filled up by the competent candidates from the general merit list. In the wake of this raising demand, Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, realising the gravity of the problems, very compassionately responded to their grievances and assertively declared in the parliament that quota system be abolished considering some incidental factors. Consequent upon her declaration, a powerful committee has been formed headed by cabinet secretary to make recommendations to address the issues. These are the positive actions and attitude of the government to resolve the demand of the quota reformers.
But some evil practices in the name of quota reform movement have not been proved supportive to the easement of the concern, rather these damaging activities have helped muddling the situation. Say for instance, rampage, attack, looting and other destructive activities in VC’s residence by a group of hooligans in the name of movements, and on the other side frequent attack by a ruling party branded student organisation upon the demonstrators’ meetings and rallies and assaulting even the teachers supporting the demands are not at all helpful to resolve the issues in a desirable way, rather these unbecoming Machiavellian incidents will tarnish the good will of the all concerned. It is not an unusual phenomenon that some opportunists always try to swerve the track of any movement contriving to take advantage of the situation in their favour. It is not unlikely that some anti-liberation forces may infiltrate into the reformers’ methodical movement to destabilise the government by committing destructive activities. But the past experiences remind, this kind of sabotage activities by the opportunists can neither help achieve the objectives of the movement nor can it disturb the government at all. On the whole these evil practices will help vitiate the total process which results in the indiscriminate arrest and harassment of the protestor’s irrespective criminal and innocent ones.However, in spite of all the on-going controversies regarding quota vs. merit as to the standard of recruitment, it is undeniable the fact that quota system is a reality in this sub-continent, though exists according to the need of the national situations. In India, quota system exists in the form of reservation as it was introduced in 1950. This system comprises a series of measures, such as reserving access to seats in the various legislatures, to government jobs, and enrolment of higher education. The reservation nourishes the historically disadvantaged castes and tribes, listed as scheduled castes and tribes and also to those other backward classes (OBCs). The objectives of the reservation system is to enhance the social and educational status of under privileged communities and thus improve their lives. Contrarily, the opponents of the system opine that it is demarcating the societies further. It is being used to uplift one section of the society at the cost of another, which is not fair. There should be equal opportunity for all.
In Pakistan, quota system was introduced in 1948. It was introduced to give every region of the country representation according to their population. At the outset, civil service of Pakistan selects only 7.5 per cent of the applicants by merit. The opposite views also exist to quota system in Pakistan. The critics hold the opinion that it has also been a human rights issue where a person with a regional, linguistic and rural/urban background is discriminated through quota system and denied public employment.
Bangladesh context is very deep rooted. The indispensability of quota system is ingrained in the history of emerging a new nation, Bangladesh, a country, which came into being after a deluge of bloodshed, atrocities, rape and other inhuman activities. The nation achieved her independence after a strenuous freedom struggle by the valiant freedom fighters who took arms to liberate the motherland and the freedom obtained at the cost of their lives and indescribable sufferings. Consequent upon this pretext, the new born nation is obliged to reward the undaunted sons of the soil. The nation repaid her debt a little bit and immediately after independence, in 1972, Bangabandhu government by an executive order introduced 56 per cent quota in the government services out of which 30 per cent quota was allotted for the freedom fighters and the remaining 26 per cent is allotted for women, district quota, small ethnic groups and disabled persons. The rest 44 per cent vacancies would be filled up on merit basis. It is not exaggeration that the supreme sacrifices endured by the freedom fighters can be measured in terms of material benefits offered to them, nor they sacrificed everything of their life in lure of any mundane interests. They rather fought selflessly to free the country from the Pakistani invading forces. But it is nation’s obligation to do a little bit for the freedom fighters for whom we have got an independent country.
Now the pivotal points of contentions as it appears from the protestors’ views and a group of experts’ views may be summarised in the following ways:
A. Quota system cannot exist for an indefinite period. It hinders equality of right among the competent candidates.
B. A huge number of meritorious students from the poor class are struck off due to the quota system and become deprived of getting jobs despite having all eligibilities.C. The nation is deprived of quality services from real talents and this creates a poor show in our interaction with other countries to safeguard nation’s interested. They raise questions about the propriety of awarding benefits to the next generations of freedom fighters as to what sacrifices were endured by the grand-sons.
D. Quota system cannot curtail the opportunity of getting jobs on a merit basis in a country where millions of educated youth remain unemployed every year.
E. Constitutional experts opine that the existing 56 per cent quota system as opposed to merit is directly contradictory to articles 27 and 29 that respectively guarantee equality before law and equality of opportunity in public employment. This is also against the concept of the rule of law.
Now in order to reconcile the contentious issues as for and against quota system, some proposals may automatically spring up which need to be pondered over. Introspecting the context of achieving independence and the prevailing socio-economic condition, quota system cannot be abolished. But the existing 56 per cent quota may be reduced and restructured to a rational limit considering some inevitable socio-economic implications. There should be a reconciliation and harmony between the two. It has been observed that many seats from Muktijoddha quota remain vacant due to unavailability of the candidates from the quota. This practice has already been followed that these vacant posts are usually filled up by the candidates from the merit list. Now if it appears that 10/12 per cent posts from Muktijoddha quota remain vacant due to the unavailability of the claimants by making an average of last 5 years, then this quota may be reduced to 18/20 per cent from 30 per cent as the situation stands. Women and district quota may be reduced to 10 per cent from existing 20 per cent, small ethnic group and physically challenged persons’ quota may be kept unchanged (5+1=6 per cent). In this way the total quota may be reduced to 20+10+6=36 per cent from 56 per cent and the remaining 64 per cent vacancies may be filled up by the candidates on merit basis. It is to be noted that Muktijoddha quota may increase or decrease depending on the exact calculation of the last 5 years average resulting in the addition or deduction of 36 per cent quota.
The committee formed to give recommendations in quota issues should expedite their task as soon as possible in a judicious way. The more the time lingers, complexity will coil and recoil. There should not leave any scope to evoke suspicion among the parties concerned about the good will of the government in resolving the issues. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warns the student front regarding the excess committed by them recently against workers of the movement and warns them not to indulge in the same actions anymore. This pronouncement by the highest body of the government reflects that govt. will not sphere any agencies to distort the process. On the other side, the campaigners should remain vigilant so that no intruders can take advantage from their goal oriented movement which may foil their tenacious sustained efforts. Police action should be very meticulous so that the real culprits should be earmarked and punished and the committed activists should not be made victim. This should be kept in mind that any impulsive excesses made by any agency may aggravate the young generation which may affect the ensuing election.
So in fine, quick but rational, judicious and need-based solution of the long pending issue avoiding bureaucratic dilatoriness and political game may yield a sustainable result for all concerned.
The writer is an Ex-Director, Bangladesh Muktijoddha Kalyan Trust, Ministry of Liberation War Affairs, Dhaka