Published: Friday, July 26, 2013

Special Feature

Caught in the Quota Conundrum

Photo: Rashed Shumon

Photo: Rashed Shumon

Dreams, Sufferance and Reality
Ali Hosen, who has graduated from Dhaka University (DU)  a year ago, recalls his childhood memories that exemplify the eternal poverty ridden pastoral Bangladesh. With his father a landless farmer and mother, a day labourer, Ali always had to struggle in school. He recalls the days when the thought of dropping out haunted him.
Add to that was the backbreaking work that he sometimes had to do in the field with his father. But after doing astoundingly well in the SSC and HSC exams, he dreamt of studying in the highest echelon of education in Bangladesh– DU, which he made possible with his regular meritorious effort. Hosen finally got admitted to the Department of Political Science and became a resident of SM Hall.
His life has been full of suffering, and a new one now awaits him. He says, “We always had to save ourselves from the wrath of our political big brothers. Besides our study and exams we were compelled to participate in all political programmes of the ruling party whether violent or not. Many a times we had to sacrifice our classes and study time.”
Such unwanted political involvement is a regular affliction for the residential students of the DU. But braving such difficulties, most of these meritorious students continue to study hard for a better future. Asked about his goal, Ali says, “Of course serving my country and the best way to serve is to go get a government job through BCS.” Not only Ali but 90 percent students of the public universities dream of joining the public service. Their relentless study for the BCS exams shows their passion for serving the country.
But how is our government evaluating their efforts? The Public Service Commission has already put a lot of hurdles in their way to the BCS. According to the students, the main obstruction they face is the quota system and the procrastinated selection process.
After the preliminary result of the 34th BCS, the students of all the public universities took to the streets to demand scrapping of the quota system. Ali, who is also an activist of this demonstration, says “Only 45 percent candidates are selected by their merit. The maximum 55 percent are from the quota of different categories. I have got 70 plus marks and didn’t get selected but a candidate carrying only 50 plus marks is being selected thanks to the quota system. I feel completely hopeless. All my dreams have been destroyed by this preposterous system.”
Joyonto Kumar Saha, a friend and a fellow activist also comments, “The government has published the new results selecting another 34,000 students but what about abolishing the quota? If this bizarre system is not removed, it will take its toll in the final selection. We will stick to our demand until the complete removal of this notorious system.”

Anti quota demonstration turns violent after police action on the protesters. Photo: Rashed Shumon

Anti quota demonstration turns violent after police action on the protesters. Photo: Rashed Shumon

Quota Facts
Through the quota system some seats for any marginalised population of the country are reserved to increase their representation in business, education or in policy making process to avoid discrimination. Bangladesh first implemented the quota system in the very first civil service recruitment after the independence.
At that time to reconstruct the war affected society as well as the administration system 30 percent quota was preserved for the freedom fighters and 10 percent quota was preserved for the war affected women. This 40 percent quota was preserved to show gratitude to those valiant people who had freed the country from an oppressive regime. But no war affected woman came to avail the benefit of this 10 percent reservation probably for not having minimum requirement or because of the social stigma associated with her ordeal in ’71.
A district quota of 40 percent was also ensured. At that time there were only19 districts in Bangladesh and this reservation was necessary to ensure the representation of under developed and far flung regions of devastated Bangladesh.
The first amendment to this quota system was made in 1976 where district quota was cut down to 20 percent and merit quota was increased to 40 percent. Others remained unchanged. In 1985 another amendment was introduced increasing the merit quota up to 45 percent and modification of the quota for war affected women to Women’s Quota. In 1997 it was declared that if freedom fighters are not available, their wards can be taken under consideration. The BNP-Jamaat- led government of 2002 declared that if wards of freedom fighters do not fulfil the job requirements, the posts should be filled up from the merit quota.
As it was alleged at that time that the freedom fighters were being deprived by that process, the present Awami League government has declared that if the wards of freedom fighters are not available, the posts allocated by the quota should remain vacant. For this reason the Public Service Commission (PSC) has applied the quota provision in the 34th BCS Preliminary exam to avoid vacuum in the government service as applying quota in the viva exam left many posts unfilled due to the lack of able candidates.

Shattered Dreams

Chhatra League, the student wing of Awami League flogged the protesters out. Photo: Palash Khan

Chhatra League, the student wing of Awami League flogged the protesters out. Photo: Palash Khan

But the current process is mired in a lot of controversies. The PSC does not reveal any pass mark for the exam, the correct answers of the MCQ (Multiple Choice Questions) type questions are also not disclosed after the exam. The candidates have claimed that PSC has administered two separate pass marks for this BCS exam. The candidates with quota have passed securing 50+ marks but those without quota didn’t pass even after securing 70+ marks. To make matters even more grievous, the students are highly disgruntled about the 30 percent freedom fighters quota and the 10 percent women quota. Joyonto Kumar Saha says, “I am the son of a Freedom Fighter but I can’t agree with this 30 percent reservation for only 1 percent of the population.” Kaniz Fatema another student says, “Women who are attending BCS are already quite privileged. What is the necessity of providing them with a quota?” Students are also tired of the corruption in this process. Quota shopping is the most common type of corruption. Candidates are producing false certificate to get included into the district quota. Producing false freedom fighter’s certificate is a very common example.
Because of extreme corruption and an illogical policy, many meritorious students have to bid farewell their dream of getting a job in the civil service. Even they are noticing that their rightful demands are being maltreated and suppressed by government machinery. The students became furious after seeing an abusive comment on the anti-quota demonstration made by Bangladesh Online Activist Network (spokesman of once popular Gonojagoron Moncho). The Moncho later withdrew the indecent comment. Their resentment has also been fuelled by some harsh comments made by the Premier Sheikh Hasina recently.

Expert’s Opinion
Former Adviser and renowned civil servant Akbar Ali Khan thinks the current quota system has major problems. He says that quota is a special provision for under privileged population, and that it’s an exception. It can’t be more than the merit provision. Quota must be less than 50 percent. It should be amended immediately. He recommended that the quota system must be time bound. That means the government must clearly declare the expiry year of a quota provision. Special provision can’t be continued after its necessity expires. District quota is being administered according to population. Therefore a brilliant student of a small and less populated district is not getting selected whereas a student with poorer marks is getting selected because he lives in a more populated district which is totally illogical. The former advisor strongly suggests amending this weird policy.
Former chairman of the PSC Dr Sadat Hossain says that quota in BCS is a national problem. It must be addressed nationally. Parliamentarians, intellectuals, experienced civil servants must discuss on this issue officially to formulate a solution. The high ranking government officials should take concrete executive measure to solve this problem”.
The BCS recruitment process is so bizarre and illogical that the amendment has now become a national claim. The recent steps taken by the government has made this issue uncertain which in turn can brew further trouble. So to avoid any unwanted situation and to ensure a brilliant and skilled workforce the government should take acceptable and rational steps to revise the BCS recruitment process.
Bangladesh civil service will be affected if the quota system forces the PSC to close its entrance to brilliant students like Ali Hosen. In a country dangerously divided like ours, we need to practice meritocracy, and the existing quota system stands as it violent adversary to that.