Serious complications have emerged again — surrounding Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) examination; the recruitment process in government cadre services. The last major complication was concerning the 27th BCS exams, while minor issues — question leak, unlawful recruitment, politicisation, corruption — have been frequent with this process as well as with Bangladesh Public Service Commission.
The latest debate over the “quota provision” issue has bred massive protests on public university campuses across the country. Fierce clashes also broke out at the Dhaka University campus between unsuccessful civil service aspirants and the law enforcers, Chhatra League. Soon after the result of the 34th BCS preliminary test was published, hundreds of rejected candidates took to the streets at Shahbagh, claiming that despite scoring high they didn’t qualify due to an “inconsiderate” 56 percent quota provision. They demanded cancellation of the result and abolition of the existing system so that recruitment can only happen based on merit.
In public service, 30 percent of the positions are reserved for children and grandchildren of freedom fighters, 10 percent for women, 5 percent for indigenous people, 10 percent for district quota, 1 percent for the physically challenged (special consideration) and the remaining 44 percent are recruited on the basis of the merit. The present system has been in place for years and candidates have been thoroughly disappointed. This time their frustrations turned into agitation as PSC, without any prior notice, had applied the quota system in the preliminary test — making it impossible for many to sit for the written exams. However, PSC reviewed the result in the face of demands, but the protests still continue against the existing system.
When I talked to some of the demonstrators, some of them claimed to have high scores in the test but complained that they did not qualify thanks to the quota system. It seems there is competition within the competition — the privileged few, who qualify under the quota system, compete amongst themselves. Meanwhile, the general candidates face tougher challenges just to get in. It’s not necessarily true that quota-privileged candidates are not meritorious; rather they qualify with comparatively less scores as their posts are reserved. Here’s how it works: a candidate secures 50th place and another candidate comes 150th but is favoured by the quota system; the latter will replace the former.
In the initial result, out of around 195,000, a total of 12,033 candidates — 45 percent of them on merit basis — had qualified for written examination against some 2,052 posts. However, after revision, PSC came up with a list of 46,250 candidates. Though more candidates are now eligible for written test, they still demand cancellation of the quota system, saying they will be deprived when PSC applies the same method in the final cut. They say the existing quota system is “discriminatory” and it allows “less-capable” manpower to be recruited.
Majority of them demand its abolition, including the ‘freedom fighter quota’; while others want revision of the “inconsiderate” provision to efficiently deal with the present situation. A number of candidates who qualified under the ‘freedom fighter quota’ also favour a revision. Many future applicants support the demand for reform as well. However, some sons and daughters of freedom fighters said that if the system is abolished they will strongly protest. When the arguments over abolition or reformation were going on, something more serious happened — allegations were raised against the demonstrators that they belittled freedom fighters. Though they denied, saying “nothing like that happened,” television footage showed them involved in vandalism on DU campus. The authorities suppressed the demonstrations saying that they were trying to create instability across the country. The movement is still on, albeit silently, and time and again questions will arise about the validity of the quota system.
In BCS examinations the number of quota-privileged candidates are often less than the number of the reserved posts, creating a manpower shortage in state services. PSC even arranged a couple of special BCS for quota-privileged candidates to fill up those posts, but as usual the turnout was unsatisfactory. Every year due to the existing system, many posts in government services remain vacant, obstructing a smooth run of the state organs.
Nevertheless, our constitution allows creation of the special provisions in favour of disadvantaged citizens in order to secure their representation in state service. But we have no clear definition of the “disadvantaged”. Transparency in quota-based recruitment is also questionable, and there are loopholes that provide a scope for corruption. It doesn’t need a genius to understand that these loopholes serve political interests.
There is perhaps a necessity for the quota system but one can always argue the validity of the existing system which many claim to be “discriminatory” as well as “ill-conceived”. A timely solution to this crisis is a must.
***Information was taken from a number of articles and essays published in different national newspapers.