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BCS quota system: legit or not?
Protests against the ‘quota-system’ in Bangladesh Civil Service (BCS) recruitment, arguably Bangladesh’s one of the most desired job have erupted again recently. Starting from the already phenomenal Shahbag, within two days of the result being published, scores of protests hit major University campuses and main city squares across the country. In an unprecedented move, the Public Service Commission (PSC) imposed two different minimum qualifying numbers in the BCS preliminary exams. Those who could not qualify, despite getting much more numbers than their counterparts having ‘freedom-fighter’s progeny’ and some other minority quota, came out to the streets en masses to protest this unparalleled move.
It is to be noted that 56% of the total public service recruitment in Bangladesh is exclusively reserved to be filled by people with ‘freedom-fighter’s progeny’, which is witnessing its third generation and some minority quotas. Under the current BCS examinations quota system, 30 per cent of the seats are reserved for children of freedom fighters and 10 per cent for women. A further 10 per cent is reserved for districts, 5 per cent for national minorities and 1 per cent for people with disabilities. Only 44 percent of the examinees are left to secure positions on the basis of merit.
Similar to other anti government protests, this protest was tackled heavy handedly. More than 150 students were injured and many were detained in several rounds. Police and BCL- student wing of ruling party have beaten the protesters, hand in hand. Pro government personalities and officials termed this movement as ‘anti Liberation War spirit’ and alleged penetration of Islami Chhatra Shibir, an Islamist student organization, into the protests. However intellectuals like Dr Asif Nazrul – a professor at University of Dhaka who teachers law, wants to see the whole thing quite the opposite way. He wrote an op-ed in a national daily where he opines the spirit of the liberation war was to free the nation from discrimination and now opportunism is being justified in the name of ‘spirit of Liberation War’. Other intellectuals and teachers like Dr Syed Monjurl Islam also spoke out against this discriminatory system.
After the 5-0 defeat in city corporation elections, it could have been another source of spiral of unpleasant events for the ruling Awami League. PSC however responded quickly and reevaluated the results, although the seat for ‘non-quota’ candidates remain the same at 45% as it was before the protests. One of the organizers of the protests posted against this apparently discriminatory system on their facebook page that, even after the change the system is ‘back to the Square one’ . Following the decision, Prime Minister’s controversial speech was the final nail in the coffin where she said that those who were active in the anti-quota movement will be identified by video footage and will be dropped off during the BCS viva exam. ‘Images of the vandalism have been provided to the Public Services Commission, which would help the PSC to identify the miscreants’, she added. These persons will not be able to qualify in any job, whether it is government or nongovernment job, the PM said.
Professor Asif Nazrul thinks that, the first constitution after independence –known as ‘72’s Constitution’ guaranteed equality and non-discriminatory policies of the government in six sections. Section 28 unequivocally ensures equal rights for every citizen of the country. However section 29 talks about the representation of any ‘backward section’ of population. According to Dr Asif, this system should have had continued until ‘proper representation’ of this ‘backward section’ is ensured. He does not buy the idea that all freedom fighters children are part of the ‘backward section’ of the society.
Even the 1972 constitution does not say anything directly or indirectly about any quota for freedom fighters. In the government gadget of Bangladesh National Assembly Discussions, no special privilege is discussed for freedom fighters per se, rather under the provision of section15 of the constitution, only disabled freedom fighters and family members of dead freedom fighters family is said to be ensured of social security benefits. In the Interim Recruitment Policy of 1972, 30% quota is said to be reserved for freedom fighters. The very notion ‘interim’ was put to make it clear that, it’s not a regular policy. Even after the recruitment of 350 freedom fighters in 1973, there were no scopes for any further expansion of this system.
It was very natural that, all the members except one of the independent pay and service commission gave veto against the quota system. The one, who was in favor, opined that from 1987 to the next 10 years quota should be extinct. However, it is in 1997 that, new amendments were arranged for the ‘children of freedom fighters’. It is already questionable that, whether they can be deemed as ‘backward section’ of the population in the first place and secondly whether 30% seats should be reserved for them is another issue of big debate. In the recent unprecedented move of PSC, the different qualifying benchmarks for quota and non quota candidates was the ultimate saga of discrimination.
Renowned ex public servant and freedom fighter Dr Akbar Ali Khan said, different qualifying benchmarks are not found even in uncivilized jungles. In a 2008 research proceedings of Bangladesh Regulatory Commission, Dr Akbar Ali Khan opined that only 44% merit based recruitment in public service is against the constitutional provisions. Exceptions are made more than regulars in this system, he added. According to him, the only legal basis of quota for freedom fighters could be established if it were to be proved that they are the ‘backward segment’ of the society and basis for the children of freedom fighters quota are even weaker, whereas now quota is being implemented for the grandchildren as well. Furthermore, news reports in New Age and Prothom Alo has found that there is huge discrepancy, irregularities and corruption in the list of Freedom Fighters, as it has become a source of profiteering. Rather than making it better, the quota system has made the very notion of freedom fighters questionable due to its mundane benefits.
Almost all non-partisan segments of the academia and civil society concur that the quota system needs a total revision. None thinks that quota should be completely wiped off. None will disagree about keeping quota for the dead or disabled freedom fighters family or minority small ethnic groups’ up-to a rational level to comply with constitutional provisions. Experts think that 56% quota based recruitment is not only degrading the quality of public service, but also it is creating huge discrimination and frustrations in the society, which may cause even greater repercussion.