As per our constitution, there should be no discrimination based on gender, religion, race, or place of birth. It is clear discrimination if anybody is favoured for his or her home district. The constitution also calls for special measures to facilitate the backward sections of society. For example, there should be a quota system for women in government service. However, this should have a cut-off date, in effect till they qualify on their own merit.
But reality is different. There is a quota system for government service in our country, for many who are in no way a part of the backward populace. The quota percentage is as high as 55 per cent. There is no such system anywhere else in the world. The youth strongly protest against the quota system. A different section of people in our society stands in favour of this system, coming up with all sorts of logic to support their stance. In view of the constitution, ethics and global trends, there is no substance to their logics.
Currently, only 45 per cent recruitment takes place through merit while the remaining 55 per cent through quota system. Out of 55 per cent, 30 per cent is carried out through the quota system for the offspring of freedom fighters, 10 per cent is the district quota, 10 per cent women quota and five per cent quota for the ehtnic communities. Due to the quota system, meritorious job seekers often fail to get jobs while those who are far behind the merit list get jobs in their stead.
Due to such discrimination, studies have questioned the quota system. As the head of a regulatory commission, noted freedom fighter Akbar Ali Khan carried out a study in March 2008. According to the study, the recruitment of 45 per cent of the people on the basis of merit is not constitutional. The constitution is against any discrimination with certain exceptions for quota. This exception can never constitue a 55 per cent quota, while the normal recruitment is only 45 per cent.
According to articles 28 and 29 of the constitution, there may be a quota for women and the backward sections of society. Article 29 (3) stipulates that there can be a quota for the backward section of the citizens, not any backward region. As per the constitution, there is no legal basis of freedom fighters quota. People from all walks of life participated in the liberation war. So the freedom fighters or their offspring cannot be considered as the backward section of the society.
The objection has been raised regarding the freedom fighters quota due to the emergence of forgery and corruption in this regard. Offspring of fake freedom fighters collect fake certificates, spending money and abusing power, and thus they manage government jobs. The number of freedom fighters increases during the rule of different governments, proving the farce around freedom fighters. According to the Freedom Fighters Welfare Trust, the number of freedom fighters was 69,833 in 1986. Later, the number increases at different times. In the beginning of the current government, a list of 202,300 freedom fighters was published. Allegations were raised that there are fake freedom fighters in the list.
Nothing is said about the system for freedom fighters in the constitution of 1972. This constitution was enacted in the area where the quota system for freedom fighters was not raised. According to article 15, about the social security of the citizens, disabled freedom fighters and family of dead freedom fighters are mentioned (Bangladesh Gonoparishad debate, volume-2, 1972, page-470-1). If this is elaborated, the quota system may be legal for the children of disabled or dead freedom fighters, not for others.
During the rule of Bangabanhu in 1972, the 30 per cent quota for freedom fighters was mentioned in the interim recruitment policy. The interim policy was for a quota within a certain period. In 1977, all but one member of the pay and service commission opposed the quota system. That member of the commission, however, suggested decreasing the quota percentage from 1987.
In 1997, the quota system was expanded, including the offspring of freedom fighters. If they are not found, the posts designated for them are kept vacant.
In interest of pro-quota people, the scope for competition on the basis of written and viva voce is shrunk to a great exent.
The supporters of quota system argue that there is quota in other countries too. But to the best of my knowledge, there is no extensive quota system like us in anywhere in the world. For example, in India, the quota system is known as reservation or reserved. As per constitution, there are quotas in the government services and higer eduational institutions for enlisted lower caste and ethnic people.
The Mandul Commission report of 1992 stated that the quota system was introduced for offspring of the deprived section of people including farm labourers and barbers.
According to a survey of 2006, the deprived section of Indias total population is 41 per cent while the quota has been fixed at 27 per cent. On the other hand, scheduled caste and ethnic people are 29 per cent against 22 per cent quota. In that perspective, the percentage of quota for women and tribal people is limited in comparison to the quota for the children of freedom fighters. The number of listed freedom fighters is between 200,000 and 250,000, but 30 per cent quota in the government services is reserved for them.
From an ethical angle, the quota system in Bangladesh needs to be reformed. In the current quota system, the quality of the civil administration is not only downgraded, but also instigates extreme discrimination and injustice which goes against the spirit of the liberation war. Many of our heroic freedom fighters have been wounded and killed. These freedom fighters have to be identified properly and there should be quota for the ofspring of these freedom fighters. The district quota should be revoked. Quotas for women and indigenous people should be kept. The government can keep quotas for the physically challenged people. The quota should not exceed one third of the entire recruitment.
Asif Nazrul is a professor of law at Dhaka University.
*This column, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.