Spirit of the times

A pre-Dashain cabinet meeting passed the police service regulations, providing for 45 per cent job reservations for specific classes of candidates competing for the police service. The new rule will apply immediately. In other words, it will apply to the hiring process for the newly created posts of 4,000 police personnel — 2,000 for the Armed Police Force and 2,000 for the non-armed Nepal Police. The recently promulgated Civil Service Act 2064 BS provides for 45 per cent reservations for women, Dalits, Janajatis and other underprivileged groups. Nepal has now entered a new era of job reservations, some half a century after India adopted it purportedly to redress the imbalance between the ‘privileged’ and ‘underprivileged’ classes. The candidates in the reserved categories will have to compete through separate examinations to be conducted for those groups. The quotas seek to make government service more ‘inclusive’.

The job quotas reflect the current populist politics. Out of the reserved 45 per cent of the total number of job openings, women get 20 per cent, Janajatis 32 per cent, Madhesis 28 per cent, Dalits 15 per cent, and backward classes five per cent. However, there is a proviso that if the eligible candidates cannot fill all the reserved vacancies, the remaining seats will be thrown open to general competition. The idea behind this legal provision is to bring into the governance process more of people of under-represented groups. This sentiment is well placed and laudable. Once the law has been enacted, it should be faithfully implemented. But, it should also be noted that this policy as it is has delivered a serious blow to merit. Even though meant for a certain period of time, this system is likely to be perpetuated because of the politics of vote banks. Neighbouring India is a case in point. Nepali politicians cannot be expected to behave differently by phasing it out, say, in two decades.

It may be too late now to speak of the demerits of the kind of reservations that does not pay attention to merit at the same time. And criticism might be considered even politically incorrect. However, a certain degree of weightage for the disadvantaged candidates in free competition could have been a better option. But populist politics of today does not have room for such considerations. The new system suffers from another serious drawback. In the name of the underprivileged, the sons and daughters of well-to-do people belonging to the reserved categories will land most reserved jobs. And these better-off people should be able to compete on their own, in view of resources and education. Mere reservations might resolve the problems for politicians, but these will not necessarily produce desirable results, even for the really underprivileged people within the reserved categories. This is because the politicians can now boast that reservations exist. What is really needed is a concrete policy aimed at benefiting the majority of the people of all categories. But such discourse may now appear to be of academic value in the present political mood.