Friday, December 26, 2003

Hurdles Ahead

The issue of reservation could open a can of worms even as many laud the roadmap for reforms in civil service


Under pressure to address issues of under-representation of women, Dalit and indigenous people, the government has formulated a roadmap for civil service administration.

But the hurry in which the government has introduced the roadmap has raised serious questions over its long-term efficacy with senior bureaucrats expressing doubts even as activists have welcomed it as a positive beginning.

The government has formulated the roadmap proposing 20 percent reservation for women, 10 percent for Dalit (untouchables) and 5 percent of indigenous people beginning April next year.

The Administrative Reform Commission (ARC) headed by the Minister for General Administration Buddhiman Tamang has already approved the roadmap, which now awaits the cabinet green light and amendment in the present Civil Service Act. As the Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa, himself, is said to have taken the keen interest, the roadmap is expected to be approved within April.

The government officials have said that the roadmap will propose time-bound reservations for the said communities. The government's chief secretary Dr. Bimal Koirala hinted that initially, it would be in place for five years.

Apart from the proposals for reservations, the roadmap also recommends that all the government ministries should have at least one woman joint secretary and an under secretary at their respective ministries by mid-July, 2004.

To facilitate women's recruitment, it also proposes that female employees in the universities and state-owned public enterprises will be provided the opportunity to fight for the first and second class officers' posts without any age bar.

Likewise, it also aims to make the curriculum of the Public Service Commission (PSC), the constitutional body authorized to recruit bureaucrats, gender friendly, and coaching classes will be conducted at local levels to encourage women candidates to apply for the civil service posts.

The women and other activists have welcomed the step as a positive beginning while senior bureaucrats opine that it may not work effectively.

"This is a good beginning. We have been calling for 33 percent reservation for women. So, there is a need to increase the reservation for women," said Dr. Durga Pokharel, chairman of National Women's Commission (NWC).

Agrees Dr. Krishna Bhattachan, former chief of the department of sociology at the Tribhuwan University - the oldest and largest university in the country. "The discrimination against minorities like women, Dalit and Janajatis are extreme. This step, although grossly inadequate, is a positive one," said Dr. Bhattachan, who has been involved in the advocacy of the rights of Dalits and indigenous people.

However, senior civil servants do not think the new roadmap will work for the country's benefit. "Look at how the reservation policy failed in our neighboring country India. We should have gone for better advocacy and training to make women, Dalit and Janajatis capable of fighting civil service exams on their merit. Even now, the civil service remains unattractive to qualified people. There is an urgent need to make our officers more efficient and capable. Such reservations will not help as it will mean that while one set of people will have to work and study hard while another set of people can just benefit from the quotas," said a member of the Public Service Commission (PSC).

"Today, they are asking for reservation for women, Dalit and indigenous community. Tomorrow many other minority communities may make similar demands. Can we afford to open up such a dangerous Pandora's Box?" asked another senior civil servant. He also said such policies cannot be made time-bound as they will become a political compulsion for the subsequent governments.

His views are shared by a joint secretary Dr. Niranjan Prasad Upadhyay, who also works at the PSC. "This kind of policy cannot be introduced in such a hurry and without adequate homework and consultations with stake-holders," he said.

In fact, the government had proposed reservations for the under-privileged segments of Nepalese society in its 'progressive agenda', which it had put forth during the government-Maoist dialogue in August this year. Although the dialogue collapsed, the government had been saying that it will go ahead with its proposals.

And then there are people who said that the current, being a nominated one may not be a properly legitimate one to announce policies with such far-reaching consequences for the nation. "I am not sure this government is qualified to announce such ambitious proposals," said another senior bureaucrat, not wanting to be named.

But Dr. Bhattachan believes that any government should be welcomed if it takes positive decision. "You have to look at the merit of the decision," he said.

There are well over 100 ethnic and caste groups in the country and well over 100 languages and dialects. However, there is a tell-tale disproportionate domination of limited caste groups particularly Brahmin, Chhetri and Newar in politics, administration and education. Occupying around 37 percent of the total population, these groups' share in the integrated national governance is 81.7 percent. Their involvement is strong in all major spheres of nation including politics, judiciary, parliament, business and economy. While the Dalit communities share almost 20 percent of the total population of Nepal (23.4 million), the country did not see a single Dalit minister since the restoration of democracy in 1990. The case of Janajatis, though not as bad as Dalit, also warrants serious attention.

There is an extremely disproportionate representation of women in all sectors of life. Take for instance the share of women in different sectors - according to different reports, women occupy 50.03 percent of population but compared to male (adult) literacy of 62.2 percent, the female literacy is only 34.6 percent. Their share in civil service is around 8.55 percent. There are only 2.04 percent of female judges. The share of female teachers is 26 percent. Among the media personnel, only 22 percent are women. Their share in the last House of Representatives, an elected legislative body, was 5.85 percent.

Many say that the disproportionate representation of various communities is also one of the reasons for the conflict in the country.

"The country's uneven development, poverty and underdevelopment, existing social and economic deprivation of socially excluded and ethnic communities provided a congenial environment for the organizational expansion (of the Maoists)," said Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat, former finance minister. The rank and file of the Maoists consist of people from deprived communities.

As such, the government's roadmap can indeed become a landmark in bringing about a change in Nepalese society and address the problem of social exclusion to an extent. But the lack of adequate homework and planning could also undo the roadmap as there is a credible threat that the civil service can become further incapable and inefficient when people are recruited based on quotas rather than merits. Any decision has to weigh in all the options available as Nepal can ill afford to act in haste and repent in leisure anymore.

Source:, December 26, 2003


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