Saturday, August 2, 2014

Fair Selection More Important Than Reservations

Local protection is always an emotive issue. It is also a popular one and does have its benefits. In Sikkim, there are laws and rules in place which guarantee stronger local protection in employment opportunities than any other State in the country. Everyone - from politicians to NGO volunteers to association members - has been consistently demanding exclusive access to all job openings for local candidates. And then matters don’t end with just local protection, because even within this, quotas have to be accommodated to make every community feel special and, well, protected. But, if the present generation has any serious plans to ensure that at least the next generation gets a fighting chance to rise above the mediocrity that the generation on the wane has bequeathed Sikkim, instead of greater ‘protection’ they would be demanding fairer selection processes.
Reservations and blanket protectionism achieve very little in the long run. Take government jobs for example; they are reserved for local candidates, but even they have dried up now. The State Civil Service exams held recently had 25 vacancies in the Under Secretary level and a mere two for Deputy Superintendents of Police. And this slim picking even though the exams were being held after a gap of eight years! So yes, government jobs, at least the ones opened to competition, are running low. Understandably then, the one reason why voices demanding stricter enforcement of local protection in jobs are getting more stringent nowadays is because employment opportunities with the government have become scarce. These demands however might not have been so urgent had the system equipped the young with the tools to secure appointments at the national and global job-markets, or even promoted entrepreneurship more effectively. The youth are not competitive enough not because of some infected chip hotwired into their genetic code, but because they were not consistently encouraged to become competitive and respect merit. This might be called of them in speeches and from formal platforms, but this not what they see being practiced. When a generation is allowed to grow up thinking that it is somehow deserving of sidestepping merit, it will remain obsessed with its portion of a quota and that shrinks their ambition and worldview to a sliver of what everyone has potential for. Once that happens, they will have no respect for merit and eyes only for ‘documents’ and certificates. A good place to begin a course correction will be to institutionalize selection on merit. Guaranteeing a fair selection process [in jobs], however, is easier said than done in Sikkim. Politicians and bureaucrats are known to place individual concerns ahead of common good. The regular appointment of a favoured few on ad-hoc basis to subvert the selection process and then regularization of their services when the dust kicked up by their appointment has settled, evokes no confidence. But, it is possible to institutionalize a fair selection process and enforce it. Many will rightly comment that this requires political will and this is easily arranged if there is a genuine demand from the voters that they want only the best to handle responsibilities which affect future generations. What Sikkim requires at this juncture is a demand for quality, not more reservations.
As mentioned, there is nothing inherently wrong with local protection, but to start with, at least within this structure, prioritize merit and while mediocrity need not be condemned, don’t celebrate it at the cost of merit. One sees that happen too often in Sikkim. That said, there are earnest initiatives like the Chief Minister’s Merit Scholarship scheme and the all-expenses paid scholarship on offer for Sikkim students who make it into any of the top-10 universities of world on merit. This attitude needs to percolate to all aspects of governance and education in Sikkim.

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