Editorial: Administer Merit into Quotas

Hire fair and ensure transparency

Local protection is always an emotive issue. It is also a popular one and has its benefits; even necessity if historical denials need to be amended. In Sikkim, there are laws and rules in place which guarantee stronger local protection than seen in most other States. Everyone, from politicians to NGO volunteers to association members, has been consistently demanding exclusive access to all job openings for local candidates. And even though this protection is reasonably well enforced in the State, it manages to steal into the headlines ever so often. And as an election cycle begins spinning faster now, expect even more rhetoric to garnish this issue. Substantial printers ink has been spilled reporting on protests and criticisms of appointment of a non-local OSD in a government department. Yes, one instance of such an appointment had caused much heartburn in the public domain as recently as two years ago, and that just goes to prove how sensitive the issue is. There are other issues facing Sikkim which demand more primacy, but this one packed in employment and local protection into one neat package, making it convenient grist for political mills. Most times, local protection is only an idea, but government employment is a very real aspiration and pursuit for many. Real, and even perceived, denial can lead to severe disaffection and disappointment. As more colleges are opened in Sikkim producing more graduates from a wider spectrum of society, aspirations will commensurately increase too and if the hiring process does not become more transparent and reliable, disaffections will grow too. Of course, when it comes to Sikkim, the matter does not 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 in office 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’ should be demanding fairer selection processes. Reservations and blanket protectionism achieve very little in the long run. Take government jobs for instance; they are reserved for local candidates, but even these opportunities have dried up now. The last State Civil Service exams 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! And now it has been some more years since, and jobs in this grade are not showing any signs of opening any time soon. 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 in 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 pushed to become competitive and respect merit. This might be urged of them in speeches and from formal platforms, but this is 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. Their ambition atrophies and their worldview shrinks to a sliver of what they have 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. Favouritism is frequently deployed to subvert selection processes and the “system” does not evoke any 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. Unfortunately, one sees the latter happen too often in Sikkim.