On January 18, 2024, six National Commissions (Women, Dalit, Madhesi, Muslim, Indigenous Tribes, and Tharu) held a press conference to discuss the report of the National Inclusion Commission. They pointed out that despite the commission's study report, published a year ago stating that reservations would not be needed after 14 years, there is still a strong need for such commissions.
The report, published by the National Inclusion Commission as a constitutional body, sparked debate when it was released. This article will explore the ongoing discussion surrounding reservation in government services in Nepal, analyzing the conclusions of various studies conducted at different times, reviewing the ongoing reforms, and considering the future of reservation policies.
Reservation in Nepal
The reservation system, an outcome of social movements, was implemented to promote inclusion and equal opportunity for marginalized communities and genders within the state system. Currently, 45% of civil service positions are divided proportionally among specific groups (women, Madhesi, tribal, Dalit, disabled, and backward areas) to ensure inclusivity. In that, women have been allocated 33% reservation seats, Madhesi 27%, tribals 22%, Dalits 9%, disabled 5% and backward areas 4%. Nepal's constitution aims to build a society free of discrimination and promote equality for all through inclusive participation to ensure social justice.
Commissions’ view on reservation
The six different constitutional commissions, during the joint press conference, expressed that proportional inclusion is progressing slowly and that reservations are necessary. The report "Status of Inclusion in Civil Service," which was based on data from the Public Service Commission and Civil Service Library, revealed that women's representation in civil service has increased by 5.5% over the past 15 years. However, it was also noted that at this rate, it would take 136 years for women's representation to reach 50%. The indigenous tribes will require 210 years to reach 35% representation, the Dalit population will require 120 years to reach 13%, the Madhesi community will require 90 years, and the Muslim community will need 107 years to achieve proportional representation based on their population.
According to recent PSC data, communities benefiting from reservation policies have a significant presence in the open category. Over the past six years, 9,829 individuals were recommended from the reservation group, while 9,031 were recommended through the open competition during the same period.
Awareness among parents regarding educating their daughters has increased, leading to a rise in female literacy rate and school attendance. Government investment in education has attracted people from all communities towards government services.
Recommendation of Inclusion Commission
In 2079, the National Inclusion Commission released a comprehensive study on the impact of reservation in the services of the Government of Nepal. The report suggests that while reservation is a short-term measure, it should be periodically reviewed to ensure effectiveness. The study focuses on the Civil Service and Nepal Health Service and spans 198 pages detailing both the positive and negative effects of the policy.
The report highlights the benefits of reservation, such as increased public service inclusion, shifting values, greater confidence, altered perception, a sense of government accountability, social mobility, and economic transformation. Notably, the report predicts that the target of 45% representation for marginalized groups will be achieved by 2093, with women already accounting for 20% of open competition candidates.
Issues have been raised regarding surname exploitation, lack of standardization for disabled individuals, citizens residing in urban areas taking seats reserved for backward regions, repeat beneficiaries, proper record keeping of reservation entrants, increasing diversity within the group, and giving suggestions to the Public Service Commission to address these concerns. Additionally, suggestions have been made to reduce application fees, increase examination centers, and accommodate less-represented surnames.
Children of civil service employees in the first grade or higher, employees of Nepal Health Service who have reached the tenth level or higher, children of parents serving in international organizations including the United Nations, and Nepali children of foreign parents are prohibited from entering service under the reservation system. According to the inclusion commission, Mustang, Manang, and Rasuwa districts should be included in the list of backward districts due to the lower representation in the civil service from these areas. These are the recommended reforms for reservation.
The reservation group has a significant presence of limited castes, with the Adibasi community having an impressive 38.92% representation from Chaudhary, Shrestha, and Rai. The Madhesi community boasts of 50.64% representation from Yadav, Shah, Chaudhary, and Mahato. Furthermore, in the Dalit category, 37.46% of candidates were recommended from BK, Nepali, and Biswakarma, and 27.37% were recommended from Joshi, Budha, Shahi, Upadhyay, and Thapa in underprivileged regions, highlighting the need for a more diverse representation within the group.
The way ahead
As per sub-section 11 of section 7 of the Civil Service Act, 2049 (revised), the provision of the reservation is subject to review every 10 years. However, it has remained unaltered for the past 16 years. The former chairman of the Public Service Commission, Umesh Mainali, has stated that it is imperative to review the reservation system at present given that the number of groups receiving reservations is increasing from open competition. Therefore, it is high time to review the current reservation system and make necessary changes.
On 077 Paush 1, the Supreme Court delivered its judgment on the petition filed by Binod Panjiar against the Office of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. The court opined that the reservation system was being misused, and the privileged classes were availing undue benefits. The judgment emphasized that individuals belonging to families that have achieved political, economic, and social advancement, irrespective of their caste, should not be entitled to reservation benefits. The court ordered that the reservation system should avoid any kind of discrimination based on caste or class. It also stressed that the system of positive discrimination should not be repeatedly applied to the same person or family and that it should be subject to objective monitoring, evaluation, and review from time to time. It is imperative to pay special attention to policy and law to ensure that the targeted approach is followed.
Likewise, Premilal Chaudhary has filed a writ advocating for a 6.6% reservation system for the Tharus. The Supreme Court has further emphasized the need for a review of the reservation system in its verdict in 2079.
The reservation system needs to be evaluated. Government school students should be given reservation opportunities. However, it shouldn't be given repeatedly, and time limits should be specified. Witnessing a colleague's promotion due to reservation can be demotivating and lead to a brain drain. To prevent the dilution of the reservation system, it shouldn't be limited to specific castes, given that there are 142 castes in the country. Instead, sexual minorities should be included in the reservation system. The Province Civil Service Ordinance introduced by Koshi Province in 2079 is an excellent example of this. We should review and improve the reservation system instead of doing away with it.