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Insights into Editorial: ‘Lateral entry’ into bureaucracy: reason, process, and controversy

 

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Context:

Recently, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) issued an advertisement seeking applications “from talented and motivated Indian nationals willing to contribute towards nation building” for three posts of Joint Secretary and 27 of Director in central government Departments.

These individuals, who would make a “lateral entry” into the government secretariat, would be contracted for three to five years.

These posts were “unreserved”, meaning were no quotas for SCs, STs and OBCs.

 

What is ‘lateral entry’ into government?

NITI Aayog, in its three-year Action Agenda, and the Sectoral Group of Secretaries (SGoS) on Governance in its report submitted in February 2017, recommended the induction of personnel at middle and senior management levels in the central government.

These ‘lateral entrants’ would be part of the central secretariat which in the normal course has only career bureaucrats from the All India Services/ Central Civil Services.

 

What is the government’s reasoning for lateral entry?

Minister of State for DoPT told Rajya Sabha that “Government has, from time to time, appointed some prominent persons for specific assignments in government, keeping in view their specialised knowledge and expertise in the domain area”.

They mentioned that  “Lateral recruitment is aimed at achieving the twin objectives of bringing in fresh talent as well as augment the availability of manpower.”

 

Living up to the demands of modern bureaucracy:

  1. A high degree of professionalism ought to be the dominant characteristic of a modern bureaucracy. The fatal failing of the Indian bureaucracy has been its low level of professional competence.
  2. The IAS officer spends more than half of his tenure on policy desks where domain knowledge is a vital prerequisite.
  3. However, in the present environment, there is no incentive for a young civil servant to acquire knowledge or to improve their skills.
  4. According to some experts, As years pass by, there is thus an exponential growth in both his ignorance and arrogance.
  5. The most important being cut-throat competition that exists in the IAS for important positions, both at the state and central levels.
  6. Due to the control that the IAS lobby exerts on the system, a large number of redundant posts in the super-time and superior scales have been created to ensure them quick promotions.
  7. Often a senior post has been split, thus diluting and diminishing the scale of responsibilities attached with the post.

 

Benefits related to lateral entry in civil services:

  1. There is huge shortfall of IAS cadre officers in state cadres. The Baswan Committee (2016) pointed out how large states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have a deficit of 75 to over 100 officers and their unwillingness to sponsor officers to go to the Centre on deputation is understandable.
  2. Outside talent from the private sector is more likely to be target-oriented, which will improve the performance of the government.
  3. More competition will encourage career civil servants to develop expertise in areas of their choice.
  4. Lateral entry infuse fresh energy and thinking into an insular, complacent and often archaic bureaucracy.
  5. It enables the entry of right-minded professionals and the adoption of best practices for improving governance.

 

Concerns: Why is lateral entry sometimes criticised?

  1. Groups representing SCs, STs and OBCs have protested the fact that there is no reservation in these appointments.
  2. The present system of ‘frequent and arbitrary transfers’ hinder gaining of the relevant experience by incumbent officers. Thus, it is unfair to brand incumbents as ‘generalists’.
  3. If given a fair chance, the incumbents too, can emulate private sector expertise.
  4. Private sector approach is profit oriented on the other hand motive of Government is public service. This is also a fundamental transition that a private sector person has to make while working in government.
  5. Lateral entry at only at top level policy making positions may have little impact on field level implementation, given the multiple links in the chain of command from the Union Government to a rural village.
  6. Many activists believe that the lateral entry will disband the reservation policy since the government does not offer a quota in contractual appointments.
  7. Lateral entrants with the right ‘connections’ may join just to enjoy the perks and privileges by cherry-picking the post.
  8. The motive of lateral entrants might be to just enhance their CV.
  9. The lateral entrants may join permanently or temporarily to simply promote vested interests of their organization/field.
  10. Civil service reforms will curtail the inordinate control that the political masters have at present. To succeed, other reforms (besides lateral entry) are needed.

A good managerial system encourages and nurtures talent from within instead of seeking to induct leadership from outside.

A credible statutory agency like the Union Public Service Commission or an autonomous agency like the Bank Board Bureau, established to hire heads of public-sector banks, should be entrusted with the responsibility of recruitment.

 

Conclusion:

An intensive training program for entrants from the private sector to civil services need to be formulated which help them understanding the complex nature of work in Government.

There should be open competition for the Lateral entry with due transparent process including all necessary checks and balances to ensure persons with integrity and political neutrality enters the government service.

After all, the structure that we have inherited is largely a colonial structure which regrettably, hasn’t undergone many changes even after 70 years of Independence.

Thus, this ‘revolving-door’ which is there in some countries can be adopted by us as long as we keep an open mind, and see how it functions. But the key again to the success of this scheme would lie in selecting the right people in a manner which is manifestly transparent.