The government of India has welcomed “outstanding individuals” to apply for the position of joint-secretary in June 2018. After winning the 2014 elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised lateral entry into the civil services to bring in more expertise into the system. This circular is an extension of that promise. Lateral entry could be a solution to the problem of an inadequate number of civil servants in the government due to the reduced hiring in the 1990s.
Lateral entry into the civil services is not new. Since the 1960s, economists and technical experts have been inducted into the government. Notable amongst them are C.Rangarajan, Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Sam Pitroda. However, in those times, the Indian Economic Service didn’t have enough strength and hence it was seen as a necessity to recruit economists into the government. However, post the 1990s, the IES has blocked all proposal to bring in outside economic expertise. This notification can be a way of formalizing the process of lateral entry. The 2002 Civil Services Review Committee recommended lateral entry into all departments where the administration will have a mix of permanent civil servants and private-professionals (Vikraman, 2018). The reason was that professionalism and integrity had declined. However, the current notification mentions the requirement of “talented and motivated individuals with expertise in 10 fields”.
Lateral entry can bring in a number of advantages. It may bring vigour into the current bureaucracy in the face of external competition for their positions. The “Steel Frame of India” has certainly become a little rusty and definitely needs to be shaken up. The design of the proposal is such that the recruits can join back into their earlier role, thereby giving them more independence. This also brings in other stakeholders into the policy formulation. The lateral entrants can also bring in a different way of thinking since their background is different to other bureaucrats in the system. The notification is only for 10 posts which could mean that the government is testing out the system which can be corrected based on the feedback.
However, the lateral entry also comes with its own disadvantages. If talent and expertise is the objective, then the bureaucracy and especially the IAS does not lack it. Many of them are PhD holders in a broad array of sectors. However, they are not posted in the department of their expertise. Hence, there are cases of an agricultural expert heading the commerce ministry and vice versa. Moreover, the average tenure of an IAS in one post is 10 months and the individual is not allowed to build expertise due to frequent transfers. The political masters cannot blame the bureaucracy for the lack of expertise if bureaucrats are not allowed to gain expertise and are not put into the department of their expertise.
Another drawback of the proposal is that the bureaucracy can be politicised. The bureaucrats are protected in the Constitution by Article 311 and their removal is near impossible. This helps them take decisions which are based on their best judgement. However, if a government can recruit individuals who have a similar ideology to the government of the day. The neutrality of the bureaucracy will be eliminated by bypassing the UPSC, which can have negative consequences for the integrity of civil servants (Mahaprashasta, 2018).
Entry of private sector expertise is not necessarily a good idea. For example, even though an expert from Monsanto might have expertise in agricultural marketing, that expert being a joint secretary in the Agricultural department will lead to the destruction of indigenous seeds in India (Mahaprashasta, 2018). Moreover, there is no dearth of outside expertise working with the government since a number of expert committees are set up from time-to-time. However, the recommendations of these committees are not always accepted. For example, the recommendations of the MS Swaminathan committee for increasing farmers’ income are gathering dust since 2006 despite a change in the ruling party is a case in point. Hence, the lateral entry doesn’t solve the problem of political indecision.
The objectives of the government are neither profit maximization or efficiency gains. The aim is welfare maximization. The bureaucrats are trained for that objective while being accountable. The 15-20 years of service conditions bureaucrats to be accountable (Sanwal, 2018). Moreover, since they have spent a large part of their career on the ground, they know challenges of implementation and hence policies are formulated keeping the ground realities in mind.
Finally, the lateral entrants are selected for 3 years, extendable up to 5 years. Hence, these entrants will be interested in short-term gains only and not long-term objectives. This might favour the party in power but maybe an impediment in the government’s objective of becoming a welfare state.
Apart from the drawbacks of lateral entrants, the notification demands scrutiny. The notification is vaguely worded. The minimum age criterion is 40 years of age and a minimum qualification is a graduate. There is mention of “expertise” in the 10 notified sectors. However, it mentions no qualification for expertise. For example, a clarification of “minimum 15 years in the respective field” would have been appropriate. In the mentioned fields, defence is one field which is excluded. Defence is a highly specialised field and private expertise or experience from one of the Armed Forces could have been beneficial here (Shankar, 2018), rather than Economic Affairs which can transfer bureaucrats from the IES cadre.
The policy of lateral entry seems a half-baked idea. The vague wordings keep the door open for discretion and politicisation of the bureaucracy. Although the civil service is in need of reform, a lateral entry would not make much of a dent. Changes in training- in the beginning of the career and mid-career will lead to suitable bureaucracy-wide changes and make course-correction easier and less disruptive.
Mahaprashasta A (2018, June 14). Bureaucrats More Wary of ‘How’ than the ‘Why’ of Lateral Entry into Civil Service. The Wire. Retrieved from https://thewire.in/government/bureaucrats-wary-of-how-not-why-of-lateral-entry-into-civil-services
Sanwal, M (2018, June 20). Going Beyond Lateral Entry in Civil Services. LiveMint. Retrieved from https://www.livemint.com/Opinion/g57gesDlNWl5D8L84JDQPI/Going-beyond-lateral-entry-in-civil-services.html
Shankar, PR (2018, July 16). Lateral Entry into the Civil Services: Why the Ministry of Defence needs it the most. DailyO. Retrieved from https://www.dailyo.in/politics/ministry-of-defence-lateral-entry-into-civil-services-defence-procurement-dr-suresh-bhamre/story/1/25500.html
Vikraman, Shaji (2018, June 12). Lateral Entry into govt: what the decades-old experience has shown. The Indian Express. Retrieved from https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/lateral-entry-into-govt-what-the-decades-old-experience-has-shown-5213567/
Image Credits: HindustanTimes
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