Lateral Entry in Bureaucracy
TOPIC: General Studies 2
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
- Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.
In News: The government of India, in a pilot project, has allow lateral entry into empaneled bureaucracy and has advertised openings for 10 joint secretary posts on a contractual basis – three years, extendable up to five depending on performance. According to the advertisement, the proposal of lateral entry is “aimed at bringing in fresh ideas and new approaches to governance and also to augment manpower”.
The candidates should be above 40 years of age and hold at least a Ph.D. The positions are to be filled up by a committee headed by the cabinet secretary in another two months.
2nd ARC: The government has taken a leaf out of the second Administrative Reforms Commission in 2005, which recommended lateral entry of officers at both the Central and state levels through a transparent, institutionalized process.
Reasons that have propelled the government to explore possibilities of recruitment outside the laid-down procedures:
- The shortage of officers in large states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar
- Lack of specialisation in the civil services
- Inadequate recruitment in the early 1990s
UPSC System Bypassed: Over the fact that the government has allowed lateral entry by bypassing the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), which conducts the three-tier civil services examination annually, and has, instead, instructed the cabinet secretary-headed committee to recruit professionals. It is highly doubtful if the domain expertise and aptitude of the candidates can be assessed properly through a ‘personal interaction’ lasting a few minutes. The proposed mode of evaluation doesn’t inspire confidence about its fairness and transparency and is open to serious abuse, more so since the recruitments will not be done by UPSC but by DOPT or the departments concerned.
Increasing influence of the private sector: Business houses may use the opportunity to push in their own men and control the key government decisions. While excellence in service is highly desirable, government should ensure guard against business houses taking over government policy making.
Lack of skills is a problem concerning the Government: IAS officers do need specialisation, and the government should ask all officers to specialise in one domain after 10 years of their service. Right now, most lack that skill.
Short term vs. long term: The advantage with the current civil service is that policy makers have long-term interests in government. They also have a tradition of fairness and stake in the government. Private sector individuals brought on contract of three or five years may serve someone else’s interest as they would have no long-term stake in the government.
Questions on the Reservation Policy: Lateral entry system will not take into account the reservation policy for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and that the government would be violating the Constitution.
Note: Since the advertisement has been issued by the DOPT and not by the UPSC, it means that the selections will be done by the DOPT or the departments concerned, and not by the UPSC.
The Way Forward:
- The government should ensure that the recruits remain independent of “fissiparous tendencies”. While there needs to be a stress on a transparent process of recruitment, sanctity of the selection procedure should remain for the services to stay insulated from the government of the day.
- The government should elaborate on what expertise the candidate needs, as the openings are for highly specialised positions. Therefore, the recruitment has to be done after wide consultation and using constitutional methods.
- There is a need to fill the major skill gap –civil servant’s skills to be upgraded. We need to bring in better specialisation in the last 15 years of service post JS-level jobs. Standards of professionalism and subject matter knowledge need to be improved in the services.
- A lateral recruit should be allowed to function in a congenial and collaborative environment. That will remain a challenge. The person should be allowed to function with independence that a typical IAS officer enjoys.
Lateral induction at the level of Joint Secretary — as presently proposed — would be evaluated on the touchstone of legality, fairness, transparency, objectivity and bona fides. It is important to note that ‘government underperformance’ is a complex problem that calls for wide-ranging political, administrative and judicial reforms; only time will tell if solutions like ‘lateral entry from the private sector’ will work or not, or would end up doing more harm than good.
Connecting the Dots:
- What is lateral entry in civil services? Critically examine its effect on functioning of bureaucracy and overall governance of the country.
- Lateral entry into the civil services is a step in the right direction. However the rigid bureaucratic superstructure of India needs overhauling before such entry is allowed. Comment.