Lateral Entries – A reform in Indian administration
Polity & Governance
26th Sep, 2019
The Union government recently appointed nine private sector specialists in various fields as joint secretaries in various ministries under its lateral recruitment policy.
- Posts of joint-secretaries are usually manned by officers of Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service, Indian Forest Service and Indian Revenue Service among others who are selected through a three-phased rigorous selection process undertaken by the UPSC.
What is lateral entry?
- It is the appointment of private sector professionals and academicians in the government organisation bypassing the traditional route.
- Traditionally to get into the posts of Deputy Secretary, Director and Joint Secretary in Government organisations, the candidate has to belong to Indian Civil Services which is filled by personals from - Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and Indian Revenue Service.
- Two-third of the vacancies in these services is filled by candidates who clear the three gruelling stages of UPSC Civil Services Exam– Preliminary, Main Exam, and Interview.
- One-third of the vacancies in these services are filled by promotion of eligible candidates working in different State Services.
- Lateral entry into posts of government organisation means bypassing these two options.
Inefficiency in the administration and thus the need for lateral entry
- The lack of specialisation across the top tier of Indian bureaucracy is a concern that has remained unaddressed until now.
- The assurance of a secure career path in these services has been held to be this administrative system’s biggest lacuna.
- The quasi-monopolistic hold of the career civil services on senior management position breeds complacency; inhibits innovative thinking and prevents the inflow of new ideas from outside government.
- These weaknesses have been compounded by a heavy reliance on seniority, an inadequate annual reporting system, and frequent transfers.
- It has discouraged initiative by reducing competition in the higher echelons of government.
- There is a huge shortfall in a number of recruits- 20% shortages of IAS officers in 24 state cadres of India. The Baswan Committee has pointed out this huge deficit of officers.
- There is unwillingness among officers of the state to undertake Centre deputation. They find the field work in the districts of states more interesting than the paper work of the offices during Central deputation.
What are the existing recommendations?
- The first Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) had pointed out the need for specialization as far back as in 1965.
- The Surinder Nath Committee and the Hota Committee followed suit in 2003 and 2004, respectively.
- In 2005, the second ARC recommended an institutionalized, transparent process for lateral entry at both the Central and state levels.
- Government think tank Niti Aayog had in a report highlighted that it was essential that specialists be inducted into the system through lateral entry on fixed-term contract.
How will lateral entry fulfil it?
- It will bring in fresh talent into the bureaucracy.
- Career promotions in the IAS move along seamlessly with few impediments along the way. Attempts to introduce ‘meritocracy’ hasn’t quite worked out. Bringing in experts from the professional sphere is expected to shake the IAS out of their comfort zone.
- When civil servants are made to compete with outside talent, the lethargic attitude will diminish and induce competition within the system.
- The IAS was designed for a time when the State was all-powerful. That reality somewhat changed with liberalisation in 1991, where the state was compelled to cede more space to markets. Therefore, it becomes more critical for the government to ascertain the impact its policy decisions have on various stakeholders such as the private sector, non-profits, and general public, i.e. those who have experienced government from the outside.
- Lateral entry has been adopted by Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, the UK, the Netherlands and the US.
What are the drawbacks of lateral entry?
- One of the distinguishing aspects that the current crop of IAS officers can hold up is their experience in the field, serving some of the poorest districts in our hinterlands. Those entering from privileged backgrounds and the private sector may have never seen a village school.
- The exposure and sensitivity to the country’s complex socio-political milieu and to the needs of the common man, which widespread field experience provides to these Services, may not be available in the private sector since the private sector does not have the same width and depth of exposure to this type of field experience.
- Lateral entrants from the private sector and academia and bureaucrats all are having different work culture. They may not work well with each due to differences in their working methodologies.
- The IAS establishment is likely to baulk at lateral entrants who haven’t made it through probably the hardest open competitive exam in the world. This lateral recruitment will be an unfair treatment to them.
- An issue of conflict of interest when it comes to entrants from the private sector.
- The potential loss of internal talent. The best talent can be attracted only if there is reasonable assurance of reaching top level managerial positions.
- The lateral entrants should, therefore, have mandatory ‘district immersion’, serving at least five of their first ten years in field postings. The hard grind of such field postings will make lateral entry self-selecting, drawing in only those with commitment and aptitude.
- Transparency- the details of selection process should be made available to public by the Centre with its online publication. This is so because without accountability, reform is merely an uncertain change.
- Any such reform must be complemented with other measures. For example, the worst performing civil servants must be eased out of service after 15 years based of course on criteria that are both transparent and accountable. This will open up space for lateral entrants as well, leaving the IAS a little less top heavy.
- The remedy lies not through lateral induction but through more rigorous performance appraisal and improved personnel management.
- The recruitment in the lateral entry can be done for specific mission-mode projects. Eg, Nandan Nilekani for the Aadhaar Project.
- Any new system will take time to evolve. So one can only hope that those at the top see this through till it becomes efficient and transparent and ensure a way to keep the public informed about it objectively.
Discuss how lateral entries in administration can help overcome existing inefficiencies and what are its future prospects?