IAS lateral entry: Why Opposition rejects a move UK, US employ

Last Updated: Sat, Jun 16, 2018 22:48 hrs

The government of India is hiring. The requirements – minimum age of 40 years, 'talented and motivated' with higher qualifications being an added advantage. In leading newspapers and online, the government put out an advertisement in hopes of recruiting individuals outside the government apparatus for the post of joint secretary.

Such post would normally be filled by appointments from various services such as IAS, IPS etc, but this time, with this move, private sector experts and specialists are given a chance to work in a government department. Joint secretaries are part of the senior management in the government and work on policymaking and implementing various programmes and schemes of the department.

Other countries may not have the same system that exists in India, but Presidents and Prime Ministers have brought in outside professionals on an advisory basis or even given cabinet positions. In 2013, per a Telegraph report, the UK government did something similar which came in for criticism. The government was recruiting advisors on temporary civil service contracts thereby bypassing the ban on consultants that was in place. A Labour MP stated is as such – "The Government is spreading political appointments into the heart of the Civil Service".

In the United States for instance, the current and past 3 presidents have appointed people to their cabinet who have vast private sector experience along with government service. For example, some of the men who have been the head of the US Treasury have served in top positions in some of the biggest private sector banks.

In India, the reaction from the opposition to the government's initiative has been swift. Congress spokesperson alleged that this was a recruiting tool for the BJP to find like-minded individuals who may be associated with the RSS and other affiliated organizations. CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury criticized the move in a similar tone referring to Sanghis –

From the government's perspective, this is a way for them to get the best minds into the government fold to work on and help solve critical issues that affect the country. The Livemint editorial welcomed the decision –

"Since policymaking is becoming increasingly complex, it is essential to have people with specialized skills and domain expertise in important positions. Specialists coming from outside are likely to bring fresh ideas and help improve outcomes".

"However, it will be important for the top leadership to make sure that lateral entrants get space to perform. It is likely that the existing elite in the bureaucracy will not like this change".

They have received support from the private sector and some IAS officers. Last year, in a column for the Indian Express, co authors Gulzar Natarajan, a serving IAS officer and Duvvuri Subbarao, former RBI Governor and a retired IAS officer made the case for lateral entry stating that there should be annual recruitment into the IAS of professionals from diverse sectors – “It is not as if lateral entry has not been tried out. It has, but only at the margins. Both the Central government and many state governments have appointed advisers and consultants on an ad-hoc basis, for fixed tenures or even on an open-ended basis".

"Lateral entry will bring in much-needed outside experience, buffer the talent within the administration and challenge the IAS into continuous self-improvement".

The idea for such a recruitment drive of private individuals was first suggested by the NITI Aayog last year in its Three Year Action Agenda for 2017-2020. The essence of the recommendation was for specialists from various sectors to be included into the government fold and bureaucracy. Former Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog Arvind Panagariyan praised the decision by the government.

The previous Congress government did something similar; it brought in former Infosys Chief Nandan Nilekani to spearhead the Unique Identification Authority of India (UDI), which was a critical component of the Aadhar project. It also brought in expert such as Sam Pirtroda who served as Chairman of the National Knowledge Commission, an advisory body to the Prime Minister which gave policy recommendations for improving policy related institutions. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, an economist, is another example who was the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission The government currently has 2 secretaries who are on contract; Parameswaran Iyer who voluntarily retired from the IAS and came back to India from the United States to lead the Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat program and was appointed secretary in the drinking water and sanitation ministry for two years. Shah Faesal, a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and an IAS officer, in an op-ed for The Print, writes on the how the right people with the right expertise and knowledge will be able to work in the government –

“This will force all other services to specialise. The department-hopping will stop, and officers will prefer to build their expertise in one or two sectors where they are best suited. A spirit of competition will also emerge”.

The current chief of NITI Aayog, Amitabh Kant praised the system of lateral entry and bringing in outside experts as it worked well with his organisation stating that the move was long overdue and it will help UPSC entrants to start specializing. This move has also started a debate among career IAS officers and any intrusion into their turf –

“Lateral entry system, therefore, is a disruption in the classical scheme of things. It is an incursion into the forbidden IAS territory. There is certainly a risk that due process might not be followed and ill-qualified, political appointees will land up in senior positions of the government and hurt public interest”.

Having domain experts is vital to problem solving. The method should be transparent so as to build trust with the establishment bureaucrats and the public at large; given one of the criticisms of the initiatives is that such a program might be a way for the government to bring in political friends. For a large government such as India’s, problems are a plenty. Bringing in subject matter experts is welcome, provided they are not bound by the government rulebook and are allowed to implement their solutions effectively.

More columns by Varun Sukumar