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Issue of lateral entry into the bureaucracy – Explained pointwise

Introduction

Recently, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has issued an advertisement. It is seeking applications for lateral entry in 30 government posts including joint-secretary level, director level postings. Similarly, in 2019 also, the UPSC recommended the appointment of nine professionals as joint secretaries. There is still a wider debate going on about lateral entry into civil services. The recent advertisement from the UPSC has again stirred the debate.

What is Lateral Entry?

  1. The word lateral means ‘from the side or sideways’. Hence, lateral entry involves the appointment of specialists from the private sector at middle and senior-level positions in the Central government.
  2. The lateral entry appointments are done on a contractual basis. Since it is not a permanent post like regular government jobs, it will dilute the monopoly of bureaucrats in the government departments.
  3. The appointments are mainly made to the post of Director, Joint Secretary, and Deputy Secretary.
  4. The maximum age limit for joint secretaries is 45 years and for director-level posts, it is 35 years. 
  5. The process was adopted as numerous agencies and groups had recommended it in the past.

Agencies/ Committees supporting lateral entry:

  1. The Constitution Review Commission recommendation of 2002: The Commission supported the lateral entry. It recommended that there is a “Need to specialise some of the generalists” by infusing new talents from the private sector.
  2. The 2nd Administrative Reform Commission recommendation of 2005: The 2nd ARC recommended an institutionalized, transparent process for lateral entry at both the Central and State levels.
  3. Other such recommendations: Eminent institutions and groups have also supported the idea of lateral entry into civil services.
    • The NITI Aayog in its three-year Action Agenda supported this idea.
    • Similarly, the Sectoral Group of Secretaries (SGoS) on Governance in their 2017 report also supported the idea of lateral entry into public services. 

Why India needs Lateral Entry into civil services?

  1. Lateral entry will ensure a balance in public service. After the economic reforms in 1991, the Indian government has taken the role of facilitator of public services. The civil servant sees the government from within, lacks the view of other stakeholders (private sector, NGO’s, etc). The Specialist, on the other hand, has domain knowledge and sees the government from outside. Thus, specialists will be able to address complex administrative challenges.
    Further by providing the
    private sector and NGOs an opportunity to participate in the governance process, lateral entry will also strengthen participatory governance.
  2. The availability of external manpower to help in meeting the shortage of personnel.
    • The Baswan Committee (2016) pointed out how large states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan have a deficit of 75 to over 100 IAS officers. Due to this, they are unwilling to sponsor officers to go to the Centre on deputation. This can be overcome by encouraging lateral entrants.
  3. The recruitment of private individuals as consultants, officers on special duty by Central government ministries has given fruitful results. Thus, there is a need for encouraging private participation at middle-level positions to improve efficiency.
    • For example, Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia (Economic Adviser in the Ministry of Finance) and C Rangarajan were few notable examples for lateral entry.
  4. Lateral entry will also solve two major flaws in public service recruitment.
    1. There are many potential and good administrators who do not participate in examinations conducted by the government during their young age. Lateral entry can be a good opportunity for them.
    2. There is also a good administrator who fall short of government requirements at a younger age. But gained a significant amount of talent at a later age. Lateral entry will provide an opportunity for him/her.
  5. Lateral entry will promote a sense of competition in bureaucracy. It will induce them to develop expertise in areas of their choice. This will reduce the self-righteous behaviour of government officials.

Criticisms against the process of Lateral Entry

  1. There is an ambiguity in the recruitment process. There is no clear policy on the determination of vacancy, shortlisting of candidates, evaluation procedure etc.
  2. Large-scale lateral induction may discourage motivated and talented officers. Such a move gives a signal that the present officers are not competent to run the government.
  3. Lateral entrants might have less field experience. The government officials reaching top positions serve 10-15 years at ground level. But the lateral entrants hired based on their theoretical (subject) experience might not have a field or practical knowledge about the government policy and its implementation.
  4. Lateral entry might act as a barrier for many aspirants preparing for competitive exams in the long run. As lateral entry means a decreased probability of reaching higher positions thereby discouraging the best talents to apply for these jobs.  
  5. The lateral entrants would find it difficult to assimilate in the bureaucratic structure within their short contractual time. This will reduce the probability of delivering optimum results within due time.
  6. A potential conflict of interest may arise in policy framing. Private people may be focused on profit maximization while government officials aspire to public service.
  7. The vulnerable sections like SCs, STs, etc. have criticized the process for sidelining the reservation policy. As the UPSC does not offer any reservation policy for lateral entrants.

Suggestions

  1. Too much induction from lateral entry should be avoided so that a fine balance between government officials and lateral entrants can be maintained.
  2. The “13-point roster” system should be implemented in the reservation. This will ensure collective vacancies are not portrayed as numerous single post advertisements.

    What is a 13 point roster formula?
    It is the Supreme Court backed formula for determining reservation in postings. After filling 13.33 positions (14 in the round figure) only,every reserved category gets at least one post.
    For example, consider if there were 13 vacancies. Based on the 13 point formula, every 4th, 7th, 8th, 12th, and 14th vacancies are reserved for OBCs, SCs, OBCs, OBCs, STs respectively.
  3. A greater weightage can be given for ‘prior consultation work’ with the government. As these people will face less difficulty in assimilation with the bureaucratic structure.
  4. The recruitment and service rules for lateral entry posts have to be clearly defined and made incentive-compatible. Apart from that, the UPSC also ensure transparency in the recruitment process. It can be done by steps like,

    • Framing a basic entry-level test to check the analytical skills, judgement capabilities, and personality traits.
    • Exploring the options of allocating cadres and putting them at least one year under State governments. During this phase, training lateral entrants in their respective position at the field level.
  5. The appointment should be restricted to sectors of finance, economy and infrastructure which are only technical in nature. It shouldn’t be extended to Home, Defence, Personnel etc. 
  6. India can also adopt good practices from the lateral entry system adopted by more developed parliamentary democracies like the UK.

Conclusion

The performance of the Indian bureaucratic structure can definitely be complemented with the lateral entry process. Lateral entrants can complement the regular government officials by bringing in new outside talents, pushing the government officials to work more for public welfare, etc. But a definite policy is the need of the hour to make the system of lateral entry more inclusive, transparent and effective.

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