- Government plans for lateral entry in higher administrative posts
Reforms in civil services:
The civil services need to bring about three fundamental changes:
- Specific clauses under All India Services and Central Services Conduct Rules have been invoked to sack offices on grounds of incompetence and corruption.
- Lateral entry: The lateral entry into the higher civil services should be welcomed but with some caveats.
- Harnessing technology: It involves infusing more and more technology into every point where a citizen interacts with the government.
What is lateral entry?
- The term ‘lateral entry’ in the civil services refers to a move by the government to appoint outsiders in the middle rung of the ministries especially in the sectors of economy and infrastructure.
- The appointments are mainly made to the post of Director, Joint Secretary and Deputy Secretary.
- The issue of lateral entry is being considered in the light of a huge shortage of officers in the middle management level of the central government that has been indicated by the Central Government Staffing Policy Paper of the Department of Personnel and Training.
Need for lateral entry in civil services:
- Shortfall in numbers: There is huge shortfall of IAS cadre officers in state cadres. The Baswan Committee (2016) pointed out how large states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have a deficit of 75 to over 100 officers and their unwillingness to sponsor officers to go to the Centre on deputation is understandable.
- Target oriented: Outside talent from the private sector is more likely to be target-oriented, which will improve the performance of the government.
- More competition will encourage career civil servants to develop expertise in areas of their choice.
- Improved governance: Lateral entry infuse fresh energy and thinking into an insular, complacent and often archaic bureaucracy.
- It enables the entry of right-minded professionals and the adoption of best practices for improving governance.
Problems associated with lateral entry:
- Disturbed balance: The proposal for lateral entry at senior decision-making levels, besides increasing the disconnect between policymaking and implementation, will also result in inequitable sharing of the benefits.
- Past experiences: While there may be exceptions, the experience of inducting private-sector managers to run public-sector enterprises is not particularly satisfactory.
- Deters the available talent: The best talent can be attracted only if there is reasonable assurance of reaching top level managerial positions.
- Any dilution of the potential horizon for growth would discourage competent and motivated people.
- Discontent among the government personnel: Large-scale lateral induction would amount to a vote of no-confidence in the government personnel management system and among highly dedicated, motivated and talented officers who have chosen to join the civil services.
- Difficulty in assessing performance: The difficulty in measuring performance in government is another obstacle to be reckoned with. It would be as difficult to measure the performance of lateral entrants as it would of career civil servants.
- A good managerial system encourages and nurtures talent from within instead of seeking to induct leadership from outside.
- For this, the remedy lies not through lateral induction but through more rigorous performance appraisal and improved personnel management.
- The recruitment and service rules for such posts have to be clearly defined and made incentive-compatible, and the processes managed transparently.
- A credible statutory agency like the Union Public Service Commission or an autonomous agency like the Bank Board Bureau, established to hire heads of public-sector banks, should be entrusted with the responsibility of recruitment.
- Competition among both serving bureaucrats and market participants would help avoid many of the problems associated with general lateral entry.
- The lateral entry strategy would be in line with the lateral entry adopted by more developed parliamentary democracies like the UK.
Government initiatives for lateral entry:
- It was recommended by the 2nd Administrative Reform Commission, high level committees appointed by different governments and a plethora of think tanks.
- In 2005, the second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) recommended an institutionalized, transparent process for lateral entry at both the Central and state levels.
- The second ARC report points out that it is both possible and desirable to incorporate elements of a position-based system where lateral entry and specialization are common.
Some of the proposals that have been made for the appointment of such outsiders are:
- Shortlisting mainly private sector executives or social workers, entrepreneurs and academicians on the basis of some set up experience and educational qualification.
- The selection is to be done by a committee with the Cabinet Secretary as the head.
- This appointment is to be restricted to only the sectors of finance, economy and infrastructure which are only technical in nature. It will not be extended to the ministries of Home, Defence, Personnel and Corporate Affairs which are mostly involved in regulating functions.
India’s bureaucracy needs reform. Internal reforms like insulation from political pressure and career paths linked to specialization—and external reforms such as lateral entry are complementary, addressing the same deficiencies from different angles.