For Lateral Entry In Civil Services to be Successful, Honest Selection Process is Key
The problem with the lateral entry system is lack of transparency, honesty and political interference in the selection process.
A central government advertisement seeks lateral entry for private sector specialists in select departments.
The Union government came out with an advertisement inviting applications for 10 Joint Secretary level positions in identified sectors through lateral entry method.
Since then lots of arguments for and against this step have surfaced in print media and on television. Everyone has presented their own perspective on this issue. There are few important points that need to be brought to table before embarking upon the pros and cons of this move.
First, we should remember that in a democracy like ours, civil services, and for that matter the bureaucracy as a whole, was created only as an instrument to look after the interest of populace and the country as a whole. Every step taken to change or reform a system must further and fulfil this basic objective. We need to analyse the present proposal of the Central Government on this criterion only. The argument like destroying the existing system, affecting the promotion and career prospects of IAS or other services, breaking the hegemony of IAS etc. have no relevance here.
Across the globe, there are various models of bureaucratic structures available for us all to analyse and compare with our system. Nobody can deny that Governments should get expert advice and opinion from everywhere possible to run things more efficiently for fulfilling the aspirations of people. How it should be done is the question.
There cannot be any argument against lateral entry of people at any level, least of at the level of Joint Secretary. We all know that lateral entry has been done at the secretary level in numerous ministries like Petroleum, Power, Commerce, Finance, Economic Affairs, Steel, Agriculture, Defence Production. By the way these are the most important and sought after ministries in Government of India. I do not remember that there was ever any opposition of outsiders being appointed as Secretaries to these important departments when the governments of the day wants to have people with domain expertise to head certain departments. So the present action of government should in no way raise any alarm in any quarter on the ground that this step is against the larger interest of the system. The concept of lateral entry at various levels was even recommended by Administrative Reforms Commission and various other expert groups to make the system more responsive to the needs and aspirations of people.
The problem with the lateral entry system is lack of transparency, honesty and political interference in the selection process. Nobody knows why a particular individual was selected to head a particular department as Secretary and why others were not given the opportunity to serve at the top. Nobody knows why some individuals were selected and on what basis and why were many others more qualified left out.
There are innumerable examples of less qualified people selected and appointed in a totally opaque manner to very senior positions in Central Government from time to time .
People argue that through transparent selection processes also the system is prone to selecting less qualified and incompetent people to important positions like Vice Chancellors, Directors to various National Level Institutions, CMD of PSU’s etc.
Clearly, poor selection of people to man higher positions is one of the most glaring shortcoming of our governance for past several decades and due to this we as a nation have paid a very heavy price. This problem will be solved only when politics in our country will become honest, clean, selfless and oriented towards serving the people.
The primary task of the government should be to ensure that the process of selection to government jobs remains honest and free from interference from the politicians. On this account, the present lateral entry proposal fails miserably. The question is why a committee under the Chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary has been asked to select the lateral entry JS level officers, and why UPSC was not tasked to select these lateral entry Joint Secretary level officers.
Fortunately, Union Public Service Commission, over the years, has been able to establish its credibility as an honest and transparent organisation in the eyes of people. The government must recognise the fact that in public life perception is more important than reality. In this case there is a widespread perception that the present day Central government wants its own people put in important positions in the government through this exercise. This action is going to open up a new chapter in administrative history of India establishing a wrong precedent of getting committed people in senior positions.
The argument that the present system has failed to perform and fulfil the aspirations of common people is valid but the question that needs to be asked is who allowed incompetent and corrupt officers to not only flourish in our system for decades, but to dominate it?
Changes in any system are essential to keep it vibrant but any change which does not pass the test of “honest intention” needs to be discarded.
Government must look within and modify the selection process otherwise further damage will be caused to the otherwise inefficient, corrupt and self serving administrative system of ours.
(The writer is a former Secretary in the government of India. The views expressed are personal)
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