Govt plans for lateral entry in higher administrative posts: Rationale and Impact

DoPT has been asked to prepare a proper proposition on lateral entries in Civil Services that deal with economy and infrastructure. As per media reports, the instructions have come from the Prime Minister’s Office to prepare a broad outline of modalities for selecting private sector executives for appointment in the ranks of Deputy Secretary, Director and Joint Secretary.

Reports suggested that the decision was taken in response to a Central Government staffing policy paper. In the paper, DoPT had indicated a lack of officers at the middle management level. According to the report, the selection of private individuals or social workers would be through a matrix of experience and qualification. The existing salary of the candidate would not be taken into account. A committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary would be responsible for the final selection. The starting estimate was of around 40 individuals comprising of successful entrepreneurs, academicians and social workers to be taken in through lateral entry mainly at the Joint Secretary level where there are less number of officers.

Rationale and Impact:

  1. After independence, there were concerns about the need for socioeconomic development, the demands of Central planning and the need of holding the nation together. Officers who qualified civil services were considered best for this task.
  2. In the present scenario, a combination of domain knowledge and relevant expertise is of prime importance for good governance which is lacking in generalist nature of work given to these officers. There is a need of shift from a career-based approach to a position-based approach for the government jobs.
  3. People like Vijay Kelkar, Dr. Manmohan Singh and Montek S. Ahluwalia were lateral entrants who did great work in their respective fields.
  4. In India a culture of trust has been missing for a long time in government services because interests and motivation vary from person to person. Therefore, short term entry of officers through lateral entry might lead to corrupt practices. A service tenure with some accountability and regulatory measures might lead to good outcomes.
  5. This should not be a one size fits all approach. Rather, the recruitment should be done on a case by case basis. The government can consider hiring people from outside to head certain pre-identified mission-mode projects and public-sector entities where private-sector expertise actually matters. It should be a mix up of both private sector and civil servants.
  6. It is difficult to assess the performance of a secretary to the government due to complex nature of the job. It would be as difficult to measure the performance of lateral entrants just like career of civil servants.
  7. However, lateral entry will address the shortfall in numbers of competent officers and will be much more target oriented.
  8. Large-scale lateral entry would also lead to vote of no-confidence in the government personnel management system. It is not clear yet how lateral entrants would be more performance-oriented and less process-compliant than the civil service, considering that process compliance is the main requirement.
  9. This idea might also increase the gaps in policymaking and implementation. The best talent can be retained only if there is reasonable assurance of reaching top level managerial positions.

Conclusion:

The idea of lateral induction is not new as it has been recommended by the 2nd Administrative Reform Commission and high level committees appointed by different government. The initiative should be welcomed and continued as good and bad experiences are there from both the people in private sector as well as in government.

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