Insights into Editorial: Government opens doors to lateral entry
Recent a notification, the Department of Personnel and Training, Government of India, said the lateral entry scheme for appointing joint secretaries has been started to “invite talented and motivated Indian nationals willing to contribute towards nation building to join the Government.”
The proposal of lateral entry is aimed at bringing in fresh ideas and new approaches to governance and also to augment manpower.
In a bid to rope in the expertise of private sector professionals, Union government has notified 10 positions of joint secretaries through ‘lateral entry’ scheme.
Generally, senior bureaucrats are appointed as joint secretaries in several government departments. Any private sector professional with 15 years of work experience in any of the 10 fields like civil aviation, commerce, economic affairs can apply for the posts. The age of the candidate should not be less than 40 years.
Why needed of Lateral Entry:
Bureaucracy has faced lot of flak for its inefficiency. There is a need to change the behavioural and attitudinal part of bureaucracy.
Rationale behind the promotion of Lateral Entry:
- When talked of expertise, sectors such as water, energy, environment are broad spectrum areas. So one person cannot be an expert on the entire sector. Hence, domain expertise can be taken advantage of by bringing in environmentalists into government to frame appropriate policies and take necessary actions.
- The absolute peculiarity is lifetime tenure in services. It is not good for discipline, doesn’t motivate people and everybody rises with seniority. Too many secretarial positions destroy the hierarchy and hence there is now no accountability and no reporting.
- Lateral entry should be limited to posts where domain experts are not available in the services itself. Hence, there shouldn’t be one size fits all approach but case by case basis. The idea is to draw in people who have domain expertise. Even now on contract basis, outsider specialists are being engaged for advice.
Procedure and practices in other countries:
- There are short term lateral entrants allowed to come and work for government and leave.
- There is a culture of trust but beyond it there is a regulatory mechanism and apparatus put in place to ensure there is no misuse of role assumed when in government.
- So, with adequate safeguards, lateral entry can be made possible in India.
- It has revolving door system. Here, the lawmakers and the lobbyists switch jobs from time to time.
- In this system, more the top position, more is the influence in the government and its policies.
- The lucrative positions after government stints are arms dealer, media lobbying, pesticides and chemicals etc.
Challenges can be faced by the practice of Lateral Entry:
- India has a high corrupt system, particularly in states. So to allow private people for short term of 2-3 years where they can leave without responsibility, there cannot be any disciplinary control over them or the actions taken.
- The fairness of the selection process– the process of recruitment should not be corrupt. But the way systems work in India, unfortunately, the initial wave of enthusiasm degenerates into nepotism.
- Chief Secretary’s post has become highly political post. If chief secretary starts selecting experts, there can be huge disasters as seen in telecom sector.
- It will be difficult for the country to bring in private players for two-three years and then entangling in legal matters over the decisions taken by them.
Concerns for Lateral entry to be notice:
- Experience: The level of experience gained by regular bureaucrats during initial years dealing with common man problem will be absent in lateral entrants.
- Result oriented: Always the results need not be tangible especially in government service. Lateral entrants see the tangible part.
- Short-term results: Regular bureaucrats see long term results compared to lateral entrants.
- Profit loss: Lateral entrants will be everything in profit loss terms due to their previous experiences.
- Demotivation: For regular entrants and there might also be high attrition in bureaucracy.
- Political favouritism: They might be inducted due to their political ideology, political connections.
- Corruption and Nepotism: There are chances of them indulging in short term benefits and political executives might indulge in nepotism.
Need of the hour: Reforming the civil services:
For bureaucracy to change its system, there is a need to first bring in political reforms. Unless the politicians allow the civil servants to do their job properly, they cannot be faulted for not doing their jobs.
There is an incentive to not make any mistake but no incentive to do anything right. So there is a need to change the incentive structure for promotion. Having lateral selection after certain level of seniority within the government will allow sufficient competition in play and get good people.
Those who fail to make the cut, shall retire. It is not necessary that everyone who joins the services should retire at secretarial levels. Currently, some people are being compulsorily retired after 50years when the rigorous review is taken place.
Even at state level such steps should be taken. There should be written examinations and interviews at middle level career to weed out incompetent people.
For Instance, Lot of administration is mainly looked at Delhi. But three fourth of the administration is based outside Delhi.
There is no force to settle the political situation in some states like UP. Thus, the focus to bring in reforms should be in a right direction. For this, ground level changes have to be made. For example, District administration is the bedrock of civil service. Instead of big districts, there should be smaller ones which are handed over to junior people. This gives time to senior administration to focus on bigger issues.
More and more departments and portfolios should be combined into one. Less of secretaries and more of experts is the requirement.
A systemic cleansing approach needs to be taken to ensure that there is improvement in bureaucracy. There need to be tenure in secretarial positions as there is a need for continuity.
In SR Das report, the average tenure of the district collector is 7 months and is still a reality today. Instead there should be a commissioner in district where he is reported to.
UPSC has had an excellent record over years. The careers of the service officers is selected from the best in India. He/she has seen cross sectoral experience of 10-15 sectors. Thus they has certain advantage. The man at the top has a broad vision rather than having domain expertise. Hence, the top positions in critical areas should be reserved for within the government.
For the sectors that require more of technical and domain knowledge, lateral entry can be considered a good option. In principle it is a good idea. But the private sector should be involved only when there is a required gap to be filled. Along with recruitment, they should be also made accountable for the actions and decisions taken in capacity of a government officer.
Accountability will ensure no personal gains once the position is left. Hence, Broadly, lateral entry should be favoured only if it is to stay for long term.
Such steps will help in smooth assimilation of people from walks of life being included in the bureaucratic framework, with their professional integrity assured and no unnecessary political pressure to favour a particular community or cause. This step can also help in filling the shortage of bureaucrats at top posts and help in reducing the red tape mechanism of the country’s administrative system.
Lastly, political reforms are the key to system change in governance in country. They should be slowly induced with time to make bureaucracy more efficient.