Lateral Entry: Modi government must not act in haste

12 June 2018, 01:35 PM
R-L (Rajnath Singh, PM Modi, Amit Shah, Sushma Swaraj )
R-L (Rajnath Singh, PM Modi, Amit Shah, Sushma Swaraj )

The Central government’s move to invite “lateral entry” of “talented and motivated Indian nationals” into a senior level of the administration is seemingly well-intended, but should be done with a lot of homework lest it falls flat like demonetisation did.

The government has decided to go for it with 10 such recruitment at the level of joint secretaries and has invited applications from “outstanding individuals”, including from the private sector in certain select areas like revenue, financial services economic affairs, agriculture, road transport and a few others.

Now that the government has decided to take the plunge, the critical element is that the selection process must be absolutely above board. Yet, it is preposterous to say that the motivation behind the move is to induct people with the RSS way of thinking. Only cynics like CPM’s Sitaram Yechury can think of such criticism. Nor does it sound credible to say that the intention is to sideline the Union Public Service Commission and appoint people of the government’s choice to important posts.

That the Indian bureaucracy has largely failed the country is a cold reality from which we cannot run away. A handful of recruitment at the level of joint secretaries cannot be a replacement for the UPSC recruitment process which caters to tens of thousands of applicants. That these 10 proposed recruits will serve a contract of three years extendable to five years is hardly the way to go about it.

Howsoever seasoned they may be as senior executives with proven merit they cannot be expected to understand the nuances of the working of the government in such a short span. They ought to be retained until the normal retirement age.

That the Indian bureaucracy needs to be shaken out of its lethargy and lack of creative inputs is beyond question. It is too complacent and inaction-oriented. If India ranks 79th in the world integrity index, among nations, it is reasonable to assume that bureaucrats at large must have either connived in it or abdicated
their tasks. This country ranks 168th in the world literacy rate index and a dismal 131st in the Human Development Index. If these indices cannot be attributed to a non-performing bureaucracy, what can?

The sloth in the Indian bureaucracy is also a result of excessive security of service and lack of accountability which are to an appalling degree. A retired Cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian who passed away three months ago had written in 2015: “The core problems afflicting the civil services stem
from larger political causes, relating to unstable state governments, rampant corruption in the states and operation of mafias, and an insecure political
executive exploiting the public servant for narrow personal ends. Politics having become the most lucrative business in the country, with few checks and
controls, there is a compulsion for the minister or political leader to tempt or coerce civil servants to collude with him for mutual benefit.”

There is indeed no major effort to reform the political system. In the circumstances, how far will reforming the bureaucracy go in reversing the rot that has set in, is anybody’s guess. Frequent transfers, ministers hand-picking the officials to work with them and sidelining of efficient but honest officers are common now, especially in the states, TSR Subramanian had pointed out.

There is too much over-staffing in the government sector. One estimate says that there are 38.76 lakh employees in the Central government alone, 50 lakh in public sector units (Central and State combined) alone. Add to this, the State Government and autonomous bodies (including central universities). It will be
around two crore employees.

The Modi government must not act in haste. Before inducting a handful of bureaucrats at the senior level from the private sector and then making that a regular practice, it needs to come to grips with the problems and reform the existing bureaucracy on the basis of reformed systems.

First Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2018 07:42 AM
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