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  1. Introduction
  2. Mention about the recent step to introduce lateral entry, along with ref. to committees advocating domain experts.
  3. Mention the benefits of such a move.
  4. Mention the associated concerns.
  5. Conclusion

The Indian Civil Service functioned through most of British rule in India as the steel frame that kept the Raj aloft. Post-independence, the role of manning the most important administrative positions in both the central and state governments fell to the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). It is hard to overstate the range and degree of influence that this cadre of officials exercises in India.

In a setup where the tenure of 70% of the IAS officers does not exceed 18 months, such a state of affairs is inevitable. The present Indian government finally seems to be on board with this view.

Recently, the government of India had opened up 10 senior joint secretary positions to a lateral entry scheme for private professionals. Presently, these positions are available in government departments relating to the economy, transportation, and the environment. This move has ignited a firestorm. By and large however, the reactions have been cautiously optimistic. It now seems inconceivable that the same administrative set up that was put in place to advance the needs of the empire is not the best suited to serve the needs of a democracy striving for rapid equitable economic growth.

In the past two decades, the Constitution Review Commission (2002), the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (2008) and the NITI Aayog’s 3 Year Action Agenda (2017) have all noted that the rising complexity of modern day policymaking is increasingly shifting the pendulum in favor of domain specialization instead of generalized competence. Each has supported lateral entry into the civil services.

In the longer run, much of the push for specialization will have to be an internal one. One proposal advocates categorizing ministries into three groups — welfare, regulatory, and economic — and then having officers spend the remainder of their careers within these groups. Another proposal draws an analogy with the armed forces and advocates for the creation of clusters such as: security, economic, engineering, social, science, and technology.

The fact is that there is a shortfall of over 20% of IAS cadre officers in 24 state cadres. In such a situation the state governments are understandably not enthused by the prospect of sending IAS officers on deputation to the center.

Inducting private sector talent at the senior levels is a benefit in three ways.

  • One, it can help to directly ameliorate the shortage of officers in key positions.
  • Second, bringing in external talent will help bring in fresh ideas, an openness to risk-taking, and a more target-oriented
  • Third, in a bureaucratic structure characterized by mediocrity, the prospect of competition would incentivize the minimization of department hopping and force all other services to specialize.

There are certainly some legitimate issues that need to be addressed with the introduction of a system of lateral induction.

To begin with, there is the question of the manner in which these private professionals are to be chosen and what degree of involvement the UPSC should have. The core concern here is ensuring that nepotism does not become a factor that results in politically connected individuals being the only ones who get appointed. The hiring guidelines currently only specify that the candidates who apply online will be called for a “personal interaction with the selection committee.” This requires further clarification.

Then there is also the possible demoralization of the career bureaucrats. This is connected to the frequently advanced argument that IAS members act as a link between the common man and policymaking by virtue of their exposure to the ground realities through field experience in their initial years of service. The absence of similar exposure and sensitivity with respect to India’s complex socio-political setup is cited as an argument against inducting private professionals into the upper rungs. It is additionally alleged that private professionals, by virtue of their specialization, suffer from tunnel vision, which obstructs broader view.

A long road of trial and error lies ahead for the present initiative to gain mass, permanence and to spread to the numerous government departments. A wide-ranging process of consultation and deliberation is required to ensure that an “institutionalized, transparent process” is put in place for lateral entrants as envisaged by the Second Administrative Reforms Commission. The Indian Civil Services shall have to rapidly adapt & change if they are to remain the steel frame and not the steel cage of India.

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