Lat­eral en­try of IAS of­fi­cers – con­tro­versy ver­sus the facts

Lat­eral en­try – con­tro­versy vs. facts

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - DS Sak­sena

The re­cent dopt ad­ver­tise­ment invit­ing ap­pli­ca­tions for 10 posts of joint sec­re­taries has gen­er­ated a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of con­tro­versy. The gov­ern­ment has jus­ti­fied the lat­eral in­duc­tion of ex­perts at such a se­nior level as an at­tempt to re­cruit spe­cial­ists to give mo­men­tum to its re­form agenda while the op­po­si­tion has con­demned the move as an at­tempt to plant its favourites in the bu­reau­cracy. IAS of­fi­cers are peeved; they see lat­eral in­duc­tion as a move de­signed to shat­ter their long-stand­ing dom­i­nance of the bu­reau­cracy.

The truth is more mun­dane. Look­ing at the large num­ber of posts (462) of joint sec­re­taries in var­i­ous min­istries, in­duc­tion of 10 spe­cial­ists would not make any great dif­fer­ence in the com­po­si­tion or per­for­mance of the gov­ern­ment. rather, the num­ber of joint sec­re­tary-level posts in the en­tire gov­ern­ment setup is hu­mungous; the in­come-tax depart­ment alone has 700 posts of joint sec­re­tary and above level which would make these ten posts look like a drop in the ocean. also, the in­duc­tion of ex­perts at se­nior lev­els has a long his­tory; lat­eral in­ductees like man­mo­han singh and Ig Pa­tel have ren­dered yeo­man ser­vice to the na­tion.

If we ac­cept the propo­si­tion that the bu­reau­cracy can and should per­form bet­ter, then lat­eral en­try of do­main ex­perts at se­nior lev­els is a wel­come step. In­stances are not lack­ing where of­fi­cers of the or­gan­ised ser­vices be­lieve them­selves to be om­ni­scient and refuse to up­date their knowl­edge. more­over, Ias of­fi­cers are shuf­fled in var­i­ous min­istries, which pre­vents them from gain­ing ex­per­tise in any par­tic­u­lar field. In any case, most IAS of­fi­cers are un­will­ing to come to the cen­tre which en­tails the loss of perks and crea­ture com­forts en­joyed in their state post­ings. This state­ment is borne out by the fact that most states are not pro­vid­ing cen­tral dep­u­ta­tion re­serve of IAS of­fi­cers to the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. If IAS of­fi­cers are more in­ter­ested in collectors’ and com­mis­sion­ers’ posts – which carry real power – then so be it. cen­tral min­istries would do well to be staffed by do­main ex­perts.

The main ar­gu­ment of those op­pos­ing lat­eral in­duc­tion is that some­one who had not worked as a col­lec­tor or sub-col­lec­tor would have scant knowl­edge of ad­min­is­tra­tion. Suf­fice it to say that a col­lec­tor’s main job is col­lec­tion of land rev­enue, an in­signif­i­cant stream of rev­enue and not know­ing the in­tri­ca­cies of land rev­enue col­lec­tion would not come in the way of ef­fi­cient ad­min­is­tra­tion. an­other ar­gu­ment be­ing made is that such se­nior ap­point­ments should be through the upsc. This ar­gu­ment also falls flat be­cause as of date most se­nior bu­reau­cratic ap­point­ments are made through the com­mit­tee of sec­re­taries – a con­struct of the bu­reau­cracy de­signed to by­pass upsc.

How­ever, a warn­ing is in or­der. given the cur­rent bu­reau­cratic ethos of de­lay and in­ac­tion, in­duc­tion of even the best do­main ex­perts would not change the sit­u­a­tion on the ground. ev­ery sig­nif­i­cant ac­tion of a bu­reau­crat has to meet the ap­proval of a host of agen­cies which at best re­sults in de­lay and more of­ten than not in the stymieing of new ini­tia­tives. The 4cs – the CBI, the cvc, the cag and the courts –deeply scru­ti­nise all bu­reau­cratic de­ci­sions with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight; se­ri­ous dam­age fol­lows should in­no­va­tive­ness goes wrong. on the other hand, in­ac­tion is rarely pun­ished; a num­ber of rea­sons are al­ways avail­able for not tak­ing any ac­tion. ap­par­ently, in the eyes of the gov­ern­ment re­sults are less im­por­tant than pro­ce­dure.

It goes with­out say­ing that the gov­ern­ment is en­ti­tled to the best tal­ent in the coun­try. Many bril­liant in­di­vid­u­als join IITS or med­i­cal colleges af­ter class twelve, should such per­sons be de­nied the op­por­tu­nity of join­ing gov­ern­ment ser­vice only be­cause they did not opt for it in the be­gin­ning?

most gov­ern­ment schemes fail be­cause they are not im­ple­mented on the ground by lower level func­tionar­ies who treat gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ment as a sinecure. Higher-ups gloss over failed schemes by pre­par­ing glow­ing re­ports for the gov­ern­ment. Lack of ac­count­abil­ity is of such a high or­der that no ac­tion is taken even af­ter the most ab­ject fail­ures. ev­ery bu­reau­crat gets at least a 9/10 rat­ing re­gard­less of his lack of per­for­mance. It seems that no one ever thought of hav­ing a re­al­is­tic per­for­mance ap­praisal sys­tem, for ex­am­ple, by grad­ing a depart­ment’s per­for­mance and dis­tribut­ing the depart­ment’s marks amongst its of­fi­cers.

such sys­temic short­com­ings ob­vi­ously can­not be tack­led by lat­eral en­trants, who would feel ham­strung by the un­pro­fes­sional at­mos­phere pre­vail­ing in the bu­reau­cratic world. ad­di­tion­ally, given these con­straints, lat­eral en­trants may not be able to de­liver the re­sults ex­pected of them un­less they are put in ad­vi­sory roles which would negate the very rea­son for their re­cruit­ment. Till the time ac­count­abil­ity is se­ri­ously en­forced and the fear of god is put in gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees there can be no im­prove­ment in gov­ern­ment func­tion­ing even with the best out­side tal­ent.

The de­ci­sion to bring in out­side ex­perts re­flects the gov­ern­ment’s dis­en­chant­ment with the IAS cadre. Sig­nif­i­cantly, in the last four years, out of 260 ap­point­ments at the joint sec­re­tary-level more than 100 posts went to the nonIAS of­fi­cers. Off the cuff, one may say that in­tri­ca­cies in min­istries like power, atomic en­ergy, tele­com, fi­nance and de­fence flum­mox non-ex­pert bu­reau­crats re­sult­ing in in­ac­tion and delayed de­ci­sions. For ex­am­ple, the per­pet­ual tug of war be­tween the forces and de­fence min­istry bu­reau­crats has ad­versely af­fected pro­cure­ment of badly needed arms and am­mu­ni­tion. The un­healthy re­la­tions be­tween ser­vice of­fi­cers and bu­reau­crats were brought to the coun­try’s no­tice by the un­seemly spat be­tween the de­fence min­istry and gen­eral VK singh. It is a mat­ter of record that in the in­ter­est of the na­tion, the supreme court had to me­di­ate be­tween the two ad­ver­saries. Per­haps, more un­der­stand­ing bu­reau­crats would not have al­lowed the cri­sis to blow up.

It goes with­out say­ing that the gov­ern­ment is en­ti­tled to the best tal­ent in the coun­try. many bril­liant in­di­vid­u­als join IITS or med­i­cal colleges af­ter class twelve, should such per­sons be de­nied the op­por­tu­nity of join­ing gov­ern­ment ser­vice only be­cause they did not opt for it in the be­gin­ning? In coun­tries like the USA there is a free flow of in­di­vid­u­als from gov­ern­ment to busi­ness and vicev­ersa, with­out any no­tice­able ill ef­fects. The de­ci­sion to bring in out­side ex­perts can­not be faulted only be­cause it in­ter­feres with the ca­reer pro­gres­sion of of­fi­cers of or­gan­ised ser­vices. Bu­reau­cracy should not func­tion in an ivory tower; winds from the out­side of­ten bring wel­come change.

Fi­nally, if the gov­ern­ment is se­ri­ous about bring­ing in do­main ex­perts in sig­nif­i­cant num­bers, then it would need to iden­tify the ar­eas in which such ex­perts would func­tion as also the in­ter-se re­la­tions of ex­perts with mem­bers of the or­gan­ised ser­vices. given the shrill con­tro­versy gen­er­ated by the pro­posed lat­eral in­duc­tion, one can only hope that the cur­rent ini­tia­tive does not re­main still­born but grows with time and pro­vides much re­quired fresh blood to our bu­reau­cracy.

Ashish asthana

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