India Today - - INSIDE - By Ajit Ku­mar Jha

In­dia’s bu­reau­cracy faces a se­vere shortage of ex­perts. Can lat­eral en­try solve the prob­lem?

One of the first tasks the Naren­dra Modi gov­ern­ment set it­self af­ter as­sum­ing of­fice for a sec­ond term was to grap­ple with the in­ad­e­qua­cies of the cur­rent bu­reau­cracy. Pos­si­bly the most glar­ing of those is a mas­sive shortage of ad­min­is­tra­tors in gov­ern­ment. The scale of the prob­lem was flagged in the Lok Sabha on July 4 by Union min­is­ter for labour and em­ploy­ment San­tosh Gang­war when he in­formed the House that al­most 700,000 gov­ern­ment posts were va­cant as of March 2018, 260,000 of them in the In­dian Rail­ways alone.

One way of fill­ing the va­can­cies is ‘lat­eral en­try’, by­pass­ing the stan­dard route of in­duct­ing civil ser­vants via the In­dian Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser­vice (IAS) and re­cruit­ing di­rectly from the pri­vate sec­tor. On this count, in June this year, Dr C. Chan­dramouli, sec­re­tary of the Depart­ment of Per­son­nel and Train­ing (DoPT), asked of­fi­cials to pre­pare a pro­posal for the in­duc­tion of pri­vate sec­tor ex­perts to the deputy sec­re­tary and di­rec­tor level po­si­tions in the IAS. Ac­cord­ing to sources, a to­tal of 40 such spe­cial­ist of­fi­cers are likely to be ap­pointed lat­er­ally. Even the NITI Aayog, the cen­tral gov­ern­ment think-tank, might do the same for deputy sec­re­tary and joint sec­re­tary level po­si­tions.

‘To­day, the com­plex­ity of the econ­omy means that pol­i­cy­mak­ing is a highly spe­cialised ac­tiv­ity. There­fore, it is es­sen­tial that spe­cial­ists be in­ducted into the sys­tem. Lat­eral en­try will also have the ben­e­fi­cial side ef­fect of bring­ing com­pe­ti­tion to the es­tab­lished ca­reer bu­reau­cracy,’ notes a draft report by the NITI Aayog on civil ser­vices re­form.


That be­ing said, lat­eral en­try into the ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices is not a new idea. It is a widely ap­plied prac­tice, with the govern­ments of the US, the UK, Aus­tralia and New Zealand as well as sev­eral mem­bers of the Euro­pean Union do­ing the same. Even in In­dia, the idea was pro­posed as early as 2001, when the Union Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion (UPSC) report of the civil ser­vices ex­am­i­na­tion re­view com­mit­tee, chaired by noted econ­o­mist Yogin­der Alagh, rec­om­mended lat­eral en­try into the mid­dle and top tiers of the bu­reau­cracy. Then, in 2005, the sec­ond Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­forms Com­mis­sion (ARC), chaired by Veer­appa Moily, rec­om­mended that an in­sti­tu­tion­alised, trans­par­ent process be es­tab­lished for lat­eral en­try into cen­tral and state gov­ern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tive po­si­tions. The year af­ter that, the Jus­tice B.N. Srikr­ishna-headed sixth cen­tral pay com­mis­sion report re­it­er­ated the recom­men

da­tion, stat­ing that lat­eral en­try could also ‘en­sure en­try and re­ten­tion of tal­ent in the civil ser­vices’.

There is also no­table prece­dent for highly qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­als be­ing lat­er­ally in­ducted into the top ech­e­lons of ad­min­is­tra­tion. The list in­cludes heavy­weights such as for­mer prime min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh, Mon­tek Singh Ah­luwalia, Raghu­ram Rajan, Ur­jit Patel, Arvind Pana­gariya, Arvind Subra­ma­nian and Nan­dan Nilekani, among sev­eral oth­ers.

How­ever, re­sis­tance from the strong IAS lobby and sheer in­sti­tu­tional in­er­tia has so far led to these rec­om­men­da­tions re­main­ing words on pa­per, or be­ing mired in ad­min­is­tra­tive de­lays. The NDA gov­ern­ment had taken up this is­sue in June last year, rec­om­mend­ing the in­duc­tion of pri­vate sec­tor pro­fes­sion­als to se­nior joint sec­re­tary level po­si­tions in the IAS. In April this year, the UPSC se­lected nine pro­fes­sion­als for these va­cant posts. De­spite the fact that the list in­cludes IIT and IIM alumni, Rhodes schol­ars and grad­u­ates of in­sti­tutes as renowned as Ox­ford, none of them has been in­ducted as yet.

While these pro­pos­als have been mooted in the past, the Modi gov­ern­ment’s of­fi­cial pol­icy de­ci­sion to em­ploy lat­eral en­try on a large scale is an am­bi­tious, out-of-the­box at­tempt to solve the prob­lem. Ex­perts say this move was trig­gered by the NITI Aayog’s 2017 report, which un­der­lined the ur­gent need to in­duct spe­cial­ists into the ad­min­is­tra­tive sys­tems. It was also pre­sented as a so­lu­tion to the dire shortage of se­nior bu­reau­crats, es­pe­cially in the IAS, which has only 5,004 such of­fi­cers, against an au­tho­rised strength of 6,500. This shortage also af­fects other gov­ern­ment sec­tors, in­clud­ing in the po­lice and ju­di­ciary. It is es­pe­cially acute in the Hindi heart­land states, in­clud­ing Bi­har, Ut­tar Pradesh, Mad­hya Pradesh, Ch­hat­tis­garh, Jhark­hand and Ra­jasthan. In In­dia’s most pop­u­lous state, UP, the over­all shortage is 43 per cent, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 study.


Those who ad­vo­cate ‘min­i­mum gov­ern­ment’ of­ten de­scribe the bu­reau­cracy as ‘bloated’, ar­gu­ing that va­can­cies do not need to be filled be­cause the ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices are al­ready over­staffed. How­ever, pub­lic ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­perts dis­agree, ar­gu­ing that the In­dian civil ser­vices are fac­ing an acute shortage of skilled work­ers and do­main ex­perts. This dis­agree­ment is a big rea­son for the slow progress in adopt­ing lat­eral en­try as a method of fill­ing gov­ern­ment posts. An­other point of con­tention is the role of the bu­reau­cracy in In­dia’s suc­cesses.

Sabeer Bha­tia, the founder of Hot­mail—who is in favour of lat­eral en­try—ar­gues that In­dia has had some spec­tac­u­lar, na­tion-trans­form­ing suc­cesses that owe noth­ing to the bu­reau­cracy. Bha­tia cites the ex­am­ple of the Green Rev­o­lu­tion, In­dia’s space and atomic en­ergy pro­grammes, the roll­out of Aad­haar and the Uni­fied Pay­ments In­ter­face,

tele­com dereg­u­la­tion and the lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of the fi­nan­cial sec­tor, among oth­ers. “Take the four most in­no­va­tive and, there­fore, lu­cra­tive in­dus­tries to­day,” he con­tin­ues. “These in­clude semiconduc­tors, avionics, med­i­cal equip­ment and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals. What value has the In­dian bu­reau­cracy added to these sec­tors? Zero. The global semi­con­duc­tor in­dus­try, for ex­am­ple, has a healthy per­cent­age of In­di­ans in lead­er­ship po­si­tions—and yet, In­dia’s na­tional con­tri­bu­tion re­mains nil.” The In­dian gov­ern­ment can­not con­trib­ute to such spe­cialised (and re­mu­ner­a­tive) sec­tors, he ar­gues, with­out ex­perts from the global mar­ket be­ing brought into lead­er­ship po­si­tions in the bu­reau­cracy—which de­pends on the adop­tion of lat­eral en­try.

Shailaja Chan­dra, a for­mer sec­re­tary in the gov­ern­ment, takes the ar­gu­ment fur­ther, say­ing in spe­cialised ar­eas “like fi­nance, ac­counts, tax­a­tion, le­gal af­fairs, dis­in­vest­ment, and bud­get­ing, pro­cure­ment and rev­enue collection” lat­eral en­try is likely to be ef­fec­tive. “In such ar­eas, mid-level lat­eral en­trants can bring skills that IAS of­fi­cers or Group A of­fi­cers do not pos­sess.” How­ever, she also notes that “the IAS, as a ser­vice, re­mains in­dis­pens­able to the process of gov­ern­ment. No lat­eral in­ductees can ever re­place it,” cau­tion­ing that the process must not “de­te­ri­o­rate into a re­volv­ing door be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor, au­dit and char­tered ac­coun­tancy firms and think­tanks set up by in­dus­try.”

How­ever, many civil ser­vants dis­agree hotly with the wis­dom of lat­eral in­duc­tions, ar­gu­ing that the in-field ex­pe­ri­ence and knowl­edge of gov­ern­ment pro­cesses, ad­min­is­tra­tive hur­dles and work­arounds that IAS of­fi­cers bring to the ta­ble are a form of ex­per­tise that pri­vate sec­tor pro­fes­sion­als can­not pos­si­bly have. “Ex­ter­nal tal­ent can­not bridge the gap be­tween pol­i­cy­mak­ing and ground-level im­ple­men­ta­tion the way ca­reer civil ser­vants can,” says a chief sec­re­tary, re­quest­ing anonymity. Crit­ics from within the bu­reau­cracy also al­lege that lat­eral en­try is un­con­sti­tu­tional, con­trary to the pub­lic good and is likely to by­pass the sys­tem of quo­tas meant to en­sure that sched­uled castes and sched­uled tribes have ap­pro­pri­ate lev­els of rep­re­sen­ta­tion. “This move to in­duct pri­vate tal­ent into the gov­ern­ment, [by­pass­ing] reser­va­tions, is il­le­gal and can be chal­lenged both in court and in Par­lia­ment,” says for­mer BJP MP and In­dian Rev­enue Ser­vice of­fi­cer Udit Raj (who switched to the Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha elec­tion). And there are other protests against the NDA gov­ern­ment’s new pol­icy di­rec­tion. Congress leader Veer­appa Moily, for in­stance, who had him­self rec­om­mended lat­eral en­try to the bu­reau­cracy as chair­man of the sec­ond ARC report, says, “The BJP gov­ern­ment’s move on lat­eral re­cruit­ment is part of its roadmap to saf­fro­nise the civil ser­vices.”


It’s hard to ar­gue with the fact that the In­dian ad­min­is­tra­tive ecosys­tem is heav­ily staffed by gen­er­al­ists, and that spe­cial­ists are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­por­tant in sev­eral func­tions of gov­ern­ment. For in­stance, spe­cial­i­sa­tions like big-data an­a­lyt­ics are cru­cial to good gov­er­nance—for ex­am­ple, it does not mat­ter how wide the net of Aad­haar is spread if the babus re­spon­si­ble for those data­base can­not come to grips with it. Do­main ex­per­tise is no longer a bonus—it is a re­quire­ment.

The colo­nial-style bu­reau­cracy In­dia still labours un­der, the so-called ‘steel fortress’, is a ma­jor im­ped­i­ment to progress. In a 2016 study con­ducted by the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace, ti­tled ‘The IAS Meets Big Data’, the au­thors write: ‘In­dia’s econ­omy has grown rapidly in re­cent years, but the coun­try’s bu­reau­cratic qual­ity is widely per­ceived to be ei­ther stag­nant or in de­cline’, and that ‘the IAS is ham­strung by po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence and outdated per­son­nel pro­ce­dures, [has] a mixed record on pol­icy im­ple­men­ta­tion, and is in need of ur­gent re­form.”

Agri­cul­ture sec­re­tary and CEO of Na­tional Rain­fed Au­thor­ity, Ashok Dal­wai, says: “IAS of­fi­cers must com­pete and col­lab­o­rate with ex­ter­nal spe­cial­ists, in­stead of com­plain­ing about them or crit­i­cis­ing them. Re­form must dis­rupt and change the hi­er­ar­chi­cal cul­ture of the IAS.”

In­dia’s bu­reau­cracy has long been crit­i­cised for be­ing ob­struc­tion­ist, and that it has of­ten been an im­ped­i­ment to im­ple­ment­ing even well-in­tended pol­icy ini­tia­tives. Be­sides, bu­reau­cratic pro­ce­dures are cum­ber­some, slow, in­ef­fi­cient and trapped in a file-push­ing cul­ture that en­cour­ages cor­ru­tion. Crit­ics point out that a bu­reau­cracy manned by gen­er­al­ists is like a slow-mov­ing bul­lock cart in an era when in­for­ma­tion trav­els at the speed of light. Ths sta­tus quoists in the bu­reau­cracy see red. It is dis­qui­et­ing, af­ter all, for an en­trenched force to see its ‘steel fortress’—even a crum­bling one—be­ing stormed by ple­beians.


CHANGE FLOWS FROM THE TOP Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi meets with his core team and se­nior bu­reau­crats in New Delhi, June 10

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