The present government, to its credit, has taken some steps on lateral entry. Eight professionals were recruited for joint secretary-level positions in various ministries.
Some other positions at the joint secretary and director-level have been advertised. But this is unlikely to shake up the system which is the entire logic of lateral entry.
What is Lateral Entry?
- The term lateral entry relates to the appointment of specialists, mainly those from private sector, in government organisations.
- Government is looking for outstanding individuals, with expertise in revenue, financial services, economic affairs, agriculture, cooperation and farmers’ welfare, road transport and highway, shipping, environment, forests and climate change, new and renewable energy, civil aviation and commerce.
What is the government’s reasoning for lateral entry?
- “NITI Aayog, in its three-year Action Agenda, and the Sectoral Group of Secretaries (SGoS) on Governance in its report submitted in February 2017, recommended the induction of personnel at middle and senior management levels in the central government.”
- Government has, from time to time, appointed some prominent persons for specific assignments in government, keeping in view their specialised knowledge and expertise in the domain area.
- Lateral recruitment is aimed at achieving the twin objectives of bringing in fresh talent as well as augment the availability of manpower.
Has the government so far made any ‘lateral entry’ appointments?
- The new ad is for the second round of such recruitments. Earlier, the government had decided to appoint experts from outside the government to 10 positions of Joint Secretary in different Ministries/Departments and 40 positions at the level of Deputy Secretary/Director.
- The ad for the Joint Secretary-level appointments, issued in early 2018, attracted 6,077 applications; after a selection process by the UPSC, nine individuals were recommended for appointment in nine different Ministries/Departments in 2019.
- The terms on which the positions are advertised may dissuade the best from applying. In the permanent system, IAS officers get promoted to joint secretary level after 17 years of service and remain at that level for ten years.
- The IAS and permanent system are strictly seniority-bound — nobody gets promoted ahead of time. That makes the average age of a joint secretary around 45.
- Now, if similar experience requirements are used for lateral entry, it is unlikely that the best will join because in the private sector they rise to the top of their profession, in CXO positions, or tenured professorships, at that age.
- The second challenge is whether the system is facilitating lateral entrants for success or is indifferent to the point of failure. There are many dimensions to this.
- For a start, there are several joint secretaries in each ministry who handle different portfolios. If assigned to an unimportant portfolio, the chances of not making a mark are high.
- A cursory look at the portfolios of the eight laterally-hired joint secretaries doesn’t suggest that they hold critical portfolios. One entrant has already quit.
Why is lateral entry sometimes criticised?
- Groups representing SCs, STs and OBCs have protested the fact that there is no reservation in these appointments.
- It has been alleged that ruling government at the centre is opening back doors to bring its own people openly.
- Their aspiration will be for a higher position. To attract the best talent from outside at the joint secretary level, entry requirements need to be relaxed so that persons of 35 years of age are eligible.
- The logic extends to other ranks. IAS officers become secretaries to the government after 30 to 33 years of service, which means they are 55 or above.
- The best talent from outside would only join at 50 or less. If one looks at lateral entry in an earlier generation, among economists, there was much greater flexibility.
- There must also be clarity in what precisely is the mandate for the lateral entrant. There is a difference in bringing expertise and being part of the decision-making process.
- For the former, the government doesn’t strictly need to hire “outsiders”. Expertise is widely available and used by almost every ministry — expert committees, consultations, think tank engagements, etc.
- To be disrupters, lateral entrants need to be able to stamp their authority on decision making. For this to happen, there need to be more lateral entrants at all levels in ministries.
- Anyone familiar with the functioning of government knows that there is a long chain in decision-making and a minority of one cannot override it.
- Also, it requires an understanding of the system and an ability to work with the “permanent” establishment.
- No training or orientation is provided for this. By the time networks are built, it is time to move on.
Way Forward: –
- On past evidence, the lateral entrants who made the biggest impact are those who served in the system for a length of time and at different levels.
- The economists mentioned earlier joined as advisers at the joint secretary level before moving up the ladder to mainstream positions, learning to work with the permanent establishment in the process.
- A recent lateral entrant like Parameswaran Iyer succeeded because he had served in the IAS early on.
- Lateral entry, like competition in any sphere, is a good thing. But serious thinking is required on entry requirements, job assignments, number of personnel and training to make it a force for positive change. Some reform of the “permanent” system — particularly its seniority principle — may be a prerequisite.
Discuss the merits and demerits of lateral entry in civil services.