The Centre’s decision to expand the policy of lateral entry to infuse professionalism into the bureaucracy is a welcome move. The plan is to facilitate recruitment of at least 40% of officers at the Joint Secretary level from outside the system. Presently, the joint secretaries who form the backbone of the administration are sourced from IAS cadre officers. The lateral entry will help bring in domain experts into the administrative system in place of the generalists who have been ruling the roost so far. One of the key aspects of administrative reforms has been the idea of inducting subject experts at senior levels to infuse strategic thinking into the bureaucracy. The post-liberalisation economy is largely driven by knowledge and technology, making the governance much more complex. It needs expertise that is often beyond the capabilities of a generalist civil servant. Moreover, lateral entrants will help break the bureaucracy’s monopoly over top-level policy positions and thus incentivise competition. The lateral entrants can bring innovative ideas and strategic thinking to the table. The policy interventions in the 21st century governance require innovation and efficiency for which one needs to fall back upon technological tools. To source them, one needs talents outside the system. Recently, the government issued appointment letters to 10 persons who form the first batch of lateral entry officers. They have been selected by the UPSC. The next batch of 55 officers, who will be equivalent to the rank of joint secretaries, will be selected through NITI Aayog, instead of UPSC.
Traditionally, bureaucracy in India is designed to function in a top-down, hierarchical and a silo-driven structure which stifles new ideas. Moreover, the civil services does not incentivise domain specialisation. It is never an easy task to reform the bureaucracy, particularly when it comes to bringing in experts from the private sector at senior levels of the administration. It is no surprise that the idea of lateral entry had faced resistance from the IAS lobby. With the latest initiative, the civil service, often blamed for the snail’s pace of development in the country, will open the doors to professionals at different levels. Administrative reforms has been the buzzword, serving as a prescription to improve the delivery of citizen services and meet the aspirations of people in the changing times. The civil service is often blamed for the snail’s pace of development in the country. The political class appears to have realised that it simply cannot deliver on the aspirations of the people without bringing in subject experts into the government. Lateral entry at the joint secretary level is appropriate because it requires candidates to have both expertise and track record, instead of mere potential that can be observed at entry levels.