The direct appointment of nine private sector recruits at the joint secretary level into government services is a significant first step in the direction of the civil services reforms. It marks the first effort to open up the higher echelons of the bureaucracy to lateral entrants, a majority of them domain experts. One of the key aspects of administrative reforms has been the idea of inducting subject experts at senior levels of the government to infuse strategic thinking into the bureaucracy. After years of debate, the government has finally undertaken the process for direct recruitment at senior levels of the administration. The post-liberalisation economy is largely driven by knowledge and technology, making 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. They can bring innovative ideas and strategic thinking to the table. 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 services, often blamed for the snail’s pace of development in the country, will open the doors to professionals at different levels.
Administrative reforms have been the buzzword, serving as a prescription to improve the delivery of citizen services and meet the aspirations of the people in changing times. The 20th century civil service model has clearly failed to keep pace with the changing needs and the complexities of governing a hugely diverse society. 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. There are fears in some quarters that the induction of professionals and domain experts into the decision-making system could mean the beginning of the end of the Indian Administrative Service. There are also apprehensions that the move could be a ploy to facilitate backdoor entry of persons with ideological affinity to create an elite cadre of pliable bureaucracy. However, such fears are wholly exaggerated. There should be no room for apprehension because the selection process has been transparent, rigorous, objective and professional.