Administrative reforms have 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 20th century civil service model has clearly failed to keep pace with the changing needs and the complexities of governing a hugely diverse society.
There is a dire need to infuse professionalism into the administration and bring in fresh ideas and out-of-the-box solutions. Domain experts can bring innovative ideas to the table and help bridge the widening gap between expectations and delivery. The NDA government’s latest decision to allow lateral entry of professionals from the private sector at the joint secretary level is a welcome move and must be seen as a positive step towards administrative reforms.
With this, the civil service, often blamed for the snail’s pace of development in the country, will open the doors to professionals at different levels. 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.
However, it remains to be seen whether a well-entrenched bureaucracy would resist the initiative, viewing it as an encroachment into its territory. There are fears in some quarters that the induction of professionals and domain experts into the decision-making system of the government could mean the beginning of the end of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).
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 loyal to the government of the day. However, such fears are wholly exaggerated.
There should be no room for apprehension if the selection process is transparent, objective and professional. It is not the first time that the Central government has proposed lateral recruitment to senior positions in the government.
During the 1970s, experts from public and the private sectors were inducted as secretaries to the government. Similarly, experts from outside were recruited as consultants in the erstwhile Planning Commission who brought new ideas into the domain of planning. It must be noted that the expertise of professionals like Sam Pitroda, Nandan Nilekani and Raghuram Rajan had proved to be immensely valuable.
There is no valid ground to oppose the idea of lateral recruitment. In the sectors that require high technical knowledge and innovative ideas, the generalist civil servants may not be best-suited to provide right direction. The induction of subject experts will add value to the governance.