Lateral Entry in Bureaucracy – RSTV: The Big Picture

Rajya Sabha TV progammes like ‘The Big Picture’, ‘In Depth’ and ‘India’s World’ are important for UPSC preparation because they feature discussions of current affairs events and topics which make headlines in the country. The discussions give both the pros and cons of a topic and candidates can take useful insights from them for the civil service exam.


Anchor: Frank Rausan Pereira
Speakers: Vivek Katju, Former Ambassador, Sushil Chandra Tripathi, Former Principal Secretary, Government of U.P., Sanjay Kumar, Partner, Deloitte

Importance of this Episode:

  • In a new initiative to attract capable minds, the government has opened up senior-level bureaucratic posts for “talented and motivated” people who have never taken a UPSC exam.
  • The government is looking for 10 “outstanding individuals”, even from the private sector, with expertise in the areas of revenue; financial services; economic affairs; agriculture; road transport and highways; shipping; environment, forests and climate change; new and renewable energy; civil aviation and commerce. Those selected will be appointed as Joint Secretary level officers in different departments.
  • It is important to note that Joint Secretaries are at a crucial level of senior management in the Government of India and lead policymaking as well as implementation of various programmes and schemes for the department assigned to them. They are normally appointed from the All India Services like the IAS, IPS, IFS and other allied services. The period of contract will be for a period of 3 years from the date of commencement of service, which is extendable to up to 5 years, depending on performance.
  • On this edition of ‘The Big Picture’ we analyse if lateral entry in bureaucracy is a good or bad idea.

Analysis by the Experts:

Is Lateral Entry into the bureaucracy a good or a bad idea?

(Mr. Sanjay Kumar, Partner, Deloitte weighed in with his points in response to this question)

  • Certain sections believe that it is a good idea and that the government has made a very positive move. It is believed that this will bring in talent, customer focus, and that this will bring in subject matter experts. The criterion is that the candidate should have put in about 15 years of service in the concerned area, and they should be 40 years of age.
  • It is believed that this step will enthuse a number of people who are aspiring to work in the public sector, to get a hands-on chance to do so.
  • These people could have worked in large businesses, or an NGO, and that this step would give such people a chance to work in the areas of public policy and will bring a customer focus which is so direly needed in the Government.
  • There have been times in the past as well where the Government has brought in experts from outside- most notably being former PM of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh; even noted personalities like Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia was inducted as Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce. But this is the first time that the Government has done it on a systematic basis and are attempting to induct 10 persons in various ministries. One can perhaps say that this number might be too few, but nonetheless, this is certainly a good move of the government.

What has the experience of the Government of India been in dealing with lateral entry?

(Sushil Chandra Tripathi, Former Principal Secretary, Government of U.P. weighed in with his points here.)

  • We have had several kinds of lateral entries- both Dr. Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia joined the Government as part of the lateral entry process. Thus it is not that lateral entries are happening for the first time. Further, Montek Ahluwalia went on to become Secretary and Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission; and Dr. Manmohan Singh went on to become Secretary, Minister and Prime Minister. Thus, the government must have access to the best talent. The issue however is, who should do the selection?
  • The UPSC is a constitutional body meant for this purpose. Thus, if UPSC does the selection, it will carry conviction. Secondly, this proposal is a contract for 3-5 years. (i.e. 3 years which is extendable to 5 years). A better proposal would have been a minimum tenure of 5 years that is extendable by another 5 years.

The Joint Secretary works as a division head. While a Secretary deals with many issues, a joint secretary deals with issues at the senior management level, where they are analysed and are properly presented to either

  1. Secretary or to b) the Minister concerned or c) to Cabinet

In fact, all the Cabinet notes are signed by a Joint Secretary level officer.

  • Thus, in the working of the Government of India, the Joint Secretary plays a pivotal role. His tenure is normally for 5 years. Secretaries either get transferred in 1-2 years, or they retire. But Joint Secretaries normally stay for 5 years, and he is in charge of the division assigned to him. Thus, he is the person that either the Minister or the Secretary depend on for getting feedback on issues relating to that division.
  • It is better if the person coming in from the private sector attempts at making a career in the government. So, a minimum 5 years tenure extendable by another 5 years would be welcome.
  • Further, it would be better if people coming in from the private sector, come in as an advisor. Even Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Dr. Manmohan Singh came in as advisors initially. A Joint Secretary’s work is mainly secretarial in nature; thus people who have not had a background in the Government (which spans right down from the village panchayat level till the Rashtrapati Bhavan), not being aware of the various wings of the Government and how they collaborate and cooperate, then he/she would naturally get bogged down.
    Thus, it would be more useful if he/she comes in as an advisor and stays for 5 years- 10 years. This would be a better way of utilizing someone who has domain knowledge.
  • If someone is not fully aware of the workings of the Government, then it is feared that junior officers such as Under Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Section Officers may take him for a ride if he is not fully aware of the workings of the Government.

How difficult is it for a person who has worked in the private sector all his life to make the switch to the Government side?

Vivek Katju, Former Ambassador responded to this question.

  • In some ways, it is a different ball-game and in other ways, it is not. One subscribes to the view that is open to the hiring of people through the lateral entry window to the position of Joint Secretary. However, the selection process has to be manifestly politically neutral. This is because, if the suspicion arises that it is not politically neutral, then the entire process will be stigmatized. Secondly, anyone who is taken in will have to be given a course or some kind of a training capsule to make him/her aware of the different functions of government and how a government functions.
  • Thirdly, in principle, lateral entries have taken place in the past. Thus, there shouldn’t be an objection to the principle of lateral entries. Further, lateral entries have also taken place from the government to other organizations. If an IAS officer can go without any domain knowledge and head the Air India or head Public Sector Undertakings (PSU’s), even that is a lateral entry. Even in the past, ambassador level appointments were made to certain countries which included people who were in public life.
  • The crucial point right now will be the kind of modalities which needs to be evolved for the effective implementation of this scheme which has to be manifestly clear and sustainable so that they inspire confidence.

What would be the biggest challenge towards lateral entry, and how do we ensure transparency?

              Sanjay Kumar, Partner, Deloitte, responded to this question.

  • Whoever comes into the public sector from the private sector would need to have public sector values. Certain private sector firms have a very strict anti-corruption, transparent and good risk-assessment programmes and learnings. In some cases, one has to compulsorily complete almost 40 hours of learning.
  • Thus a capsulated training program for entrants into the public sector from the private world would help them understand the nature of work in Government. Further, there is much evidence that the roles of advisors are not implemented because these advisors are ultimately not in an executive position.
  • Whereas when these people are brought in at the level of Joint Secretary which is an executive role, the concerned individual would have the position to implement things better on the ground.

Why do we need lateral entry? Aren’t the officers who are already there equipped enough? What is it that the private sector is going to bring to the table?  

Sushil Chandra Tripathi, Former Principal Secretary, responded to this question.

  • It is important to note that administration is becoming more and more complex now. Gone are the days when it was a very simple and general administration- essentially maintenance of peace and order. Now, the Government is involved in the development of all sectors of economy, society, and polity. Therefore, new knowledge, new talent is required.
  • In Government what happens is that they get training in one subject and then they get posted in another area. This happens quite often. Getting postings suitable to the training that he/she has received is at times difficult. Further, depending on the convenience of the political masters, he/she gets transferred. Whereas, a specialist, is either useful to the job relating to that specialization or he/she is not useful at all. Thus, to transfer him/her is difficult.
  • Nevertheless, howsoever training you give to a generalist officer, he/she cannot be always up-to-date with the specialized knowledge. Therefore, it is good to have people with expertise in that area; people having domain knowledge. But, the selection process must be transparent and fair.

Why is it that lateral entry has only been made open to certain disciplines? Shouldn’t lateral entries be made all-encompassing?

Vivek Katju, Former Ambassador, responded to this question.

  • It may be that this lateral entry initiative would be made done on a pilot basis initially. Further, the ministries chosen have no doubt been carefully selected. This is because in some of these ministries, the complexities today within the country and within the international system are becoming so many and so intricate that it does require domain knowledge. Thus, it would be a good thing to get domain knowledge within the workings of government. But, it is important to ensure that the people who come in are able to have the patience to adjust to a totally different system of functioning. This is because government imposes its own limitations. What is feasible in a private company, howsoever large it may be, may not be feasible in the government. Further, a company’s whole approach is profit. Whereas, the motive of Government is never that. Therefore, this is also a fundamental transition that a private sector person has to make while working in government.
  • Further, there is a historical background to this as well. When the East India Company (EIC) became the administrators of India, then it took them almost three decades to make that transition. This is because their traders were not used to governance, and governance is a totally different ball-game. Now, it is important to note that it isn’t impossible to have a successful transition in place, but the in the selection, one has to be extremely careful.

In pursuance of these points, Sushil Chandra Tripathi, Former Principal Secretary, added the following points.

  • It is important that entrants via the lateral entry think of this switch as a career option. What shouldn’t happen is that people come into the domain of governance just to make contacts over a three-year period and then returns into the private sector to use these contacts for his private benefit. The value systems between the government and the private sector are quite different. It is difficult to find out the kind of value system that a person has. Therefore, there should be a period of probation for the new entrant and thereafter, he/she should think of a career in government.  

Further, commenting on the transition that one would have to make while switching sectors, Mr. Sanjay Kumar, Partner, Deloitte weighed in with his points.

  • He feels that typically there isn’t much of a change from the government to the private sector. It all depends on the organization that one joins. Although it is often suggested that companies are driven by the motive of profit, but apart from that, they are also focussed on public policy. Having said this, it is important that people adjust quickly from the private sector into the government. Further, since the position of a Joint Secretary is an executive post and is very high in ranking, the person so selected needs to demonstrate that he/she is capable.


The Way Ahead:

  • If one is suggesting that a person is coming only for a period of 3 years, he/she wouldn’t be able to make a career in the field. Further, he/she would not be able to fully understand the working of the government. When the Joint Secretary prepares a note, he/she consults all the concerned ministries of the government of India; further, he consults all the state governments who might be affected by the issue which is being discussed, and then he/she has to pursue those matters. Whereas, a private sector executive is used to a different milieu altogether. Therefore, he/she may even get frustrated in the government sector, and then after three years, he/she may want to go back.
  • Thus, therefore, it should be that the person must think of this lateral entry as a career. This can happen if the person concerned comes into the government for a minimum period of 10 years. It is then that he would understand the government, he/she would be able to contribute to the workings of the government and towards policy making. Further, if he/she can contribute like Dr. Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia have, he/she can become Secretary and later on even a minister. But if he/she is working with the government only for a short period of time, then it is neither worthwhile for him nor for the government.
  • Even a possible introduction of a system of reservations that may arise in this scheme would have to be skilfully managed. But one remains hopeful that one can find enough people from the private sector from all sections of society who would fit the bill. In conclusion, we are now perhaps exploring a new bureaucratic structure.
  • After all, the structure that we have inherited is largely a colonial structure which regrettably, hasn’t undergone many changes even after 70 years of Independence. Thus, this ‘revolving-door’ which is there in some countries can be adopted by us as long as we keep an open mind, and see how it functions. But the key again to the success of this scheme would lie in selecting the right people in a manner which is manifestly transparent.  


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