Lateral Entry into the Civil Services

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister’s Office had asked the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to prepare a proposal for considering the lateral entry of professionals into the middle levels of the civil services in ministries relating to economy and infrastructure. The need for lateral entry into the civil services has been debated for quite some time with even the Second ARC Report recommending the need for formalised procedures for such entry. But this has been met with resistance from many quarters particularly from civil servants themselves. This article discusses the issue of lateral entry into the civil services from both perspectives.

The need for lateral entry in civil services

The idea that the Indian civil services is in need of institutional reform is not a new one. Allegations of corruption, mediocrity, stagnation and inefficiency have been made against the services. A study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace addressed the need for reforms on various fronts in the civil services. There is also a shortage of officers particularly in the middle levels. The Baswan Committee report said that large states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar have a shortfall of 75 to 100 officers. Lateral entry is suggested to cover up this deficit and also avoid the difficulties of large-scale initial recruitment.

Another belief is that lateral entry will bring in people with experience of the private sector. This can infuse the system with fresh energy and outlook. This can also bring in people with specialised knowledge and expertise. Civil servants are said to be jacks of all trades with mastery in none. This is in part due to the varied nature of their jobs, but the truth is, there are many sectors that need officers with specific domain knowledge. The career progression of a career civil servant is such that there is not much scope for him/her to develop specialised knowledge. The frequent transfers to different places and departments also don’t help. Thus, lateral entry can help bridge this gap of individuals with domain expertise. In addition, lateral entry can also bring in people with corporate exposure in the private sector with inherent advantages like faster turnaround of projects and better efficiency due to their target-oriented nature.

The opposition

However, a move by the government to usher in lateral entry will not be easily welcomed by most of the current civil servants. Although the government has frequently roped in private sector individuals to head committees and projects, such a move into the mid-levels of the bureaucracy will affect the existing balance of officers. This can also demotivate current officers who would have struggled hard to get through to the services in the first place after clearing the tough UPSC civil services exam. People hostile to the idea of lateral entry also say that it is not the individual but the enabling environment that can bring out the best in him/her. They say that even successful private-sector professionals can falter in an environment riddled with red tape and political interference. So what is needed is to reform the system from within first before looking for solutions outside. It is also said that this move can deter people from applying for the civil services because of a perceived slacking of promotional avenues.

Way forward

There is no doubt that the civil service, which form the backbone of Indian administration, needs reforms. The country’s progress and development depend on this. Even if lateral entry is introduced, it must follow a strictly defined procedure and not give way to nepotism and further corruption. Many developed countries like the UK and Australia follow lateral entry to suit their needs. The need of the hour is to have internal reforms to improve systemic efficiency, and also have a defined structure in place to allow lateral entry of professionals into the civil services.

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