“You will not have a united India if you do not have a good All India Service which has the independence to speak out its mind.”Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel
From the elite lobbies of bureaucrats sitting at the zenith of the top-notch departments to the student community dreaming of getting into the coveted services of the largest democracy of the world, the entire nation encountered a sudden jolt when the current regime, with an overwhelming majority at the centre, announced lateral entry into the services at the Director and Joint Secretary level for approximately 30 coveted posts earlier this year. Owing to the colonial legacy and the rich history of elitism, the Indian Administrative Service (formerly known as the Indian Civil Service) is considered as one of the best jobs in the nation’s diversified array of careers. From having the most diverse profiles to the most underdog ones, the Indian Administrative Service has, over seven decades, served as the most dynamic and excellent career option for the country’s graduates. However, there is a relatively very intriguing reason why the services maintain such high dimensions of sanctity and have an aura of their own amongst all sections of our society, especially among the middle class. It is because the coveted jobs available for serving the public are open to the civilians- where any citizen of the nation, irrespective of his background, status, and academic performances in the past, can get selected purely based on merit. This single attribute of one of the most challenging selection processes of the world has made these exams synonymous with dreams. Dreams- that, for a long time, were a mirage for the common masses of the nation.
Let’s define the term “Lateral Entry” in the first place. The process of induction of talented and motivated domain experts from diverse diverging fields, who are captivated to contribute to the process of nation-building via a recruitment process, which is different from the process used for general recruitment into the same services by the Government, is known as “Lateral Entry.” Due to the colonial legacy, our nation’s bureaucracy works on the generalist principle, which aligns with the basic principle of democracy- where the leader of the entire country is selected via a generalised procedure. However, in such a vast expanse of the government’s work genre, specialists in specific technical departments and ministries come as an obligation for the government to maintain these units’ functioning efficiency. To deal with this dilemma comes the concept of “Lateral Entry.”
However, this subsidiary form of officers’ induction directly into the government’s robust machinery is not new. All the efficient legislatures of the world, in some state or the other, resort to this concept of inclusion of specialists into the system. Let’s take the case of America- one of the oldest democracy on the planet. In the presidential form of government of America, a protocol known as the “Spoil System” has been established wherein the entire workforce of a newly elected government is appointed by the President in his capacity. The President thereby has enormous power to appoint top officials of bureaucracy for approximately 4000 posts directly. Hence, the entire workforce of the American Government is assigned via the “Lateral Entry” system. This gives rise to the idea of committed bureaucracy in the U.S.A. In the U.K., the originating source of the Indian way of bureaucracy, the notion of “Career Civil Servant” is famous. This idea was formulated by Max Weber, a renowned German sociologist. The phenomenon of “Career Civil Servant” is based on the principle of “Political Neutrality.” However, over the past few decades, realising that we have entered the era of specialisation, U.K. has started appointing domain experts in specific technical fields. Likewise, Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, and various other nations have adopted this procedure to increase workforce productivity.
In India, too, the concept of Lateral Entry is not a matter of state of the art bureaucracy. From great scientists such as Dr A.P.J Abdul Kalam to great economists such as Dr Manmohan Singh, from Vijay Kelkar to Bimal Jalan, from Montek Ahluwalia to Arvind Subramanian, and from Verghese Kurien to Russi Modi, a plethora of recruitments to top Government posts has been done through this process in the past. In present times, Shri Rajesh Kotecha, an Indian Ayurveda physician, has been appointed through the Lateral Entry system and is currently serving as the Secretary of the Ministry of AYUSH. So it is a well-established fact that Lateral Entry is justified and, to a considerable extent, an unavoidable necessity for the proper working of the bureaucratic framework as far as technical and specialised ministries and departments are concerned.
Why is there a vast scale buzz when it is being done again, considering recruitment through this process has already been conducted in the past? Let’s traverse through a holistic picture of this issue. While serving as the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission (India) from 1985 to 1987, Dr Manmohan Singh once said that it is imperative to induct domain experts for a few top bureaucratic posts in the GoI for proper policy formulation. The same statement was reiterated by Shri Bimal Jalan when he served as the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India. However, the most critical document in this regard is the 2nd ARC report (2005) which stands entirely according to the concept of “Lateral Entry.” NITI AAYOG, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, himself formed the Sectoral Group of Secretaries (SGoS) on Governance in 2017, which in its final reports again concerted with the 2nd ARC reports verbatim in this regard. Following this, the notification of first institutionalised recruitment through this procedure via the Union Public Service Commission (U.P.S.C) for the posts of 10 Joint Secretaries and 40 Directors was issued in 2018. Following this, the government published a more holistic recruitment notification in 2021 to recruit 3 Joint Secretaries and 27 Directors, which is the second appointment that the Government is conducting in this institutionalised fashion. The institutionalisation of this procedure is the new dimension that the government has added to such recruitments, and this is the crux of controversy that revolves around this topic.
The institutionalisation, as far as general perceptions are concerned, stands justified. The algorithmic selection procedure advances the transparency in the recruitment procedure and ensures fairness in the process. So it would be far more logical to discuss the abstraction in the process than the process itself. In addition to inducting domain experts into the services, and another rationale given by the government for alluded entry into the benefits is to deal with understaffing. According to the government, there is a lack of workforce across the bureaucratic framework at the seniority level required to fill these higher posts in bureaucracy.
In the 1990s, following the economic reforms in the decade, the government laid stress on privatisation. A general notion was that while, on the one hand, the role of private players in the management of the country will gradually increase, the stakes of government in the same will decrease over time. The then government thought likewise too, the outcome of which was that around 1997, the number of IAS officers being freshly inducted into the services decreased to a minimum strength of 55 officers. This was a major miscalculation by the government as they ignored the fact that there will be technical advancement in the nation with privatisation. Hence, the workload on the social sector will increase drastically. This trend continued up to 2012, leading to a backlog of 15 years. The central government needs the officers of these batches for recruitment to the posts of Directors and Deputy/Joint Secretaries. On the other hand, the states are working with a smaller cadre strength due to the low number of recruitment done in the post-Economic Reforms era. This causes a conflict of interest between the states and the central government. While the central government asks the states to send their officers to render services at the central level, the state government resists the proposal citing their lack of officers due to low recruitment in the past. Therefore, we can conclude that one of the significant miscalculations in the past by the central government has forced the present government to take such a bold step now.
Another and more fierce issue regarding this sideways entry is that of reservations. There is no provision of reservation of any sort, either vertical or horizontal, in filling these vacancies. Therefore, one of the perceptions that rest in the minds of the masses is that Lateral Entry is nothing but a sly method from the government’s side to use a backdoor and remove the seven decades-old policy of social justice. However, this is a non-factual argument based on prejudices and fear. In reality, all the positions are single post cadre in nature. All the recruitment is done against a single vacant post and not a group of posts. And since the recruitment is single post cadre in nature, neither 13 point roster nor 200 point enrollment applies to these, and hence, reservations are inapplicable to such recruitment.
In conclusion, I find the process of Lateral Entry as a very logical step towards the modernisation of our age-old bureaucracy. In the long term, this process will enhance the working of the entire government’s machinery. However, recruitments made in such a manner shall be restricted to a certain number of the whole cadre strength, and direct induction through examination shall continue in the present way itself. Institutionlisation of the process via U.P.S.C is also a very radical step that reduces the services’ concerns and the process to a bare minimum. The best possible amendment that the regime in power should take is to make this process permanent for a specific size of the cadre strength, which is technical and specialised, and simultaneously continues with the Civil Services Examination without decreasing the number of vacancies later. This will redress the concerns of the common people. After all, the supreme document of our nation- the Constitution of India starts with the three words “WE THE PEOPLE.”