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Lateral Entry: Landmark step by Modi govt to equip bureaucracy for challenges and opportunities

In 2011, I was one amongst the chosen few to be selected for a very coveted, Accelerated Leadership Program, designed by McKinsey to groom future leaders for India’s biggest corporate house. Although this was the time when my corporate career was flourishing, it didn’t satiate the innate desire to contribute directly to the socio-political transformation that India was undergoing.

I had positioned myself for a comfortable and rewarding corporate career, in one of India`s largest MNC and an accelerated path leading to a CXO position. My roots of a rustic, small village were at antithesis with my current position and the ensuing career path. I wanted to do more and listened to my inner calling for a life in public service. One fine day in 2012, I took a rather unscripted plunge and resigned from the organization to be back in my native state. This is how I am writing this article as the OSD (Officer on Special Duty) to the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh.

An advertisement published in major newspapers across the country on June 10, 2018, has given a new hope in the country while there is a lot of turmoil in the minds of many. It is very rare to see that an advertisement related to government recruitment has been shared by so many people in social media and WhatsApp followed by discussions and debates! And why not? Prime Minister Modi has initiated an innovation and decided to make a direct appointment to the post of Joint Secretary in the Central Government, which is a new beginning to improve the administrative structure of the country.

The Government of India has recently announced the scheme of Lateral Entry, which has attracted a lot of attention and debate. Now there is a direct appointment to the post of Joint Secretary in the Central Government without the examination of Civil Services! GOI is looking for those very selective, special Indians who possess the potent combination of deep domain knowledge, wide experience and a passion to serve the nation. The objective is to enable the Government to get the best from India’s talent pool to join hands with it, in helping determine the future of 125 Crore Indians – by ensuring this talent search is not constrained by any limitations of service, cadre or employment from across the public as well as private sector.

Lateral entry is a well-established principle across the world, universally acknowledged by experts to catalyze greater governance, efficiency, professionalism and specialized, cutting-edge expertise in public administration. Most advanced, sophisticated administrations have institutionalized it as a permanent part of its system – ranging from the US to Belgium, UK, Australia and New Zealand

The lack of IAS officers in the country also seems to justify the decision of lateral entry. By 2016, 23% of the posts approved by the IAS officers were vacant in the absence of appointment. The high-level officers employed in the private sector earn practical knowledge in their respective areas, which can definitely be beneficial in the government’s decision-making decisions. In today’s era, when big industries are being operated with greater efficiency and profit with the help of government and private sector, such partnership is also a demand of time in policy decisions.

In India too, a lateral entry has been consistently recommended by multiple government committees and reviews over the years, but with the onus always left on the political leadership, nothing has moved as our leaders have remained reluctant to bite the bullet on account of fear of administrative and populist backlash. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too has been an old vocal advocate of lateral entry, describing even as recently as in 2016 how he had gathered a team of outside experts to drive the 1991 reforms.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally decided to bell the cat, ending the political dithering by categorically conveying his intent and political will to back this long-needed reform – setting in motion a process of internal consultation and deliberation which culminated in the 10th June 2018 advertisement formally announcing Lateral Entry. Early in his tenure in 2014, PM Modi asked Secretaries of various ministries to evaluate and prepare for the allowing of lateral entry. Lateral entry was a central reform identified by the Group of Secretaries on Governance in 2017. Department of Personnel and Training made public its intention to institutionalize a system of lateral entry in mid-2017.

What is even particularly interesting is that while vested interests try to whirl up opposition to this initiative, ‘Lateral entry’ ironically is not new to India even in practice, with an endless list of experts having been brought into government by almost all governments and prime ministers over the years. To cite but a few prominent examples: From previous Governments – Manmohan Singh (Economy), Mantosh Sondhi (Heavy Industry), V Krishnamurthy (Heavy Industry), P K Basu (Public Enterprise), Prof Deodhar (Electronics), K P P Nambiar (Electronics), M S Swaminathan (Agriculture), Verghese Kurien (NDDB), Vijay Kelkar (Petroleum),  Montek Singh Ahluwalia (Economy), Sam Pitroda (Technology), Nandan Nilekani (UIDAI), Raghu Raman (Natgrid), D V Kapur (Power), R V Shahi (Power) To the current Government – Param Iyer (Sanitation), Rajesh Kotecha (Ayush), Adil Zainulbhai (Quality Council), Arvind Panagariya (Niti), Kamal Kishore (NDMA), R Ramanan (AIM), Arvind Gupta (MyGov). However, all these appointments have been made by the executive on an ad-hoc, case-by-case basis from a restricted pool of a select few.

The current initiative is thus a landmark step to institutionalize lateral entry as a structured part of the administrative system – making it transparent, objective and meritocratic. Furthermore it for the first time opens up for all this privilege and opportunity to serve the nation. Thus, contrary to the partisan allegations of any ‘political interference’, this step, in fact, is a decisive ‘political intervention’ through which PM Modi has seceded the discretion historically enjoyed by his predecessors, for establishing an institutionalized system of checks and balances

Moreover, contrary to being a ‘dilution’ of the traditional UPSC medium of selection of officers, the new system is going to actually be a far more rigorous and exacting one – involving: a multi-dimensional, multi-level comprehensive screening procedure testing all aspects of domain, functional and leadership capabilities as well as aptitude, personality and psychological testing, driven by independent teams of Sectoral, Governance and HR experts. Supported by the government’s in-house recruiting expertise from across the board including, under the oversight of a high-level team comprising of Secretaries and senior government officers. Candidate’s domain knowledge, sectoral experience, functional skills and behavioural competencies will be matched to the nature and needs of the positions of responsibility.

It is an important administrative reform waiting for years, which was pending for political or administrative reasons. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proved this with the decision that irrespective of the stalemate of any level if it is a matter of public interest then the government is capable of making a tough decision. Lateral entry is thus a landmark step in the comprehensive series of administrative reforms steadily yet decisively being undertaken by the Narendra Modi government, to equip India’s bureaucracy for the challenges as well as opportunities of the 21st century.

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Ujjwal Virendra Deepak
OSD (Officer on Special Duty) – Chief Minister Government of Chhattisgarh

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