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‘Lateral-Entry’ Another Assault On The IAS, Reservations To Be Bypassed?

Retired bureaucrats raise questions about the likely conflict of interest, danger of selecting people of a certain ideology and bypassing of reservations for SC/STs and OBCs into the civil services.

In a shocking move, the Union Government on Sunday invited applications for senior positions at the level of Joint Secretary in Revenue Department, Economic Affairs Department, Aviation Ministry and others. This proposal of lateral entry is an attempt by the Centre to appoint individuals who can fall in line with their own methods and ideologies and weaken the bureaucratic system, retired senior officials claim.

“The government will cherry pick individuals and put them in senior positions. As these officials have to work in accordance with the respective minister’s orders, the ministers will obviously get their own people in the system,” a senior IAS officer told NC24x7 on conditions of anonymity.

Umesh Sehgal, former Chief Secretary of Delhi also pointed out that “conflict of interest is a big danger” in this new procedure. “Most government jobs have a lot of power and patronage. Corporates can have their person who can serve their interests while sitting in the office,” Sehgal said. He added that retired bureaucrats are often appointed by companies, but that is different as “a person in power can help much more”. 

“You are opening a huge channel of recruitment and you may even pick up your own party workers. Maybe they are competent. But, the new government will just throw them out, where is the job continuity for these people?” he wondered. 

The candidates who have expertise in specific areas of revenue, financial services, economic affairs, agriculture, road transport and highways, shipping, environment and forests, among others are invited to apply for the senior positions. The appointment will be on a contractual basis for three years, which will be extendable up to five years depending on the performance.

Even in the past, individuals from the private sector were recruited by the government for senior positions. For instance, Nandan Nilekani became UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India) chairman and R.V. Shahi became power secretary after he was CMD of BSES (Bombay Suburban Electric Supply). But, the current Narendra Modi-led government is almost seeking to create a lateral entry cadre now.

“The UPSC is a constitutional body entrusted with the responsibility of recruiting individuals for All India Services. I wonder if it is legal for the government to allow direct entry at the Joint Secretary level. Even if it is legal it is inappropriate,” former IAS officer Sundar Burra said.

The move will open doors for direct recruitment of preferential ideology and totally undermine the merit-based UPSC/SSC recruitment procedure. The chances of IAS and IPS officers of getting promotions and rising up the ladder will become difficult as lateral recruits will be appointed by the government according to their whims and fancies. This new procedure will also impact and dilute the current reservation policy. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP and former IRS officer Udit Raj has asserted that “the rule of reservation for SC/ST/OBC should be applied” while making the appointments. 

According to the notification, once appointed to the post of Joint Secretary, the individuals will start with an initial pay scale of Rs.1,44,200-2,18,200 per month. “Now, IIT and IIM students get a very good salary. I doubt if this amount will pull any good person from the private sector to join. Other perks like houses, etc depend on availability. So, they (the government) will probably end up getting half competent and incompetent people,” Sehgal said. 

Sehgal asserted that even if the government had planned to recruit “specialists” for official departments and ministries, they should have done it through UPSC to make the process “transparent and merit-based without any bias such as favouritism and nepotism”. 

While Burra said, “Whatever reservations one might have, the UPSC is objective, fair and independent. The state services may have lost their sheen, but in seven decades nobody raised a finger at the UPSC.”

“Even if you don’t consider the political slant, one selection committee can make recruitments according to their whims and fancies. Who is going to be in this selection committee?” Burra asked.

The applications are invited for filling one vacancy in each of these departments/ministries: Department of Revenue, Department of Financial Services, Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Ministry of Shipping, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ministry of New & Renewable Energy, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Department of Commerce.

The applicants are invited to submit e-applications on the online portal from June 15, 10 am to July 30, 5 pm.

Burra said, “The whole purpose of All India Services is that officers bring the knowledge and experience that they gain by working at the field level to design policies. If you bring people out of thin air, what is their experience to understand the functioning of the government?”

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