Govt receives 3,000 applications for joint secretaries’ post to be filled via lateral entry

A contentious Union government scheme to hire 10 specialists from the private sector in key decision-making roles otherwise reserved for career members of the Indian civil services has attracted more than 3,000 applications for the 10 posts on offer, according to officials familiar with the matter.

On June 10, the government notified 10 positions of joint secretaries to be hired through a “lateral entry” route and put out advertisements in leading newspapers asking for aspirants to come forward.

“The last date for applying is July 30. The final number will obviously be higher than the over 3,000 applications received so far,” said one of the officials cited above who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The June 10 advertisement called for applications from those working at “comparable levels in private sector companies, consultancy organisations, international/multinational organisations with a minimum of 15 years’ experience”. The lateral entrants would have three- to five-year tenures, according to the advertisement.

Minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh told Parliament on Wednesday that the decision to fill the joint secretary (JS)-rank posts through the ‘lateral entry’ process was aimed at bringing in fresh ideas to governance. He added that it would introduce “new approaches” and augment the availability of personnel at the JS level. At the same time, Singh underlined that it was not being done because the bureaucracy was inefficient.

The government has cited examples of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and ex-deputy chairman of the erstwhile Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, as the examples of those who joined the government through the “lateral entry” process at various ranks.

The other names cited include the secretary in the department of ayurveda, yoga, unani, siddha and homoeopathy, Rajesh Kotecha, former Niti Ayog vice chairman Arvind Panagariya and former power secretary RV Shahi.

A second government official pointed that the current hiring process was different because earlier appointments through the ’lateral entry’ route were not structured. “There was no set process, only three or four people in the government decided on their appointments,’’ he said.

“Now we have devised a rigorous selection process that will include vetting of applicants by experts from the private as well as from the government sector. We are institutionalising the process of lateral entry,” the official added.

Other than the few exceptions cited above, the government largely recruits bureaucrats through the civil services exam conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC).

Since June, several Opposition parties, including the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) have criticised the Centre’s move, saying the policy was meant to sidestep caste-based reservations and induct people who were in sync with the government’s ideology. Some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and National Democratic Alliance (NDA) members also raised “concerns” on the reservation issue.

The ‘lateral entry’ route will bypass the UPSC system under which 15% seats are reserved for the Scheduled Castes, 7.5% for the Scheduled Tribes and 27% for the Other Backward Castes in the Indian Administrative Services.

Several bureaucrats also criticised the policy, calling it “retrograde”. Former Cabinet secretary KM Chandrashekhar said soon after the scheme was unveiled in June: “We should look at the crucial aspects such as who will hire them, what will be selection process, will UPSC be tasked to hire them. First of all, these issues need to be addressed.”

But several experts, including some in the bureaucracy, have been of the view that such experimentation should be encouraged.

“India is on track to achieve efficiencies and excellence to bring the country up to speed with the rest of the world. Lateral inductions are just one of the many steps taken by the government of India in governance reforms that include outcome-based monitoring, ease of doing business, and digital technology reforms,” career bureaucrat and Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant wrote in a June 13 article in HT.

Former home secretary GK Pillai said: “The response is encouraging. But I believe the government should give them (officers joining through lateral entry) longer tenure than the period of three to five years that has been stipulated as of now. The government can think about extended their contract if they perform well. Only then these new officers will be able to enrich the governance with their fresh ideas. Besides their responsibilities and liabilities should also be fixed like their counterparts who joined the civil service through the routine channel.”

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