[op-ed snap] Bureaucracy reboot

Mains Paper 2 : Civil Service |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Need of laterl entry in civil services


CONTEXT

After selection of nine lateral entrants as joint secretaries in various ministries/departments on a contract basis, the Narendra Modi government plans to extend such induction of private sector domain experts to the lower-level deputy secretary and director posts as well.

Background

  • According to a report in this newspaper, the Department of Personnel & Training has been tasked with opening up as many as 400 posts — out of the 1,300-odd at these levels under the Central Staffing Scheme — for lateral hiring.
  • If implemented, this would constitute the single biggest reform of public administration in independent India.
  • The current administrative system, wherein top positions are manned by career bureaucrats having little specialised knowledge and recruited through a common civil services examination, has clearly outlived its utility.

Need for reforms 

  • A liberalised economy requires not generalists, but people who understand industrial processes and new technologies, taxation, finance, trade and investment in a dynamic, globalised setting.
  • Even the old “steel frame” model of governance needs revisiting in favour of more nimble, entrepreneurial public service organisations focusing on performance and delivery by incorporating private sector management practices.
  • The right approach today would be to fill top/senior government positions by selecting subject matter specialists and posting them in departments for which they are best-suited.
  • The nine joint secretary-level lateral hires short-listed by the Union Public Service Commission in April were for specific departments: Agriculture, civil aviation, commerce, economic affairs, environment, financial services, renewable energy, road transport and shipping.
  • Alternatively, the “generalists” can be forced to turn “specialists” through mid-career professional development programmes or extended tenures in particular departments/fields.
  • Either way, the jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none approach to public administration needs to be dispensed with and is, indeed, an unfinished task of reforms and liberalisation.
  • It also fits into the “minimum government, maximum governance” promise on which Prime Minister Modi first rode to power in 2014.
  • There can be no better means of achieving that goal than by deepening expertise and expanding the scope of lateral appointments in government.

Issues

  • A couple of cautionary notes are, however, in order.
  • The first is the process of selecting candidates for lateral entry, which has to be transparent, robust and credible.
  • Filling 400 posts without conducting formal competitive exams can invite legal challenges, more so if they are seen to be at the expense of the “natural” All-India or Central Civil Services claimants to these jobs.
  • Second, if lateral appointments become the order of the day — which they should — what will happen to reservations for communities that are already under-represented in the upper rungs of government?
  • Conclusion
  • Striking a balance between merit and ensuring adequate representation for disadvantaged communities is necessary even in a regime of lateral entry.
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