Civil Services Reforms

[op-ed snap] Reforming the civil services


Mains Paper 2: Governance | Role of civil services in a democracy

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Debate surrounding the lateral entry scheme


Lateral entry scheme

  1. A recent move by the Centre seeking applications from ‘outstanding individuals’ to fill in 10 posts of Joint Secretary has caused consternation
  2. The response from applicants, however, has been overwhelming

Need for Lateral Entry

  1. In our Cabinet system of government with collective responsibility, the Secretariat plays a crucial role
  2. The concept of a ‘generalist’ higher civil service can be contextualised against technical/specialised bodies on one side and the lay political executive on top
  3. Higher bureaucracy in the secretariat often has to examine proposals received from specialised departments/corporations
  4. They prepare a cohesive note in consultation with other ministries/departments like Finance, Personnel and Law to facilitate the Minister concerned or the Cabinet to take a final decision
  5. To steer a proposal through this labyrinth requires both expertise and experience
  6. The key officials in the secretariat, from the Joint Secretary to the Secretary, are the point persons guiding this consultative process and advising the political executive to take a final call
  7. A Joint Secretary to the government has this crucial “line” function to perform in policy formulation and its implementation
  8. The final decision rests with the Joint Secretary/Additional Secretary, the Secretary and finally the Minister/Cabinet

Apprehensions regarding IAS officers expertise

  1. Can an IAS officer, however brilliant and diligent she might be, based on her experience at the sub-district and district levels, handle diverse portfolios from civil aviation to power to defence
  2. Can a career civil servant, recruited through a tough competitive examination, cope with the increasingly complex matrix of decision-making at the senior levels of government
  3. Whether the higher bureaucracy is equipped to comprehend complex economic and technical issues in order to properly aid and advise the Minister

Lateral entry already exists

  1. Lateral entry at the level of Secretary has met with some success
  2. Secretaries to the Departments of Atomic Energy, Science & Technology, Scientific and Industrial Research, Health Research, and Agricultural Research have always been scientists of eminence
  3. In departments like the Railways, Posts, etc., all senior positions are manned by Indian Railway or Postal Service officers

What needs to be done?

  1. Concerted efforts should be made to help IAS officers, after their first decade of “immersion” in districts, acquire specialisation in broad sectors like social, infrastructure and financial, based on their qualification, aptitude and preference
  2. The government must ensure that only candidates, the likes of whom are not available in the existing system, are appointed
  3.  If they turn out to be truly outstanding, there should be provisions to induct them permanently in the government, with the approval of the UPSC, and consider them for higher postings
  4. IAS and other officers can be allowed to gain work experience, for a limited period, in the private sector

Way Forward

  1. The government should have the best people at the helm of affairs and if there is a need to supplement the existing stock of talent by attracting fresh blood into the system, the IAS should welcome such an inclusionary move
  2. The lateral entry scheme, if implemented properly, may foster more competitive spirit, break the complacency of the higher civil servants and eventually prove to be a pioneering initiative in public interest
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