Vol. XLII No. 25 June 24, 2018

Lateral Entry: Subverting Civil Service

THE policy announced of lateral entry into the civil service at the level of joint secretary has raised a number of questions.  The central government has advertised for ten posts of joint secretary to be recruited by a committee headed by the cabinet secretary. The applicants can be from either the public sector, universities, or, the private sector including those working in multinational companies.  The requirement is that they should have 15 years experience in the job. 

This is just a thin end of the wedge.  Lateral entry is being pushed by none other than the prime minister himself. It is part of the grand privatisation plan.  The Planning Commission was dismantled and, in its place, a ‘think tank’ Niti Aayog was set-up which has become the consultant for privatisation. 

The lateral entry policy comes in the background of a large cut in the recruitment of IAS officers – nearly one-third after liberalisation was ushered in.  The shortage, thus, created is now sought to be filled up by recruitment from the private sector. 

The other notable feature is that the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC), which is the constitutional body enjoined to select civil services cadre, is being bypassed.  The lateral entry recruits will be on a contract for three years which can be extended by another two years. 

In earlier times, lateral entry was restricted to a narrow band – mainly of economists who were appointed as economic advisors to the economic ministries, or, the chief economic advisor.  But now, lateral entry at the key joint secretary level is being opened up for all the economic and infrastructure ministries. 

Recruitment of officers from the private sector, corporates and multinational companies will pose a serious threat to the nature of public service in the bureaucracy. Such appointees would be prone to serve corporate interests disregarding the public interest. This would be the aping of the American model where corporate executives and posts in the administration are inter-changeable.

In fact, the Niti Aayog secretary, Amitabh Kant, commending lateral entry has stated that: “Government must allow deputation of its officers  to private sector as well.”

Under the present ruling dispensation, there is another danger.  The lateral entry route will be utilised to infiltrate RSS-Hindutva minded personnel into the higher echelons  of the civil service – a process which has been going on in other areas where the government makes direct appointments. 

If lateral entry becomes generalised and extended to all cadres, it will result in subversion of the policy of reservation of posts for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Such fears have already been raised by one of the allies of the BJP who is a minister in the union cabinet.

The integrity of the civil services, particularly the IAS, must be protected.  The democratic accountability of civil servants to the political authority within the constitutional scheme of things should not be disturbed. There is a need for specialisation and domain knowledge for officers at the senior levels. Provision for such specialisation should be made. 

But the efforts to bypass the UPSC and directly recruit senior civil servants through the political authority of the day must be opposed. The lateral entry policy should be reversed. 

(June 20, 2018)