The whole of India, including the IAS Officers and various relevant and irrelevant stakeholders, seems to be divided on the issue of Lateral Entry. Some are even enraged that how come the prestigious post of the senior bureaucrats be diluted by bringing in professionals from the private domain. But there is much more to it than what appears to be on the surface.
The government recently has invited applications from talented and motivated Indian nationals willing to contribute towards nation building to join the Government at the level of Joint Secretary. These individuals could be both private sector professions and those from state governments, Union Territories, PSUs, Autonomous bodies and others. The Joint Secretaries lead the policy-making and implementation work of all the departments under various ministries and until now, these posts were exclusively bagged by IAS Officers.
The debate regarding experience vs expertise or generalists vs specialists has been going on for long. While the private individuals can bring in the depth of knowledge to the department, they will be plagued by the narrow vision concerning their own domain. Whereas the generalists will bring in the broad experience from various fields, they will lack the expertise needed to handle the department most effectively.
Our system for the recruitment of bureaucracy is based on colonial practices wherein the Civil Servant was needed for collection of taxes and maintaining law and order. This required people with wide range of knowledge without much specializations. When the nation began to proceed on the path of development and people began to experience the volatility of the market, the administrative scenario changed. This changing economic system necessitated some technical expertise at least at higher levels of decision making. Till now, it was held by the same bureaucrats considering the fact that their experience in diverse fields would make them efficient. But this also made the bureaucrats immune to specialization. Thus a guy who has spent a considerable amount of time in the same field is better placed to hit the bulls-eye. Moreover, the appointment has a term only of 3 years which can be extended to 5 as per the performance.
The previous experience over this issue has yielded results. The appointment of Nandan Nilekani to head the UIDAI was an example. Also, the appointment of Dr. Manmohan Singh as the Finance Minister to take over the then-fragile economy paid rich dividends.
The current move by the government lends a perfect balance. It has asked for applications and not directly appointed someone. It thus gives a level playing field for both the IAS Officers and those from the private sector. Also, it has been initiated on a pilot basis where a handful of departments are chosen for lateral entry. If proved to be a success, this may be further extended.
To add to this, the private individuals must also be given a chance of getting a hands-on experience of the field as an IAS officer has so that they can be well suited for the position. By the same logic, even the bureaucrats must be given the opportunities to have some specialization to improve the administration.
Till the time all such reforms happen, the current move by the government should be welcomed. Will this take India far?… only time will tell.