In June this year, the Narendra Modi government had in an unprecedented move sanctioned lateral entry of private individuals into the top bureaucracy, arguing that it would bring “fresh ideas and new approaches” to governance besides augmenting manpower.
Applications had been invited from “talented and motivated Indian nationals” for 10 Joint Secretary-level posts through lateral entry. The last date for receipt of applications was July 30, and a Search-cum-Selection Committee headed by the Cabinet Secretary had been formed which was to have a personal interaction with the shortlisted candidates.
There were, however, objections to the move from several quarters and the opposition had even called it a ploy to fill top bureaucracy with “people from the RSS, BJP and some select industrial houses”.
Lateral entry into bureaucracy, however, won’t be that easy, it seems now.
The selection committee is learnt to have said the appointment process should be handled by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). The UPSC follows a rigorous system of recruiting bureaucrats through written examinations and personal interviews.
According to a report in The Indian Express, the committee took the decision on July 23 in a bid to limit the scope for any political intervention.
Quoting an official who attended the July 23 meeting, the IE report said: “No prior consultancy was done with any of the 10 ministries on how to go about the selection process. Therefore, the committee had no clue on how to select the bureaucrats, The panel had two options: either to hand over the shortlisting of candidates to the UPSC too or to let each ministry prune the applications for the UPSC’s selection procedure.”
The NDA government had, on June 10, invited applications for 10 Joint Secretary-level posts through direct entry as opposed to UPSC examinations. According to the notification, the 10 posts are available in the departments of revenue, financial services, economic affairs, agriculture, road transport and highways, shipping, environment and forests, new and renewable energy, civil aviation and commerce. Applications had been invited from candidates with expertise in the specific areas.
The offer was for a tenure of three to five years, and it was supposed to be a contractual appointment. The lateral entry will not be following the UPSC system under which 15 per cent seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes, 7.5 per cent for Scheduled Tribes and 27 per cent for OBCs in the IAS.
The candidates will be placed at the beginning of the pay scale (level 14 of the Pay Matrix) applicable to regular government employees — Rs 1,44,200 to Rs 2,18,200 — and will be eligible for all allowances and facilities as applicable to the equivalent level in the Government of India.
By July 30, the last date for submission of applications, the Department of Personnel & Training had received a little over 6,000 applications, according to reports.
At present, Joint Secretary-level posts are held by officers of the Indian Administrative Service and other Central services. They are selected through a highly competitive examination conducted by the UPSC. The reaction to the proposal for lateral entry at this ‘crucial’ level of senior management drew a lot of comments, for and against. While many civil servants directly affected by the move were upset at this assault on career progression, a few welcomed it.