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Lateral intrusion~II

Ashok Kapur |

There is another crucial difference, often lost sight of in the raging debate. This is the little or no exposure of the Central services to rural India and the ground realities. The IAS alone is a field service, with exposure to all the tiers of governance ~ right from panchayats to zila parishads to local government and the state governments.

An IAS officer begins his career by supervising blocks, which is the basic unit of administration all over India.

Neither the other two all-India services nor the Central services are field services, strictly speaking. They are, especially the latter, by and large posted in cities and metros throughout. The Constitution lists 210 subjects in the division of subjects between the Centre and the states in the Union, State and Concurrent Lists.

These cover the entire gamut of the activities of a modern welfare state ~ rural development, taxation, essential commodities and supplies, local government, ecology and environment, summary legislation, agriculture and irrigation, trade policy, imports and exports etc.

An IAS officer has exposure to all these subjects, in the first two decades of his service. He handles them in various capacities during his field service.

Advocates of ‘lateral entry’ want positions at the level of Joint Secretary and above ‘thrown open’ to “experts” from the “open market”. This is the level at which an IAS officer is qualified and experienced to be eligible to be posted as Joint Secretary, to transplant his acquired field skills into official policy.

At this threshold, to tell him that he should make way for an “outside expert” is to “sanction” the wastage of public money spent on equipping him for this very key assignment. And this responsibility grooms him for promotion to the apex level of the top policy adviser ~ Secretary to the Government of India.

At the level of Joint Secretary, for the first time in his official career, he develops a panIndia perspective, so crucial for shouldering the responsibilities of a Secretary. So far, his exposure was limited to his state but as a Joint Secretary of a Union ministry, his exposure widens to other states, as Union ministries supervise and coordinate the work of the states in a federal set-up. Besides, he is also responsible for coordinating with his peers in the Union Government from other states, and sharing each other’s experience.

Most of the development schemes and projects of the Government are implemented in the states. This involves a virtual day-to-day interministerial coordination with several Union ministries. Schemes of rural development may involve ministries of agriculture, food processing, animal husbandry, cooperation, banking, irrigation etc.

It leads to ideal coordination if key officials involved have similar training, experience and background, with more or less the same seniority. This close coordination ensures smooth execution of projects in another way.

The states where the schemes are being implemented are also manned by the peers and the juniors of supervising Union officials, thus ensuring horizontal and vertical coordination as well.

Turning to the other side, it would be worthwhile to examine first whether or not ‘lateral entry’ is a case of ‘first deserve and then desire’.

We need to study the career profile of an “outside expert” of similar seniority and experience, say a corporate executive from the “open market”.

Typically, he is an MBA who is working for a top company, either a large Indian or a foreign multinational.

He exercises his option to work in a large urban metro all his life. He has hardly any exposure to any rural area, or an administrative block or the hinterland. He has no exposure to local self-government or training in myriad state laws or knowledge of the working of a federal Constitution.

An MBA degree, shorn of management jargon basically equips a manager to manipulate the market to the advantage of his company, nothing more, nothing less.

As a corporate executive, he has hardly any accountability outside his board. Unlike his government counterpart, he has no accountability to Parliament and its committees that hold public servants to account, not private honchos.

A private executive is autonomous in his decision-making role, not so the civil servant who has to have the full and complete endorsement of his superior political masters.

All executive action by a civil servant is based on the authority of law, largely on the principles of administrative law, as developed in the UK since the end of the Second World War. It is a law developed by the courts in the UK, and applied by civil servants in India as well. It is not codified, and cannot be learned either from any bare Act or even by reading the Constitution.

The only way to learn it is by long experience in the field through the process of decision-making. On this ground alone, all “outside experts” are straightaway disqualified.

An expert or for that matter even a “bright academic”, aspirants for ‘lateral entry’ have no experience in executive decision-making in their entire career. The former is playing the market, by and large, and the latter is neither accountable to any authority nor has any responsibility for results in any manner. They all are completely ignorant of Administrative Law, the foundation of public decision-making.

To induct them laterally into positions of public responsibility, would be tantamount to hammering square pegs in round holes.

Fortunately for our federal Constitution, such issues are now in the realm of a sterile academic debate. The Supreme Court, in the celebrated case of Keshvananda Bharati in 1973, has buried the idea for good.

It has included the federal form of government in the concept of ‘Basic Structure’ of the Constitution. In other words, it is immutable.

Neither the Legislature nor the Executive can tinker with it. And the all-India services, as constituted, are the most positive aspect of federalism, as explained in the Constituent Assembly. Peter Drucker, an authority on modern management, has spoken the last word on the subject ~ “There is no reason to believe that business managers, put in control of (public) service institutions would do better than the bureaucrats”.

He was referring to the similar failure in the US Government after the last War: “Many rapidly became bureaucrats themselves”.

The proposal has reportedly emanated from Niti Aayog, the Government’s premier thinktank. If it is so, better thinking was expected from it.


(The writer is a retired IAS officer)