Recent government notification regarding lateral entry has led to a lot of debates with in the bureaucratic circles as well as public in general. The government has notified ten posts of joint secretary to be filled with motivated and talented individuals who can be from different walks of life. While lateral entry is not new to government what is new is the way it is being done this time. Unlike previously where the advisors where handpicked by government to bring in expertise, this time government has gone for open competition making it a different ball game altogether.

The private sector is enthused with an opportunity to serve government and bureaucratic circles are worried about the impact it may have on the permanent bureaucracy. The major concerns of the debate revolve around the nature of selection, the tenure of the laterals , the value system of the laterals, the future of permanent bureaucracy and will this step really lead to administrative efficiency. Indeed, these concerns are genuine as we are trying to change one of the oldest institutions of india and therefore , it may be wise to critically ponder over each one of them.

A strong argument given by government regarding lateral entry is that it will bring professional expertise into government. The laterals will be very much cognisant of the market and societal problems and will bring the new ideas into government so as to align government with what is happening outside. It is not a new argument and if we look into Dr B R Ambedkar’s case for direct recruitment , it was almost the same .He pointed out that direct recruits coming from UPSC would bring fresh ideas into government while those coming through ranks are likely to provide stability to the system. Undoubtedly , IT transformation within and many other changes can be attributed to this beautiful system of recruitment. However, it also gives us a sense of optimism that lateral entry may take us an inch forward and really bring an efficiency edge to the government.

The administrative veterans have been arguing that laterals may not have “grass root exposure”. However, the fears are unfounded and don’t hold ground in today’s world. The start ups like uber and ola have provided modern transportation solutions which the state monopoly could not do for decades. Infact, project loon is taking internet to remote villages where it has taken so much time for government to reach. Such solutions cannot come without understanding of grass root situations. Thus, lateral entry may rightly put confidence in the ability of laterals to provide innovative solution to many of the grass root problems.

However, Government definitely has its own way of working. The government servants are bound by values of public service. Unlike private enterprises where profit making remains crucial for performance appraisal, the public welfare has to many a times overwhelm the financial concerns in case of government. Thus, an induction training for the laterals to let them imbibe public service values will remains crucial. Further, file culture and red tapism in government is for real and handling them is an art. The laterals may have to be properly trained in handling files otherwise they may feel themselves getting bogged down with same.

But the major deciding factor in making this decision a success hinges on the selection procedure. The government has got a rare chance of setting highest standards of transparency. That standard is likely to come only when government comes out with a reason that why a person has been selected for a particular post and why others were not. This remains by far the most challenging aspect. It doesn’t matter who selects but it matters that the selection process is thrown open to highest standards of transparency to enthuse real confidence in public regarding this process.

Lastly, what is the future of bureaucracy in india. Many public figures have hinted at creation of mixed system of career bureaucrats and laterals. However, ten posts or for that matter even more posts at this level may be a very small beginning and it may be an overdose of an optimism to expect too much out of it. The system needs institutionalisation with open competition at multiple levels of the government so as to infuse a sense of professionalism into permanent bureaucracy. In our enthusiasm for lateral entry we must not forget that the aim of this move should be to infuse bureaucracy with sense of competition not to demoralise them as they still play a crucial role in governance system of india.

Lateral Entry is a rare chance to go for system correction and should ultimately aim at extending the sense of competition that civil services exam generates at recruitment level to middle and senior level positions in the government. Let’s hope that the government this time does a carpe diem and translates it into modernisation of bureaucracy.