Can Lateral Entry in the IAS Ensure Good Governance?

The recent decision of the central government to allow lateral entry for joint secretary-level posts comes in the wake of a long-pending need for administrative reform. It remains to be seen how far this decision will be successful in making Indian bureaucracy effective.

India has one of the most powerful bureaucracies in the world, inheriting many features of the British period. A Hong Kong-based organisation, Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd, ranked India as the worst performer among 12 Asian countries in 2012 (Qazi 2018).[1] At the national level, it took two decades after independence to have the first administrative reform commission (ARC). Over the years, governments have not made any sincere efforts to overhaul governance structures. Although lateral entry (LE) has become a buzzword, it is pertinent to note that senior-level positions in public services have so far been unavailable even to the non-Indian administrative services. It seems that most of the officers’ associations are not in favour of this move (Bhattacharjee 2018). It would indeed be uncharacteristic of such cadre-conscious organisations to welcome outsiders with domain expertise to occupy the positions at the level of joint secretary (JS).  

Lateral entry into administrative services offers to open the corridors of power for the non-state actors. It is imperative to analyse how this would intersect the complexities of governance. Any close observer of the government knows that the coordination between multiple ministries is complex. In addition to these silos, the incompatibilities between cadres of the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) creates a sclerotic system. The advertised positions for LE are presented as a “magic bullet” for fixing the system in terms of policy formulation, implementation, and administration of various programmes and schemes in the government. Moreover, those who reached the JS level have spent gruelling years negotiating various strands of policy formulation, mediating expediency of the political executive’s decisions, and overseeing the feasibility of executions.

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