Lateral Entry In Bureaucracy Will it ensure better performance?

Dhurjati Mukherjee
The bureaucracy rules supreme in Government and legacy has been inherited since British days. The oft-stated ‘bureaucratic attitude’ is heard time and again which means ‘undue delay or little concern’ for ground realities in a particular situation, specially those concerning the common man. Worse, the bureaucracy is always on the side of the Party in power and hence no independent decision can be expected from any  official.
Pertinently, faced with such a situation the Government’s recent decision to allow lateral entry directly to the rank of Joint Secretary has not only caught babudom off-guard but it has not taken kindly to this. As under no condition does it want or will allow its power to be curbed, even by a small measure.
Undeniably, cracking the civil service examination is probably the toughest job for a youth and after arduous training and later serving in various capacities for around two decades, a bureaucrat reaches the joint secretary position. During this entire period, an officer gains varied experience and also accumulates diverse means to resolve problems, sometimes through innovative means.
Now this lateral entry at joint secretary rank is open only for those above 40 years and having 15 years of experience in any field. It is heartening to note that those working in public sector statutory bodies, universities, research organizations and officials in States can apply for these posts. Accommodating academics in technical administration or involving grass-root people with knowledge and expertise in such posts is a welcome move.
Importantly, there is provision also for civil servants which allows temporary lateral exits of serving IAS officers to private sector for 3 to 5 years to gain experience and acquire necessary skills under Rule 6.2.2. Thus, the present lateral entry is another way of having people with experience to share it with the Government.
Moreover, having environmental activists or rural development and farming experts to serve in respective Ministries might, in fact, help the developmental process. The specialists intimate knowledge of ground realities and solutions for emerging problems are definitely more than those of the bureaucrats.
But the moot point is: How much of their independent evaluation or projection of a problem would be accepted by the Government, specially by our politicians?
Certainly, one can expect lateral entries in to Ministries such as power, agriculture, rural development, environment, HRD (education), health, drinking water etc. which one hopes, would gear up the process of decision making and ensure the decisions taken therein benefit the lower segments of society.
Also, educated activists could bring about necessary change with their grass-root knowledge and expertise, if they are selected purely on considerations of merit and given a free hand in carrying out their work.
However there are some misgivings. While most believe that experts would be inducted and selected on the basis of merit or actual experience in mitigating problems of certain Ministries. A few pessimists believe that the selection process would be manoeuvered to induct people loyal to a political Party. Additionally, is doubtful whether they would be given enough freedom to carry out work as these professionals are most likely to be considered and treated as ‘second class’ in the bureaucratic set-up.
Unquestionably, this induction could trigger a reform process in the bureaucracy. Optimists and activists have been looking for a change in the administrative functioning of the Government — be it the Centre or States along-with a more pro-people approach for years. But remember while jargons like good governance are good to hear and enthuse a spirit but they die down shortly as no  perceptible change is visible.
Alas, bureaucrats do not want any independent evaluation or study to be undertaken though sometimes they have to relent. Be it to appraisals carried out by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG) or the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO), the deficiencies in the officials carrying out responsibilities are quite manifest. However, the Government does not take any action but only talks about big plans and programmes.
An example. Green activists have been crying hoarse that while the Government is systematically diluting all environmental laws in the country, it is trying to project itself as pro-environment globally by hosting the World Environment Day programme in the country. Even in the case of farmers, only false hopes and promises have been given for the last few years while the small or marginal sections have not gained in any way instead, some of them have been adversely affected.
Significantly, it has been pointed out innumerable times that the whole system has been functioning at a superficial level. In this connection, one might mention the 12th Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) which outlined the need for a ‘Social Audit’ for organizations which have a public interface by an independent team, to evaluate the effectiveness of Government schemes, whether they were reaching the beneficiaries and whether their views were taken into consideration while formulating development schemes at the grass-root level.
Sadly, most Government departments refused to carry out such an audit for fear of being shown their deficiencies.
Consequently, the whole issue boils down to the fact that the Government is not willing to change in any which way. The question of decentralization comes up here as we are still following a top-down approach. Over the years, we have been clamouring for implementation of Mahatma Gandhi’s thoughts and ideals but have ignored the aam janata’s voice in formulating plans and programmes which are necessary for their welfare. Thus, the present induction of experts and activists does not generate much hope.
In the ultimate, for a responsive Government, a change in outlook is extremely necessary as also a strong political will wedded to the peoples’ welfare, not of corporate groups. If this becomes a reality, the induction of technocrats, academic scholars and activists in the Government is expected to be of help. Not just limiting it to the present 10 per cent but much more — but under certain conditions. This would mean giving specialists freedom to act, point out irregularities, suggest alternative strategies etc. so the process of development is geared in the right direction. (INFA)

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