The Modi government has turned on the election mode. It is all set to woo people with its own ‘report card’ that will show people how it delivered on its promise of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”. It is expected that this so-called report card shall be presented following the next General Budget at the beginning of the year. Following which, the ministers and MPs will start touring the country trying to convince the electorate of their “achievements”. While the manifesto will contain a list of real or perceived achievements done by this government; the highlight will be the promise to bring in professionals and technocrats from private sector as a parallel force to that of bureaucrats in running the government.
While the word being used is “partnership,” at its bare bone it will be putting these people from private sector at the same footing and pedestal as the bureaucrats. Although the government-speak is that it does not want to belittle or undermine the bureaucracy in any way. The government insists that it only wants to give opportunity to those people to run schemes who are more equipped academically or through experiences to do so. Although ruling dispensation is still testing waters with this idea, the idea itself is rather old.
As far as the government is concerned, it has a few examples to show. The foremost is the public-private partnership with Tata Consultancy Services, a private player, in Passport services. A section of people believe that bringing in a private player has somewhat lessened the red-tapism and “Inspector Raj”. Such public-private partnership example needs to be emulated. And the government has set its mind in doing so.
The Indian state and its institutions have always been in sort of two minds about the Indian Administrative Service. While Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru famously said that the “Indian Administrative Service was neither Indian, nor administrative and definitely not a service; his own home minister Sardar Ballabhbhai Patel deemed it the spinal cord of the Indian state. The current government thinks that it is only recalibrating the philosophy of Patel.
The foremosT is The public-privaTe parTnership wiTh TaTa consulTancy services, a privaTe player, in passporT services
As far as lateral entry into administrative service is concerned, the consideration is pretty old. The issue has not been raised for the first time. Its necessity was realised as early as during the Second Administrative Reforms, and commissions were set up to explore the possibilities. However, the push this time is unprecedented.
Says senior BJP leader Om Mathur, “The achievements of this government speak volume about our pledge to do away with the hindrances and roadblocks that come in the way of serving people. A foolproof road-map has been drawn, and this will make the system more efficient than ever before.”
However, what this government considers a roadblock is up for debate. The first example of lateral entry was the committees called “Team India” and “Pragati” that drive the government beside main suggestions from “Niti Aayog”. This did away with the Planning Commission, which by that definition was a roadblock. Planning Commission was the most powerful power centre after the PMO in the federal structure. Sources in the government compare it with the feudal system where state governments were akin to begging vassals. Planning Commission not only had its own budget, it had the power over a range of subjects, right from releasing the funds for Non-Planned Expenditure to give permissions for overdrafting. The Deputy Chairperson of the commission had vast powers. The ornamental post was held by Pranab Mukherjee, former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Late P V Narasimha Rao, Jaswant Singh and the last name was Montek Singh Ahluwalia.
Says senior leader Somnath Shastri, onetime member of the Planning Commission, “Deputy Chairperson of the Planning Commission fancied himself as a king. He used to look down upon states with nonCongress governments. And that’s not all. Only a fraction of what used to be released by the commission used to reach the people. Even Rajiv Gandhi once quipped about it. This porous arrangement needed to be stopped, and it was. This has also saved the expenditure to run the commission.”
As far as new way of functioning is concerned, Arvind Panagariya, former vice-chairman of Niti Aayog says, “When I was made responsible for Niti Aayog, the PM categorically told me to discard the traditional way, and work in a manner that creates knowledge and better output. After lots of efforts, as many as three dozen recommendations by Aayog have been accepted. This has changed things for the better. Stealing of urea has come down drastically, and farmers have benefited. Direct remitting of subsidy money has also helped. All the recommendations related to regulatory measures and otherwise have helped people.”
Going by Niti Aayog’s admission, over three quarters of 1,250 staff earlier working with Planning Commission were shifted to other departments when Niti Aayog came into being. Lots of experts were brought in instead. Aayog insists that with less than a quarter of expenditure, Niti Aayog and its Knowledge Hub managed to have over three dozen recommendations accepted by as many as five ministries including finance ministry. It is making work easier.
The government is also of the belief that the more the system is integrated with digital process, the more it sees the lessening of red-tapism or interference by the bureaucracy. Pragati Committee also recommended that bureaucrats should be used as per their expertise. Presently many of them use ad hoc posting in public bodies to serve their own personal causes. The committee also believes that the bureaucracy can’t work without accountability or at will.
governmenT is also of The belief ThaT The more The sysTem is inTegraTed wiTh digiTal process, The more lessens The red-Tapism
One particular instance in this respect was the discussion over sugar. In one of the meetings of the committee, participants were marvelling over sugar cubes, in that how easy it is to handle the “hands-free” cubes and how good its quality is. After this incident the PM called the meeting of Secretaries and congratulated them on the success of the new urea policy. He drew parallel to the hands-free process of handling sugar cubes and urea, and maintained that digitisation helped not only curb misuse, but also improved the quality.
PMO is also known to express its annoyance to those whom it finds lacking. After one bad presentation, the PM pulled a particular Secretary with some sarcastic barbs. In the past few months, the PMO has also called private experts to advise it on specific subjects before rolling out programmes. In one such instance, a retired engineer from Border Roads Organisation was called to advise and execute on a road project in Arunachal Pradesh. Considering the sensitivity of the project, he was made in-charge of the same. PMO also arranged quick finance for the same. This broke the glass ceiling. The prevailing mood now is to go for hiring experts from outside the government as and when the need arises.
PMO also reviewed the work of TCS at Passport Sewa Kendra through surveys, and appreciated their effort. Jitendra Singh, MoS at the PMO, said, “There is no issue in taking help from experts from private sector if it helps the larger cause of benefiting the nation and its people. And if we seek expertise in achieving these goals that should be seen as neither our aversion nor our mistrust in the bureaucracy.”
As far as lateral appointment is concerned, the government has raised some valid issues. It wants to know as to why there is so much delay in dealing with the files even when bureaucrats from top to bottom broadly agree on an issue? In this context the government had asked Niti Aayog to draw a road-map of bringing in experts from private sector for the posts of and above that of a Deputy Secretary. The government was of the belief that a nation’s priorities keep changing as per time and requirements. Earlier nation building was the priority. Now it has shifted towards creating jobs, poverty alleviation, good roads, health and education for all and efficiency. And that the government shall use the talent pool in the private sector for better results.
And Niti Aayog has walked the talk by starting with itself. The proposed draft has opened the middle level posts of Director, Joint Secretary and above for the private sector. That those coming on these posts don’t face bureaucratic hurdles shall be the responsibility of Niti Aayog. As far as salary and perks are concerned, for the officers or consultants equivalent to the post of Secretary, Niti Aayog has recommended a salary of Rs 3.64 lakh, while for those equivalent to the post of Joint Secretary will draw Rs 2.88 lakh, apart from the usual perks. This step will for sure hinder the automatic promotion in bureaucracy. The bottleneck will create confrontation. Niti Aayog has been tasked with avoiding that. Says Amitabh Kant, CEO, Niti Aayog, “Our policy is to bring best talents from private sectors for the posts that were hitherto reserved for senior officers from the civil service. Our goal is to achieve wholesome development.”
This is not for the first time, however, that experts are being recruited. During UPA’s rule people like Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Vijay Kelkar and half a dozen others were in the government in their capacity as experts. Infosys’ Nandan Nilekani, TCS’s S Ramadorai, Boston Consultancy Group’s Arun Maira, CITE’s Rohini Malkani and Mahindra’s CEO Raghuraman etc were made heads of panels and Inter Ministerial Councils in their capacity as experts. Many of these had the same rank as MoS.
prime minisTer office is also known To express iTs annoyance To Those senior bureaucraTs whom iT finds lacking in Their assigned duTies
The government insists that it has a transparent policy for recruitments as well as for the creation of posts. This has rattled the IAS lobby in particular. As far as lateral entry for the Secretary level is concerned, the first name to be finalised is of Dr Najmul Haque, who is the ex-chairman of the Commission for Agriculture, Caste and Price. He has been given the responsibility of Niti Aayog’s Land Policy Cell. He has been given the rank of Secretary for two years, which can be extended by another year. Similarly for the post of Secretary of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Parmeswaran Iyer has been appointed. He is an ex-IAS, who has resigned and had gone to work for the World Bank. The process is underway to fill up the posts of Secretary and below in as many as a dozen mainframe bodies of the federal government.
It is learnt that the PMO has also asked the Department of Personnel to prepare a modality for direct recruitment for the posts of Director, Deputy Secretary, Joint Secretary and Secretary. What comes as a surprise is that the recommendation has been given by a group of Secretaries who are in favour of lateral entry in infrastructure and economy sectors. This move of the PMO came in response when the home ministry had sent a report to the PMO expressing deep concern over the number of unfilled vacancies at middle level in several departments with a special reference to acute shortage of IAS in the country. Sources say, after the modality is finalised, a committee under the chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary will finalise salaries and other perks for these posts. As per a broad estimate, the government can recruit as many as 40 people from entrepreneuracademician-social worker category. These recruitments shall not be done in sensitive ministries such as home ministry, defence ministry and corporate affairs. The minister of state in the PMO Jitendra Singh insists that unless a consensus is not reached, the posts will not be filled.
during upa’s rule people like monTek ahluwalia, vijay kelkar and half a dozen oThers were in The governmenT in Their capaciTy as experTs
However, Singh has in the past expressed concern in the Lok Sabha over unfilled vacancies to the tune of 1,470 IAS, 908 IPS and 560 IFS. There are 4,926 IAS officers in service against the authorised 6,396 seats. UPSC has made it clear that it will only recruit 980 officers through civil service exams this year; the lowest in five years. There are 128 vacancies in Bihar, 117 in Uttar Pradesh and 101 in West Bengal. Similarly, there’s a huge shortage of IPS officers especially in the light of the Naxal problem. Uttar Pradesh, where law and order is a serious problem, has 114 IPS posts vacant. The corresponding numbers in West Bengal, Odisha, Karnataka and Bihar are 88, 79, 72 and 43 respectively. The situation is no better in the case of IFS. There is shortage of officers of Indian Forest Service (IFS) also. A total of 2,597 IFS officers are in the country as against their total authorised strength of 3,157 – a gap of 560. The highest number of vacancies of IFS are in Maharashtra (46) followed by Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Odisha (45 each).
A Parliamentary standing committee has recently expressed “serious concern” over persistent shortage of IAS officers and strongly recommended that all efforts be made to fill these vacancies. “The committee notes that almost all the key and strategic positions under the Union as well as the states are being manned by the IAS and persistent shortage in the IAS officers ultimately affects governance in the country. The committee expresses its serious concern over persistent shortage of IAS officers and strongly recommends that all efforts be made to fill these vacancies,” the panel had said in its report submitted in Parliament.
As central government is merely planning, the state governments have also started lateral appointments. The Maharashtra government has appointed half a dozen professionals as OSDs. Most of them are MBAs and having specialisation in various disciplines. The wisemen of CM Fadnavis sit on the fifth floor of the Mantralaya and do assemble at the sixth floor which has been converted into a War Room. They discuss the infra plans there. The Delhi government had also attempted a similar route, but it was debarred by the central government.
home minisTry is preparing a modaliTy for direcT recruiTmenT for The posTs of direcTor, depuTy secreTary, joinT secreTary and secreTary
When the entire country is talking about the new concept of Modi government civil servants have their own reservations. The Civil Servants’ Association believes that the service is bind by provisions in the law, and lateral appointments will undermine those provisions. What most proponents fail to grasp is that the civil services are in the Constitution. Part XIV deals with “Services Under the Union and the States”. Article 309 states, “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, Acts of the appropriate legislature may regulate the recruitment, and conditions of service of persons appointed, to public services and posts in connection with the affairs, of the Union or of any State.” Any change in the governance structure requires constitutional amendments, and cannot be done through executive orders. Lateral talent will undermine the Constitution. The association has its own argument and government has its own planning. This year the empanelment of Joint Secretaries has less numbers of IAS and more new faces are promoted from non-IAS services.
There are several other problems with the concept. The doubt is obvious, one young civil servant says, when we talk about the corruption and lack of transparency in the civil services. However, outsiders, who are directly hired by the government, may be as corrupt. In addition, such a process can easily become rotten, and lead to crony capitalism, patronage and favouritism.
The idea of bringing able people from The academic or corporaTe secTors inTo suiTable posiTions in The governmenT is basically sound
The general question asked is: “Why are bureaucrats scared of the impending entry of experts from outside the government system as Joint Secretaries in the central government? Are they afraid that their incompetency will be exposed when they start working alongside? Have they forgotten that they were chosen by a rigorous merit-based recruitment system where many of the present-day technical and managerial experts had also competed?”
The idea of bringing able people from the academic or corporate sectors into suitable positions in the government is basically sound, provided it is done with sincerity of purpose and transparency. It should, for example, not become a subterfuge for inducting ‘their own’ into policymaking echelons.
Former cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar says, “In my view, the issue should be given a careful consideration before an irreversible decision is taken, since a decision of disturbing the precarious administrative equilibrium could lead to serious implications. Perhaps an initial pilot programme involving technical and infrastructural ministries is indicated. There are places where the government can use these lateral entrants more gainfully; for instance, they can be engaged in organisations like NHAI and DGFT. The process of inducting lateral entrants into senior positions of civil service should also be subjected to the same high quality of recruitment process as UPSC selection, so that unscrupulous decision-makers do not take advantage and recruit people of their choice.”