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Govt opens door to private sector talent, wants specialists to join ministries as joint secys

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DoPT ad for applications gets mixed reactions – some welcome the move but others are apprehensive, say may increase scope for political appointments

New Delhi: The Modi government has decided to allow private sector specialists a lateral entry to the crucial joint secretary position in at least 10 ministries and departments, a first-of-its-kind move that has evoked mixed reactions from bureaucrats and politicians. The position of joint secretary has traditionally been held by senior bureaucrats, a majority from the Indian Administrative Services (IAS).

In an advertisement issued Sunday, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) sought applications from private sector specialists for 10 ministries and departments  — Road, Transport and Highways; Agriculture and Farming; Economic Affairs; Financial Services; Shipping; Commerce; Civil Aviation; Environment, Forest and Climate Change; New & Renewable Energy and Revenue.

The advertisement said the applications should be submitted between June 15 and July 30 on a separate online portal created for this purpose. The appointments will be for a term of three years that could be extended to five years.

Niti Aayog recommendations

The idea to induct private sector talent into the system was first mooted by the government policy think tank Niti Aayog, in its Three Year Action Agenda for 2017-2020.

Pitching for civil services reforms, the Niti Aayog had said it is essential that sector specialists be inducted into the system through lateral entry as that would “bring competition to the established career bureaucracy”.

The government has appointed sector specialists in some departments, including in the Niti Aayog itself.

Last year, an Ayurveda physician, ‘Vaidya’ Rajesh Kotecha, was appointed special secretary in the Ayush Ministry, which was against the norm for a civil servant. The appointment of Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati is yet another example.

Since 2009, the Ministry of External Affairs opened its door to people from the armed forces and other ministries for short-term assignments. And two years ago, it even allowed interns into its hallowed portals. These young people are usually straight out of college.

Officer ‘shortage’

Hinting at a “shortage” of joint secretary-level officers in the central government, sources in the personnel ministry said the 10 positions are only the beginning, and more sector specialists from outside are likely to be inducted into various departments in the months ahead.

As reported by ThePrint last month, the Narendra Modi government had also been considering a change in the way services and cadres are allocated to those qualifying in the All India Civil Services Examination, in a bid to reform the civil services. The move had drawn flak from both serving and former bureaucrats.

‘Should be on merit’

While some bureaucrats welcomed the decision, others criticised it, saying it will not offer a level-playing field to serving bureaucrats and that discretion could increase the scope for political appointments.

“For instance, the temporary lateral exit for government officers for five years is not being permitted lately. Officers should also be permitted to gain professional expertise from private sector,” a senior bureaucrat said.

Another expressed apprehension that the move could open up the possibility of private sector professionals pushing the agenda of their sector, as is the case with many private consultants.

“This will only increase if JS are hired from the private sector,” the bureaucrat said, asking “what happens to reservation in those posts?”

“Overall, most of us are not against the concept of lateral entry. It is just that we feel that selection should be done on merit basis by a constitutional body like the UPSC to ensure it remains unbiased and discretion-free,” another senior bureaucrat said.

Sources said the Central IAS association may soon adopt a resolution on these points.

Sanjay Bhoosreddy, secretary of central IAS Officers Association, remained unavailable for comment, despite calls and messages.

‘Will depend on implementation’

The decision has also evoked sharp responses in political circles.

Former UPA law minister and chairman of the second administrative reforms commission, Veerappa Moily, said the move could either be good or bad, depending on the way it is implemented.

“Bringing domain experts to the government is not a bad idea but it should be done on merit basis and not in an ad-hoc manner, without saffronising the service,” the Congress leader said. “It should not demoralise serving civil servants in the government.”

Leader of opposition in Bihar, Tejashwi Yadav, tweeted against the move.

“How can this Manuwadi government sideline the UPSC and appoint its own people to important personal and joint secretary level appointments? This is gross violation of Constitution and the reservation system. Tomorrow they can appoint the Prime Minister and cabinet without election. They have brought down the Constitution to a mere joke,” he wrote.

However, independent experts such as Shiv Visvanathan said it would be a great idea to bring in private sector professionals into public service.

“Most bureaucrats after retirement join the private sector. So to recruit enormous private sector talent into the government at the joint secretary level is a great idea, as long as it is implemented in a proper way,” he said.

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  1. Some of the reservations being expressed over the move could be set at rest if the lateral entrants are selected by the UPSC. The other question is why a qualified professional, doing well in the private sector, would wish to join the government, on a much lower salary, for a period of just three to five years. At the end of the period, he would again be in the job market. 2. A lot of new ideas are being experimented with, partly to generate a Wow factor. When they are not fully thought through, the results are disappointing. 3. The steel frame is not stainless, but it has held up reasonably well. What it really requires is thoughtful – if visionary sounds cliched – political leadership that sets out worthwhile national objectives and then pursues them relentlessly. That also requires fostering a culture of professional autonomy. Joint Secretary and above, mandarins should not only be permitted, they should be encouraged, to voice a different point of view. Demonetisation could not have taken place if that kind of work ethic had prevailed.

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