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Lateral entry experts have ‘become like any IAS officer’ a year into recruitment

Modi govt hasn’t made any civil services recruitment though lateral entry since last year. Stakeholders say ‘domain experts’ hired have been subsumed by the system.

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New Delhi: Almost two years after the Narendra Modi government announced its ambitious plan to reform the civil services by bringing in fresh talent through the lateral entry process, the move seems to have lost steam. There has been no such recruitment since eight joint secretary-level appointments in eight ministries last year. 

In 2018, the government had said the lateral entry would fulfil the twin purpose of bringing in domain expertise in the civil services and addressing the problem of shortage of IAS officers at the Centre, but it said last year there was no further plans to recruit joint secretaries through this scheme. 

Instead, the government said it would be hiring 40 professionals through lateral entry at the level of director. 

In a statement to Parliament in July 2019, Minister of State for Personnel Jitendra Singh said on the basis of the recommendations of the NITI Aayog and the sectoral group of secretaries in 2017, “It has been decided, in principle, to appoint outside experts to 40 positions at deputy secretary/director level. However, no final decision has been taken in the matter.” 

Also read: RSS-backed IAS institute has been quietly grooming ‘nationalist’ civil servants since 1986

No progress on further recruitment  

More than a year since the statement, however, there is no movement on the proposal, and the UPSC — the body that is supposed to carry out the recruitments — has not been intimated by the government about any further recruitments as of yet.

“The proposal is not off the table, obviously,” an official in the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) said. “The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed a lot of plans across the government, so the recruitment could not happen this year. And a reform like lateral entry is bound to take time… But that does not mean that the reform has not taken off.” 

However, several skeptics of the move within the civil services see the slow movement on the lateral entry scheme as a vindication of their belief that the bureaucracy cannot be overhauled with the induction of a few professionals. 

‘Lateral entry cannot overhaul the civil service’

IAS officers and other stakeholders that ThePrint spoke to said the system was well entrenched and too vast for a few lateral entrants to make a difference.

“A lot of us were alarmed by the move last year, but a lot of us knew that the induction of 10 or 50 professionals through lateral entry cannot alter the functioning of the government or fundamentally change the nature of government functioning,” said a serving IAS officer, who did not wish to be named. “Unless the landscape of functioning changes in the government, it does not matter whether a person occupying the post is an IAS officer, an officer from the allied services (IPS, IRS, etc.) or a lateral entrant.” 

One of the eight lateral entrants recruited by the UPSC last year partially agreed. “It is still too early to say, and the experience has been a huge learning, but if I speak for myself, I can say I have gotten more soaked into the system than I have been able to change it,” the entrant said.

“This is not to say that I have not made any contribution but I think it is reasonable that one laterally recruited official in a ministry of hundreds cannot alter the culture,” he added. “While to kick off lateral entry, three years might be a good time, but in terms of affecting change in governance, it could prove to be too short a time.” 

Also read: ‘Irregularities’ in lateral entry of 3 joint secretaries — hiring row hits UPSC & DoPT

‘Purpose not served’

A secretary in one of the ministries, to which eight of the professionals were recruited, said the stated purpose of recruiting lateral entrants, which was to make use of their domain expertise, has not been served at all. 

“They have become like any other director or JS signing files,” said the officer, who also requested anonymity. “The other problem is they have very limited areas of expertise. Beyond those, they struggle to contribute in any other areas.” 

He added, “It is primarily because you are trying to induct domain expertise into a generalised domain, i.e. administration.”

In order for them to work well, the officer said, there should have been more focus on their training. “These people have no idea about how governance works, they need training in it,” he said. “My suggestion would be that they should be sent to Mussoorie (where the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy for Administration is located) for training for some time after their recruitment to get a hang of things.” 

The lateral entrants did undergo training at the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA) after their recruitment last year. At IIPA, they were taught how to make cabinet notes and on how to work around parliamentary procedures, among others. It was, however, only for a period of two weeks. 

Most ambitious recommendations on lateral entry not accepted 

While the government’s decision to recruit professionals through lateral entry was touted as a major reform, some of the more ambitious and radical recommendations with regard to lateral entry were put on the backburner by the government. 

According to documents accessed by ThePrint, the Group of Secretaries (GoS) on governance, which had first recommended lateral entry at the level of joint secretaries in 2017, had suggested promoting them to the level of additional secretaries or even inducting them into the IAS or other civil services — recommendations that were not immediately accepted by the government. 

A document of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), accessed by ThePrint, showed that in February 2017, the GoS had said, “The present shortage is at the level of joint secretary. Therefore, on an annual basis for the next seven years, 15 officers each at the Joint Secretary level could be selected on an annual basis from open market through a written competitive examination as well as personality test/presentation conducted through the UPSC.”

The recommendation of the GoS further added: “Such officers, if considered for extension, could also be considered for appointment up to Additional Secretary level without subjecting them to empanelment for that level.”

“An objective view about their extension should be possible as the feedback on the performance of these officers can be done as the ACR (Annual Confidential Reports)/360 degree evaluation would be available,” it said. 

While the government accepted the GoS’ recommendation to recruit professionals laterally, its recommendation to do so through a competitive examination, and to do it each year for the next seven years have not been accepted. 

Also read: Modi govt is shaking the foundation of India’s IAS-led civil service — one reform at a time

‘Recruiting them directly into IAS’

Yet another recommendation of the GoS, according to the document, was, “If the experiment proves to be successful and the Government is able to get the service of truly competent officers, a scheme could be subsequently devised to facilitate their lateral entry into IAS or other Group A central services wherever the officers have such domain expertise.” 

It added, “The modalities of their lateral induction is preferred because they could then be rotated at least three years to a state government to be allotted to them where they could gain field experience, which they could then bring to the position of policy-making levels. In such an eventuality, the feasibility of amending rules could be explored.”

While these recommendations have not been made public until now, sources say there is no indication that they could be accepted. IAS officers who spoke to ThePrint also found the recommendations undoable and arbitrary. 

“The recommendations are not doable. The recruitment for the IAS only happens through the UPSC Civil Service Examination. That cannot be circumvented just like that,” said S.K. Sarkar, former DoPT secretary. 

On the recommendation to promote lateral entrants as additional secretaries without empanelment, Sarkar said, “That would be discriminatory. Under the Central Staffing Scheme, to be promoted from JS (joint secretary) to AS (additional secretary), one has to be empanelled. You cannot circumvent this process for a select few.” 

The secretary quoted above said for lateral entry to succeed, a proper system needs to be established, wherein you say 10 per cent IAS officers would come through this route. “It cannot be arbitrarily done where you have a random number of recruitments done laterally, and then you say promote these officers or make them permanent IAS officers,” he said. 

ThePrint contacted a DoPT spokesperson through calls, text messages and email for a comment on what happened to the GoS recommendations, but there was no response till the time of publishing this report.

Also read: Subramanian Swamy was right. Modi’s lateral entry plan will make reservations irrelevant


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  1. If they want experts, why don’t they recruit with specialized exam for respective domain. It indicates either government exams have failed with governments traditional approach of recruitment. Also training and employment quality check and accountability of the existing government officials have failed. Lateral entry will probably won’t be transparent and it is very likely that there will be misuse of powers during recruitment and after both by employer and employee. GOVERNMENT NEED TO UNDERSTAND THAT GOALS OF PRIVATE SECTOR AND GOVERNMENT ARE TOTALLY DIFFERENT. IT IS LIKE GOVERNMENT HAS TO FOCUS ON PUBLIC WELFARE. AND WE ALL KNOW WHAT PRIVATE SECTOR FOCUSES ON.

  2. One, the bureaucrats aren’t bureaucrats for nothing. They know how to protect their turf. If Modi acts too smart, they also know how to deflate him. Two, the scheme and its morphs, were an EJECTION GIMMICK for the intelligentsia to swallow. The BJP was NEVER sincere on this issue.

  3. Until the entire structure is flattened – as layers are exploited for shifting buck where no one needs to put in 100% to detriment of the decision – one cannot apply mind – just having kra and pleasing reporting officer in mind – the systems can be hijacked by those who initiate the notes and have the first hand records at their level- the whole system of movement from bottom up is the bane of administration.

  4. It is great to have lateral entry in Government
    Offices. Government should ensure free and fair selection. No bais or prejudices should be there. Those who are allowed lateral entry into Government Deptt should be given space and freedom to work for the good governance.

  5. It may may choose officers in merit in initial years but later it will become a short cut to politicians to appoint there relatives and party workers.. We can still observe that politicians are getting appointment as directors of CPSU without considering any educational background.. Many will come with experience certificate of higher posts from paper companies with political recommendations will get selected.
    Beyond everthing it is aginest right to equality in public employment.. It aims persons working in corparate world..a person who having academic qualification , but a farmer or a shopkeeper can’t apply for the post even if they are successful.. Hence such posts will be reserved post for the premier in the society.. In case of civil service selection the poorest graduate also have the option to participate and get selected.. If shortage of officers are there appoint more.

  6. I am working in Reliance industries and so much relieved to hear this news. I was not able to qualify UPSC after 7 attempts . I support lateral entry.
    This reform would surely would help persons who are already employed in some private companies to directly go to post of Joint Secretary.
    It would help me to achieve my failed dreams

    • Honestly , the entire purpose was to take the talent from outside the available pool and not some one who is not talented or domain expert which they required.

  7. It is hardly surprising that these lateral entry experts have themselves become like the IAS officers, whose work culture they were supposed to help improve. The lateral entry move is a laudable, path-breaking initiative, but by itself it will change nothing because of two reasons: first, the “system is well-entrenched” as the unnamed IAS guy you interviewed self-comfortingly puts it; and second, perhaps, is that the initiative was not properly conceived. Merely appointing a small handful of such so-called experts to mid-level positions on relatively short-term contracts within a vast system is just a feeble effort, and is bound to result in their being subsumed into the system – that is hardly a surprise. Perhaps those recruited were also only ‘corporate bureaucrats’ or careerists themselves – merely coming from the private sector and having domain experience is not enough qualification. Perhaps they end up trying to fit into the system, bide their time and then see how they can ‘leverage’ the stint with the government for their next career step. This is hardly the behavior of change agents. In the end the lack of results will be held up as a ‘failure’ of the initiative and will just give ammunition to its critics – the change-resistant bureaucracy – to crawl out of the woodwork and say “we told you it wouldn’t work,” etc. thereby seeing it off for good.

    The whole objective of bureaucracy is self-perpetuation; bureaucrats cherish above all their status, the certainty of their tenures (regardless of performance), the maintenance of privileges that come with belonging to the class and their grip on the levers of the system through established processes of selection and career progression. Any effort to change is seen immediately as a threat and undermined with focus and resolve via a collaborative effort across ministries that kicks in almost instinctively.

    Mr. Modi was absolutely right in identifying the need to transform the functioning of the bureaucracy as a key objective. If he is is really determined to change things – as he ought to be, for this he has been given a clear mandate – then he needs to undertake wholesale reform on a mass scale, not just tinkering at the edges through token gestures and symbolic initiatives. There is need to set tangible targets for ministries, which are then devolved into individual performance targets. Targets ought to be carefully thought through by capable minsters and a couple of reform-minded trusted top advisers; the targets must be based on verifiable indices such as timely delivery of specified objectives, measurable cost efficiency, actual levels of public satisfaction and so on. There is need put in place rigorous evaluation of performance by ministers of the actual achievement of the targets or otherwise, and to link the major part of pay and perks of bureaucrats to the achievement of these targets. Failure to achieve targets for 3-4 years ought to result in placement into performance-improvement programs and eventually removal from service, as it does in the private sector and indeed in other parts of the government itself such as in the armed forces. These changes ought to be applied to the heads of the government departments, and they in turn ought to be required to apply the same to their juniors. Only if such a clear performance culture with direct impact on outcomes that matter (such as continuation in service, pay, promotion, perks) for individuals in key positions is established, will things improve. Sure, the bureaucracy will complain and become ‘demoralized’ but over time the system will improve. It will create a direct stake for bureaucrats to themselves seek domain expertise by hiring and utilizing so-called private sector experts, as key enablers for their own performance.

  8. Others are not fool to leave their 7 figures packages.. careers abroad to prepare for upsc.. these laternal ones are mockery of people who chose the service, left big MBA.. MS.. in the first place. The corporate ethics with sole motive of profit.. and the service ethics with holistic motive of inclusion and transformation can hardly converge. Not every corporate is Ratan Tata. Crony capitalism and baniya raj won’t do us any good. Perhaps we shall strive for a balance.

  9. I agree with you but the stiff civil service bastion is a major hindrance to their working,and areas such as information commission they could implement their independent creative work flow rather in any stigmatized department

  10. 1. Lateral entry should be at the very highest level – secretary – to make any difference.
    2. All the secretary posts 100% of them should be filled by lateral entry.
    3. The IAS coterie will not allow AS and DS level lateral officers to work – this article in itself is a reflection of how maligning of private sector is done by entrenched vested interests of corrupt babus.

    Why points – because smallish brains of IAS and IAS aspirants can only understand the format which they’ve been fed while mugging coaching materials.

  11. No government can dare to touch these service lobby . Few services are so called backbone of bureaucracy and even no government in this country can survive without them.
    But I was hopeful with present government’s will power but no such strong decision taken yet. We are still following colonial system to run the administration of this country. Citizens are still waiting for transparent and corruption free India. 40 months to go..let’s hope something concrete on this aspects.

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