CPR president Yamini Aiyar at the event Monday
CPR president Yamini Aiyar at the event Monday | CPR Dialogues
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New Delhi: A mix of the basic structure of the civil services and lateral entries is the way forward to building state capability, said T.V. Somanathan, Secretary in the Department of Expenditure.

Speaking at a panel discussion at the CPR Dialogues 2020 held in the national capital Monday, Somanathan emphasised that lateral entries need to be merit-based.

The discussion marked the launch of the Centre for Policy Research (CPR)’s ‘State Capacity Initiative’, an effort to boost policy research in India.

“(The initiative has been launched) With the aim of deepening the public debate on state capacity in India and building a shared vision,” said senior CPR fellow Mekhala Krishnamurthy.

Underscoring the need for state capacity, Krishnamurthy explained that there is currently a pervasive and deep disenchantment with the Indian state and, therefore, building state capacity is actually an art of balancing tensions. 

On how the initiative would function, Krishnamurthy explained it would be focused on developing networks and communities of practice across states, sectors and spheres such as government, politics, development partners, academia, civil society and the media.

The initiative was launched during a panel discussion on building state capacity and capability in India, on day one of the event. 

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‘State capability needs to adapt to change’

CPR president Yamini Aiyar, who was moderating the panel, began the discussion by asking World Bank’s Country Director (India), Junaid Ahmad about what exactly state capability meant. 

Explaining that it’s the state’s ability to deliver to citizens and be held accountable to them, Ahmad said, “The state is facing a world which is constantly changing. Therefore the question is, can the state change with it? The adaptability to change is what would be regarded as state capability.”

Ahmad also said the future of India lies in the states and in federalism. Therefore, India needs to strengthen its federal structure to build state capability and serve its people, he said.

Role of civil servants

With Somanathan and Sanjay Mitra, former chief secretary, West Bengal, on the panel, the discussion shifted to the role of civil servants in building state capability and the debate on specialists versus generalists in key administration roles.

Somanathan said: “Lateral entry in the civil services is a very important part of the solution of state capability.”

However, he said lateral entries should be done on the basis of excellence and not on political connections.

Mitra, meanwhile, said he too was intrigued by the generalist versus specialist debate, and said there is a disquiet in the political class about generalists in the civil services. 

Ahmad, however, said the generalist versus specialist debate was overdone and if lateral entry is going to be practised, there is a need to build a structure to manage it.

Influencing policy

The role of academics and researchers in building state capability also came up. On this, Somanathan had a word of advice for researchers.

“To influence policy, researchers need to internalise challenges policy-makers face and look at the choices they have to make,” he added.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, who was scheduled to be on the panel, missed the event due to unrest in the state linked to the Citizenship Amendment Act.

ThePrint is a digital partner of the CPR Dialogues.

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ThePrint.in is the digital partner for CPR Dialogues. Read this series of curtain-raiser articles ahead of the conference.

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