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The Narendra Modi government’s lateral entry scheme is a plan to recruit “domain experts” and outsiders at the level of joint secretaries, director and deputy secretaries.

This is not to say the IAS fraternity lacks qualities needed to perform well. Despite the criticism from the urban “intellectuals”, the IAS has performed pretty well. A recent survey, conducted by the Azim Premji Foundation and Lokniti, revealed that the office of the district magistrate/collector (manned by the IAS) enjoys high credibility. India is proud of institutions like the Election Commission and the Union Public Service Commission, which are primarily manned by senior civil servants. A large number of officers are doing wonderful work in the field but that rarely becomes common knowledge. However, there is a huge scope for improvement.

There is a larger question of HR management of the civil services in the context of recruitment, induction, training, in-service training, incentives or disincentives, and promotions.

But what are we looking for in a senior civil servant? Apart from the initial couple of years, all Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers are primarily in leadership roles – whether as sub-divisional magistrate, district magistrate, head of the department or even in a secretariat. Hence, s/he is expected to be intelligent and diligent (qualities that are currently tested through the UPSC examination) but also ethical, humane, accessible, decisive, supportive, communicative and capable of motivating the team s/he heads (qualities that are presently not assessed at the time of induction).


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


Does the existing system select officers with leadership qualities and enable them to build upon these qualities? The answer is in the negative.

Let us look at how the attributes of good leadership can be assessed and inculcated in a senior civil servant.

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Recruitment: If officers are selected at a late stage, the chances of moulding them into leaders diminish substantially. They are, as they say, already “hard-boiled eggs”. They can’t be expected to change. The average age of recruitment has gone up in the recent past, and needs to be brought down to 26 years.

Examination: The current examination system does not test the leadership capabilities of the candidate. It tests the examinee’s ability to “crack” the exam, for which various coaching institutes are available to provide assistance. The question papers test knowledge, awareness levels, some logic and analytical capabilities. These do not necessarily make someone a good leader. Today, we have tools to assess leadership qualities of an individual and these are being used both in the private sector as well as elsewhere in the world. Moreover, the idea should not merely be about selecting brilliant individuals (as is being done now) but to select those that can deliver as part of a group.

Training: Once selected, the officer needs to be put through rigorous training to evolve as a leader. It is at this point that the ethos and the purpose of civil service need to be drilled into those selected. An individual’s brilliance is essential but what is more important is the ability to perform in a group. Group activities need to be encouraged to drive home this point. Young officers need to be mentored by senior officers, in an institutionalised arrangement.


Also read: Dalit IAS, IRS officers say absence of quota in Modi govt lateral entry scheme is illegal


In-service training: Periodic upgrade of skills and learning from each other should be the focus of in-service training. This is imperative in a world with fast-changing technology. Similarly, attributes and attitudes of officers need to be assessed periodically to decide upon his future postings. Thus, a person good at fieldwork need not be necessarily placed in the secretariat for a duration beyond what may be necessary for some exposure.

Transfer: Some states have been notorious for frequent transfer of officers. A transfer is not a punishment but can be debilitating and convey the wrong message. A wrongful transfer pushes the officer among unscrupulous politicians. It is difficult to correct this without political will as the politician perceives this as a tool to manipulate civil servants. Setting up the Civil Services Board hasn’t really helped. There are no easy solutions but if an officer is selected and trained properly, and is imbued with ethical values, s/he will take these transfers in his/her stride. Once politicians realise that they can’t “penalise” IAS officers with transfers, the number of such incidences will perhaps come down.

Assessment and promotion: Following the orders of the Supreme Court, all the contents in an Annual Confidential Report (ACR), including adverse comments, have to be communicated. Hence, they have lost their purpose as no officer would like to be repeatedly questioned about the grades s/he gave. Worse is the opaque 360-degree assessment system, which has been demoralising for the civil servants. They are not given any reason when they are left out of empanelment, which leaves them with little scope for improvement. The 360-degree evaluation in private sector is an intensive, interactive exercise, where the person is told why s/he has been left out. The approach towards empanelment of officers and their subsequent promotion requires a serious re-think. A lot more time needs to be spent by a peer group before coming to any conclusion as is done in sectors from where this concept of 360-degree evaluation has been borrowed.


Also read: 5 reasons why IAS officers are alarmed by Modi govt’s lateral entry push


Incentive: Selection for critical posts should be based on integrity and competence and not merely on the basis of allegiance. A panel should be prepared by an agency like the UPSC and the government can pick up a person from that panel. The Supreme Court has already issued guidelines for selection of DGPs in the states. Similar guidelines need to be evolved for other sensitive posts.

Induction of outsiders: There is a school of thought that advocates lateral induction of officers. There is nothing wrong with this per se but the process of selection would be critical. Their induction should happen only through the UPSC. Moreover, their role and tenure-related implications should be thought through. But mere lateral induction will not improve governance. Expertise can perhaps be outsourced but leadership can’t. Governance will improve only if the entire gamut of issues related to human resource management are properly addressed.

The author is a retired civil servant and former secretary in the government of India. Views are personal.

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25 Comments Share Your Views

25 COMMENTS

  1. Author Anil Swaroop has many credible achievments to his name. But it is really sad to say that he has no idea about what leadership is.
    This is a typical problem of IAS officers that live in a cocoon. They dont know beyond the glass door how many people, with far more technical abilities and much better leaders, think so little of IAS officers. The day an IAS officer demits office, he becomes worthless. Just ask any ex-serviceman.

    Three things in the article stand out. 1) IAS thinks that leadership can be taught (on the job or in the classroom) 2) despite horrible reviews from their underlings (non-IAS govt staff – the real permanent bureaucracy of India) – IAS officers think they are very good leaders – just because they get saaluted by poor watchmen and do-nothings. 3) The ‘Us’ vs ‘Them’ – where the ‘US’ is the IAS and ‘Them’ is the private sector – paradigm is the single biggest impediment to backward, inward and non-progressive government policies.

    If the bureaucrats dont introspect then they deserve to be thrown out every 5 years. Lets see if these so called ‘leaders’ can perform without the cushy power of their positions – which are anyways perpetuated by ‘imperial’ stranglehold on common man.

  2. Like the army a Short service commission should also be introduced for the bureaucracy and their performance and other criteria should be reviewed after fifteen years and only the best should be allowed to continue ………

  3. What a load of claptrap. 99% of IAS, IPS IFS are lazy, selfish, egoistic, unimaginative, with no general or specific knowledge to do anything but promote themselves. A large part of our problems is the way are sahibzadas act or in most cases exist in a state of blissful (for them) inertia. If we were to sack 75 percent of them, believe me the country will be much better.

    A small example, have you ever seen a clean government office? Most of the Govt offices are in a despicable state, with dust, pan peek, scattered files, broken furniture, smelly dirty toilets. Government colonies, where many of these bureaucrats live, are in an abysmal state. If these enlightened “leaders” can’t manage to get where they work and where they live clean and organised, how can we expect them to run this country efficiently. I am not even raising basic issues like punctuality and time bound approach to getting things done.

    Private companies take laterals at all levels and mostly do very well with that system. Modi government should aggressively continue this program and get rid of these termites destroying our country

  4. A considerable number of officials have been doing fabulous job and have been setting examples. Yet, many are not. Many have their political masters too, intending and aspiring patronage. Political inclinations make them vulnerable too – they are prized and victimised by changing political masters.
    The worst situation emerges at times where the officials become sycophants with their political masters arbitrarily dictating all the terms having efficiency, efficacy and responsibility taking far back sheet. This should never be acceptable at any cost.
    Bigger reason being they don’t have fixed tenure, well defined, transparent and crafted promotion and placement policies – which largely depend on the wishes of their political masters. This is quite in tune with the Democratic ethos too. People’s representatives must have the final say as they have to go back and answer the people.
    Ideally they must respect each other and the leader of the State and the Country must oversee and ensure this respect is religiously followed. A system must emerge where the working freedom of the officials is guaranteed and their accountability is monitored.
    Lateral entry has its own merits and it can be encouraged in a limited way . It should support the officials of the needed expertise, skills and knowledge.
    This will certainly enhance the quality of governance. Care has to be taken that this must not demoralise and demotivate the officials having years of committed conviction.
    A fine working system must emerge apart from better training and incentive scheme where performers shine and inefficiencies nipped in bud.

  5. क्या उम्मीद की जा सकती है उस ऑफ़िसर से जिसे उस के चुने जाने के बाद ट्रेनिंग के पहले पाठ में ये पढ़ाया जाता हो के तुम एक अलग DNA के प्राणी विशेष हो । ये जिन से तुम जा कर डील करोगे वो लोग तुमहारे से हर मामले में तुच्छ हैं

  6. With increasing global competitiveness there is need of hour domain expert at policy- decision making post like Joint , additional and secretaries level including from Public and Corporate sector so that pace of development will be achieved where we are far behind with other countries even after 70 years of freedom where more than 50 percent of our population even faied to get basic necessities. Policy making with liberal way and it’s successful implementation. Government should post 50:50 percent as experiment basis and surely results will be drastic

  7. Frankly, this article is another bullshit piece. People who do graduation and go for IAS have no real life experience, no leadership experience, never been part of a team at work, never used their domain knowledge in practical, real life situations and thus, can never be leaders [even if trained] if they do not know their own domain.
    Secondly, the author mentions that there is a high degree of respect for magistrate & collectors. I have no idea where he got that information. There are very few courageous IAS officers, I agree but compared to the number of officers generated over the decades, who spend their whole life in service without any accountability, they are far worse than the medical profession.
    Let me give you a very good example. Current AP CM Jaganmohan Reddy’s officers. Almost all of them have been accused for cooperating in YSR’s scams using his son Jaganmohan Reddy as benami. Now, after becoming CM, Jagan has brought each and every IAS officer and minister to power, who was involved in those scams, even though the CBI cases against him are ongoing. What do you think the common man makes of this? On top of this, none of the IAS [who were ever put in jail], were even suspended. They continue to enjoy their position and get their salaries. How can you expect an objective investigation then
    So, where are the ethical standards then?
    The judiciary is highly respected [for the sake of conversation] but after 2 CJI [Mishra & Gogoi] threw all modicum of fairness to the ground and spat, pissed and trampled on them, judiciary is still respected.
    The author needs to take note that the common man is not so easily fooled now. I know far more doctors than IAS officers, who work far harder for far lesser under far greater stress with far more patience with multiple domain knowledge and leadership skills that even a trained IAS officer cannot fathom. That is why, in a nation run by IAS bureaucrats, IPS officers and simple graduate lawyers and judges, it is the doctors who can be beaten up with impunity.
    Please recheck your assumptions and conclusions after this information that I have provided. Especially consider the last sentence I have written as well as the first.

  8. I have doubt about reservation. Why there should be apprehension on this issue. Group A service reservation only at entry level
    No reservations at subsequent level. Lateral entry at secretary level is proposed.Then why bring reservation issue. This needs to be clarified.

  9. The author is a retired civil servant and former secretary in the government of India. Views are personal.

    This article clearly states that “views are personal”. Its just a personal view. Its nit even fully implemented, still you ppl are so dam sure its going to fail, is media a god or what. All theses years everyone said babus are burden, babu culture should go, babus should be accounted etc. Now when someone is trying to do things intended to improve, suddenly your all praise for babus. At least wait and see what changes it brings. Only then can anybody judge. Don’t just be hell bent on proving everything wrong that Mr. Modi does.

  10. After so many years of independence, considerable chunk of citizens are deprived of basic facilities. I agree Politics is there but Being one of the pillars of Democracy the bureaucracy is equally responsible. Each year on an average 100 ‘brilliant’ youngsters are selected for the prestigious Indian Administrative Services. Still we face electricity failure with just a drizzle. Recruiting domain expertise at secretary level is and always will be a good option rather than tried and tested failure of the ‘know it all’ and ‘ jack of all and master of none’ officers. After all we need specialist doctor to treat a specific ailment. A ‘know it all’ practitioner can never cure or prevent the ailment.

  11. Lateral entry is urgently needed do that file pushing career oriented babus will be forced to think of work, performance and delivery. Till date, the rusted baby’s of IAS did not achieved anything great except corruption. Let new thoughts come. There will be some competition. But ultimately, the lateral entry people should get fifty percent in the administration.

  12. Independent, democratic India needs accountable, delivery efficient governance, and not the colonial structure of “masters of the people” for whom the premium is on perpetuating its stranglehold on every other service, on class aggrandizement and power, neveron performance, never on responding to the needs of other government services, not to speak of the people. As they privately say no matter which party comes to power , it is the IAS that rules the stage. They will employ a thousand strategies to defeat PM’ s bold and refreshingly creative initiative. The sooner India gives a good riddance to this rusted iron frame, the better for the country, the society, the economy and for development of professional excellence. Now every professional service is subordinate to this ” superior” class of rulers & masters. Talent & creative genius can’t grow in India so long as this colonial anachronism continues to exist. Let India breathe freely.

  13. How does leadership defined by age? Does that mean that a person working in private sector,doctor, engineer, management background have zero leadership quality?
    It certainly depends on various factors which can vary from person to person background.
    Sometimes an aspirant does not get much exposure at earlier age of life so that h/she can pursue the correct career option.
    Also, due to certain family or economic condition, person needs to choose an option related to financial stability and end up joining private sector and later decide to start preparing.
    So does this violate the leadership quality.

  14. Mere lateral entry will not do much, but reducing the age or attempts would also not do much in choosing good administrators.
    Some end up all there financial stability in order to be a part of administration, is this decision can be compared to not having enough leadership quality.
    Or is it better to leave an aspirant with shortage of attempts and opportunity for bright career, and in a fear to haphazardly chose private sector to become independent. Because even worth private sector does not choose a candidate after 2 years of gap after graduation.
    Or is it fine that he should then choose any private company to become independent or invest lakhs to pursue higher studies.
    Certainly why limitation of age limit, number of attempts or lateral entry be put on choosing best leaders.

  15. How does leadership defined by age? Does that mean that a person working in private sector,doctor, engineer, management background have zero leadership quality?
    It certainly depends on various factors which can vary from person to person background.
    Sometimes an aspirant does not get much exposure at earlier age of life so that h/she can pursue the correct career option.
    Also, due to certain family or economic condition, person needs to choose an option related to financial stability and end up joining private sector and later decide to start preparing.
    So does this violate the leadership quality.

  16. It seems this article has been penned by a bureaucrat who have a habit of patting their own back.
    If the country has reached this low in terms of any govt servoce in any state across the country..this generalized bureaucracy is to be blamed for the mess.kindly visit any dc office sub division office or a tehsil or any directorate..the abysmal inefficient and anarchy prevail with absolute discretion with these bare babu log.they have no idea what lower level babus like patwari clerk JE tehsildar and like are dealing and harassing common people.you know how things are done in these offices and and how when these dc or adc reach sectt and formulate half baked polocies..make a mess of the system with no clarity and empathy for common people.this civil service gimmick shall be disbanded

  17. If you want to see leadership , kindly visit any fighting unit of CAPF and Armed Forces , especially when fighting insurgents . Officers lead from front inspite of dangers that’s why the troops follow them . See the casualty rate of officers in these organisations .
    Mr Swarup is living in fools world if he is talking of leadership in civil services . They are basically the leaders in defrauding the country . Our country in in this bad state because of incompetent civil services.

  18. I have high regards to capability of IAS officials. Still delivery remained a question. In democracy, it’s electoral process that has highest potential to deliver.
    So, as per my opinion, elected representatives are the formal leaders and truly represent the people of this great nation. Let them choose for good and get the best for the country.

  19. Leadership and IAS ?? Come on , lets not joke !! It is important to get good professionals in every field rather than have generalist who just create a mediocre system but in inputs from lower level bureaucracy.
    If you want leadership then pick up specialist from various fields from Defence .
    But that is not essential for working at Ministry . Good professionals should do a good job .

  20. In Uttar Pradesh, nameplates outside the offices of the senior bureaucrats carry their designation as Commissioner cum Secretary or Secretary cum commissioner. Have bureaucrats, the political administrators ever thought why double-decked nomenclature? Perhaps they don’t wish to know as it does not suit them. British masters used to post senior officers in the district as district magistrate and junior bureaucrats as Secretary to a department. In the post-independence period, bureaucrats succeeded in carrying the favour from political masters by getting senior bureaucrats posted at the State headquarters, which undoubtedly have more facilities for the self and the family, time in the air-conditioned rooms ensuring a cosy life. The result was that the pyramid of the bureaucratic structure was reversed. In 1949, when the dispute of Babri Mosque-Ramjanmabhoomi erupted, Bhagwan Sahai ICS was the chief Secretary while his senior KK Nair, ICS was the District Magistrate at Faizabad. There was no bad entry in the service record of Nair. That is why in the correspondence, Nayar used to address the Chief Secretary as “My dear Bhagwan Sahai”. Such a letter is in the annexure of the book on Ayodhya by PV Narasimha Rao who was the Prime Minister in 1992. Secondly, getting the examination of horse riding cleared was a must for the selection in the coveted ICS service. An IFS officer KPS Menon recalls in his memoirs that Shadi Lal (later Sir) was not recruited into the ICS services as he failed in the horse riding examinations. Later, he was accommodated in the judicial services. The reason was that a district officer used to take 15 days tour in the summer and the fortnight-long tour in the winder in the countrysides, staying in the camps or rest houses of various departments to apprise himself with the ground realities. In the post-independence period, this practice is merely on records. Therefore, Modi government has taken the correct decision to dismantle the rotten bureaucratic structure in the country.

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