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Lateral recruitment to civil services is a 'very wrong move', says ex-home secretary Madhav Godbole

On 10 June, the Government of India (GoI) allowed professionals from the private sector to apply for the post of joint-secretary-level positions in Central ministries. Until now, it was a 'closed rank' meant for the members of the civil services, admitted through the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination.

'Lateral' entry allowed by the GoI has received mix reactions, with some considering it a move in the right direction towards expanding the talent pool in higher bureaucracy and others viewing it as 'unnecessary tinkering' with an established system. Shishir Tripathi spoke to Madhav Godbole, who has served as Union Home Secretary and has authored a widely acclaimed book on governance and civil services titled Good Governance: Never on India's Radar.

Edited excerpts follow:

 Lateral recruitment to civil services is a very wrong move, says ex-home secretary Madhav Godbole

File image of Madhav Godbole. Screen grab from YouTube

How do you react to the government's decision of allowing private professionals to apply for the post of joint secretary in Central ministries or what is commonly called allowing lateral entry?

I think it is a very wrong move. A great deal needs to be done to reform civil services but this is no way to go about it. This is a very important institution of the democracy which no government should tinker with thoughtlessly. I don't know where they have borrowed this principle from. The whole idea of civil services, on which it has been operating for the past 70 years, will be completely demolished by allowing this sort of reform.

The manner in which these people are going to be selected is not known, whether they will be selected by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) or government is not clear. It is very obvious that the ideologies of the present and the future governments will get into the selection process.

Then, there is the question of demoralising the existing civil service officers. Major avenues of promotion are going to be blocked in the process of induction of such people. It takes a person 20 to 25 year to become a joint secretary. Allowing 10 people is a small beginning, but it can increased to around 50 percent, by provisioning that half of such posts will be filled through this new mechanism. This is a politically convenient thing to do. That is why this is something which should not be done. I can cite 20 things that need to be done to reform the civil services, but this isn't one of them.

But don't you think that it will allow the utilisation of expertise of people with domain knowledge and will help in increasing the talent pool in higher bureaucracy?

It is window dressing, which is very easy to do. In the civil services today, it is not that people are appointed in ministries without taking into account their background and experience. That used to be the case in the past, but not today. There are a number of people who have put in years of hard work in the industries sector, power sector, in the commerce sector or in the law and order sector, and they have been given top positions in those sectors. The idea of putting the right kind of people for the right kind of job is good one, but this is no way to go about it.

Civil services or administration is an important element of the working of the democracy. The Sarkaria Commission report on Centre-state relations, has specifically emphasised that civil services and all-India services ensure the integrity of the country by bringing the Centre and states together. This is something that under no circumstances should be compromised. I have no problem with any reform in the civil services, but think before you introduce those reforms.

According to me, the first thing that needs to be done is to recognise that the right to good governance is a Fundamental Right under the Indian Constitution.

I had filed a PIL in the Supreme Court on this very subject. In that petition, I have listed a number of things that need to be done to improve the state of affairs and among them, one was the measures needed to put politicisation of services in check.

Apart from the fact that it will block positions meant for civil servants, what other problems do you envisage in implementing this scheme?

The government should first say what it has in mind for civil services before it tinkers with it. What kind of civil service India should have? Does it want to have an American pattern, does it want to have a British pattern, a Japanese pattern or a Chinese pattern. You should first tell me this. The pros and cons of that should be brought out clearly in a white paper. Let people debate about it; after all, we are not a banana republic.

We have worked this system for the past 70 years. We know what is right and what is wrong, what is troubling and what needs to be fixed. Let people comment on that, let there be a discussion. Why can't there be a discussion in Parliament? This is my main contention against this kind of decision-making.

Do you think the appointments are actually made keeping in mind people’s background and domain knowledge?

It should happen and it is possible unless politics enters the picture. The management of civil services has become so highly politicised that even if you allow lateral entrants, they too will have to face the same situation. Politics in this country is not going to change by bringing in 20 people via lateral entry. They have to face the same situation and unless you address those problems, this is no way to go about it.

Is it because civil service officers have always acted as an 'elite club' with closed ranks that they are against this move?

I don’t agree with that at all. All I am saying is that you first need to decide what kind of civil service you should have and then go about making the changes. If you think that American system should be followed by allowing lateral entry then why only at joint secretary-level, why not at additional secretary and secretary-level. Then one can think in terms of consequences of such actions. Frankly, as a civil servant I really don't know what kind of civil servants this governments has in mind.

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Updated Date: Jun 13, 2018 13:06:45 IST