Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Adminstrative Reform: Open Babudom's Gate
Lateral entry will improve governance and waft a fresh breeze through musty bureaucratic corridors
The NDA government is working to institutionalise lateral entry from academia and the private sector into some senior govern ment positions. This is a long overdue reform with far-reaching potential. Changing the way bureaucracy works and moving from a closed to an open system for recruiting civil servants are prerequisites to enhancing the quality of governance. Suggestions to institutionalise lateral entry have come in the past from the government's own groups of experts but have not been followed up.Hopefully , on this occasion NDA will see this important reform through to its logical end.
Lateral entry has always existed in independent India's civil services. Nandan Nilekani, who set up the Aadhaar scheme which can transform India's social welfare system, is an illustrious recent exam ple. The process, however, has been ad hoc in nature. Given the strong link between governance and prosperity and growing complexity in the way societies function, countries such as the UK, US, Australia, Holland and Belgium throw open specific govern ment positions to qualified personnel from all walks. It's the best way to net the right person for the job.
Domain competence and a combination of relevant knowledge and skills are an essential requirement in governance. These attributes are not always present in a cadre of generalists, moreover one that is recruited increasingly through reserved quotas which limit competition. The second administrative reforms commission, which presented an elaborate blueprint a few years ago, envisaged a shift from a career-based approach to a post-based approach in the top tier of government jobs. Civil servants ought to compete with domain experts from outside government for senior positions.
An important dimension to this reform was to enable genuine competition by setting up an independent authority to handle the recruitment process. Without an independent authority, there is a danger that lateral entry which enhances the quality of governance will be thwarted by the entrenched IAS lobby. Indeed this process of recruitment from outside could be used to prise open the stranglehold the IAS lobby has on key appointments, thus enhancing the quality of governance. For sure, a change of this nature will not be easy as there is bound to be resistance from within babudom. NDA, however, should push ahead with this reform as India's interest is greater than the IAS interest.