Recruitment from the private a sector: A blow to reservation

Lateral entry into the bureaucracy from the corporate sector is likely to generate conflicts of interest, subvert reservation and compromise the independence of the civil services.

Published : Jul 30, 2019 07:00 IST

Amber Dubey, who has served as Head of KPMG in Aerospace and Defence, has been selected as Joint Secretary for the Ministry of Civil Aviation. He was on a list of nine recruits finalised by the UPSC in April.

Amber Dubey, who has served as Head of KPMG in Aerospace and Defence, has been selected as Joint Secretary for the Ministry of Civil Aviation. He was on a list of nine recruits finalised by the UPSC in April.

IN a bid to alter drastically the public administration system, the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) plans to recruit specialists from the private sector in various echelons of the bureaucracy. Through a process of “lateral entry”, domain experts holding corporate jobs will be brought in for a few years in posts generally held by public servants. While consultants, advisers and officers on special duty have been assigned roles in Ministries and government departments occasionally, this is the first time that outsiders who need not necessarily have had any experience in governance are sought to be appointed as public servants in large numbers.

Around 400 posts at the Deputy Secretary and Director levels are to be opened up to private sector inductees. Currently, these posts are filled by a systematic Central Staffing Scheme that appoints eligible officers from the participating services, including the Indian Administrative Service (IAS).

According to the votaries of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the government and the media, the move is a “reform” of the “steel frame” bureaucracy to help get rid of “deadwood” which holds the country back from “progress”. Retired bureaucrats say, however, that it is a way to privatise the government and create a revolving door between the private and public sectors. They caution that instead of championing the move, the government should be wary of conflicts of interest that may undermine its authority. According to the narrative built by the BJP, everything that happened before it came to power was marked by corruption, was untenable and impeded the country’s growth.

The idea of lateral entry is not new. In December 2015, Jitendra Singh, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, told Parliament that there was no proposal to permit lateral entry into the IAS. Instead, the government was addressing the issue of shortage of IAS officers by other means, he had said. The IAS Officers’ Associations, too, had been cautious about lateral entry and insisted that the process of induction should not be discretionary. A public officer selected to serve the Central or State government should not be appointed without due process being followed, said a retired IAS officer.

In June 2018, however, the DoPT, which is not a recruiting agency but a cadre-controlling authority of the civil service, issued an advertisement for 10 posts of Joint Secretary in various departments of the Union government. The advertisement said that the applicants could have worked with autonomous bodies, private sector companies, consultancies or multinational organisations. They would have an initial term of three years, which might be extended up to five years.

Court case

The advertisement was challenged in the Supreme Court through a public interest litigation (PIL) petition in order to protect the “independence of the executive”. The petitioner, Dr Chandrapal, a retired Secretary in the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, questioned the DoPT’s decision to assume the role of recruiter, which it had never done in the past.

“This lateral entry will bypass the three stages of the UPSC [Union Public Service Commission] civil services exam—preliminary, main exam, and interview and also the present arrangement in which one-third of the vacancies in Indian civil services is filled by promotion of eligible candidates working in different States’ services,” the petition said.

His petition pointed out that since the motive of private companies was to make profit, there could be no guarantee that the person coming into the government sector would not also try to ensure profits for private companies and work discreetly for the corporates. “Business houses may use the opportunity to push in their own men. The advantage with the current civil service is that policymakers have long-term interests in government. They also have a tradition of fairness and stake in the government. Private sector individuals brought on contract of three or five years may serve someone else’s interest as they would have no long-term stake in the government,” stated the petition.

Dr Chandrapal warned that anyone who was close to the incumbent government could get the position, making it difficult for bureaucrats who came through the UPSC. He requested the court to declare the recruitment notice unconstitutional as it was likely to open the gates for the spoils system, driving talented people away from a civil service career.

The selection process was not manifestly politically neutral and would adversely impact the constitutional mandate for affirmative action, the petition said. It pointed out that it would bypass the reservation policy and lead to favouritism. It would compromise the accountability of the government and lead to a potential loss of internal talent and an atrophy of career-based services.

The powers and functions of the UPSC and the State Public Service Commissions are contained in Article 320 of the Constitution, which holds that it is their duty to conduct examinations for appointments to the services of the Union and the services of the State. Article 320 also provides that these commissions must be consulted on all matters relating to the method of recruitment for the civil services and civil posts. Selections to senior positions in the Union government should be done through the UPSC, a constitutionally mandated institution set up for this purpose, Dr Chandrapal pleaded.

“The court finally told the government that they had to recruit through the UPSC and so we withdrew our plea,” Dr Chandrapal told Frontline .

Conflict of Interest

In August 2018, the government announced that it had received more than 6,000 applications for these posts, and in April this year, the UPSC finalised nine recruits.

Amber Dubey was selected as Joint Secretary for the Ministry of Civil Aviation. He had served as Partner and Head of KPMG in Aerospace and Defence and, as such, was a domain expert. But he had also been member and co-chair of the Confederation of Indian Industry, the U.S.-India Business Council, the American Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, all, essentially, lobbies.

Similarly, Bhushan Kumar, who was appointed as Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Shipping, was working as General Manager of the LNG unit of Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation. He was head of shipping, business development and contracts. He was also reportedly the CEO and MD for a year at Diamond Shipping Services LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dubai-based Sharaf Group. Sujit Kumar Bajpayee was selected as Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. He used to work with the NHPC as manager, environment. He was responsible for the overall planning of new hydropower projects, secured clearances for them from the Environment Ministry and supervised the implementation and monitoring of various environmental safeguards stipulated by the government.

The other Joint Secretaries hired through lateral entry were Suman Prasad Singh for Road Transport and Highways, Kakoli Ghosh for Agriculture, Rajeev Saksena for the Department of Economic Affairs, Arun Goel for Commerce, Saurabh Mishra for Financial Services and Dinesh Jayanand Jagdale for New and Renewable Energy.

A data analyst who did not want to be named said: “Not to cast aspersions on individuals, who can be above board… but the fact remains that individuals who worked in corporate houses and were part of lobbies and advocacy groups to push for laxer government norms and controls have now been catapulted to the seat of power from where they can formulate those very norms and controls. After the government stint, that individual will go back to the industry and enjoy those same rules that they formulated. There is a clear conflict of interest right there.”

Subverting reservation

As predicted by Dr Chandrapal in his petition, the government managed to bypass, through lateral entry, reservation for the Scheduled Castes (S.Cs), Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Experts explained that since the recruits were single-post cadre, reservation did not apply. Had they been considered as a group of nine, there would have been at least two seats for OBCs and one seat for an S.C. candidate. But since they were selected for different departments in single posts, reservation was not applicable. But Dr Chandrapal disagreed with this view. “We are poor people and so we withdrew the petition, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done there,” he said.

Pranjal Kishore, a Delhi-based lawyer, wrote in The Leaflet : “A study of the current government’s actions over the last few years shows a systematic attempt to dent the policy of reservation. The number of direct recruitments by the UPSC has fallen considerably over the last few years. The number of recruits has fallen from 1,236 in 2014 to 759 in 2018. Now, dozens of bureaucrats are set to enter through the system of lateral entry—which does not provide for reservation. If this trend continues, and it appears it most likely will, then the reservation policy will be severely undermine.” The BJP government’s agenda has been to privatise governance. Through a policy document, “Three Year Action Agenda”, in 2017, the NITI (National Institution for Transforming India) Aayog promoted the idea of lateral entry. It said: “India’s choice to build a socialist pattern of production during several post-Independence decades had resulted in the government entering many activities that did not serve any public purpose and were best performed by the private sector.”

The Governing Council of the NITI Aayog, under Amitabh Kant and Arvind Panagariya, with Modi as its Chairperson, proposed the system of lateral entry. In a section titled “Civil Service Reform”, the NITI Aayog said that policymaking required specialists and that service delivery ought to be outsourced wherever possible. It added that it would have the beneficial side effect of bringing competition to the established career bureaucracy.

Dr Chandrapal said that the repeated dismissing of the services cadre by the adherents of the BJP had made the party a butt of ridicule in Uttar Pradesh bureaucratic circles. “If the IAS cadre is so inefficient, then why have P.K. Mishra and Nripendra Mishra been reappointed as Additional Principal Secretary and Principal Secretary and given Cabinet Minister ranks above and beyond their terms? And was Ajit Doval not recruited through the UPSC?” he asked.

At present, the Central Secretariat Service provides an arrangement for the selection and appointment of eligible officers from 37 participating services such as the Indian Forest Service, the Indian Information Service, the Indian Police Service, the Indian Revenue Service and the Central Engineering Service (Roads and Central Public Works Department). This is an ongoing process where officers are shifted or elevated from one Ministry or department to another through empanelment or on administrative grounds. Circulars are issued twice a year requesting all cadre authorities to nominate eligible officers for deputation. Therein it is indicated that the movement of officers from State level to the Centre and back helps in building up capabilities at the State level and contributes towards developing a national perspective at the decision-making levels in the Union government. While it is no one’s case that the bureaucracy is perfect, its recruitment process is robust and time-tested, with inherent checks and balances.

Once lateral entry is available to people from outside the government and implemented in its current form, about 60 per cent of the 650 posts filled through this process will no longer be available to the cadre from the services. There is serious apprehension that lateral entry might become the norm rather than the exception in the days to come. An IAS aspirant said: “In a country where lakhs of students aspire to join the elite services, I don’t understand why the government would want to keep snubbing them, unless its only agenda is to hire people of a particular ideology. In this way, it can ensure that everyone will fall in line and not question the decisions it takes.”

The post of Joint Secretary is an important senior management post in the bureaucracy and the people holding it coordinate with other Ministries on policy matters, court cases, and implementation of the government’s programmes and schemes. They also deal with agencies such as the Central Vigilance Commission, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Comptroller and Auditor General. Officers who have served for more than 20 years in the various services are appointed through a stringent process. Officers of the IAS serve at all levels of the bureaucracy, from the village and district level to the State before coming to the Centre. They bring to the table a unique depth of experience from the ground level up and are therefore considered suited to the task of policy formulation.

The elitism and stranglehold of the IAS on the bureaucracy is being cited as a reason for introducing lateral entry. If that were indeed the problem, it could be addressed by inducting individuals from the other services. There is no need to open up the government to private participation, say retired IAS officers.

In the past too, individuals such as Manmohan Singh, M.S. Swaminathan and Montek Singh Ahluwalia were appointed laterally as Secretaries. But they were all individuals with heft who could influence policy. Retired officers feel that at the level of the Joint Secretary and lower down the line, lateral entry recruits might become rubber stamps for crony capitalism, either willingly or inadvertently.

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