Union government is calling out to outstanding individuals

The Centre is calling out to "outstanding" individuals. That is how the Union government's advertisement for 10 joint secretary positions, to be recruited directly without going through the Union Public Service Commission examinations, describes potential candidates. Infusing fresh blood into the traditional bureaucratic environment by bringing in domain experts is not a bad idea in itself. Neither is lateral entry totally unknown in the Indian government: it has happened once in a while. But those were never made part of the system. The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government seems to have planned a change in the system itself, although the first call for applications is a 'pilot' only, the idea to be dropped if the experiment is unsuccessful.

Undoubtedly there are problems that the government is seeking to resolve. Domain expertise for particular positions in the bureaucracy in this highly specialized age is important. There is also a shortage of administrative officers because recruitment dropped after 1991. But the foremost requirements for the recruitment of an administrative officer are the transparency and neutrality offered by the three-tier UPSC examination. Can the government guarantee the same degree of transparency and professionalism in lateral entry recruitments? So far all that the government has said is that a committee headed by the cabinet secretary will decide who among those applying with graduate degrees is "outstanding". This, with the fact that the government decided on lateral entry without mentioning it in Parliament, is enough to raise the Opposition's hackles. The BJP is not great in earning trust, and this last move, too, smacks of arbitrariness. Questions about intention abound: are right-wing soldiers being brought in by the back door? Is the BJP trying to undermine the bureaucracy as it has been trying, allegedly, to weaken all institutions? Bypassing the UPSC system is being seen as another blow against the Constitution. Besides, lateral entry will evade quotas. No meritocracy can be built without a structure of lawfulness: the BJP does not seem bothered about that. The checks and balances and the governing principles of the system in place should not be shrugged off without something equivalent to replace it. Since that is not the case, schemes to train administrative officers in specific skills together with refresher courses may go a long way in meeting the government's needs.