New Delhi: In a move that was widely debated inside and outside the government for a year, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) on Friday announced the results of nine lateral hires on contract at the level of joint secretary in various departments and ministries.
These positions have been the remit of the officers from all India services such as the Indian Administrative Service (IAS). The move is a tipping point and marks a breach in the hegemony of the IAS and comes in the backdrop of the Narendra Modi government consistently resetting the rules of engagement specifically with reference to the IAS which Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel famously called the “steel frame" of India’s government apparatus.
The selected joint secretaries for recommendation are: Kakoli Ghosh (Agriculture, Co-operation and Farmers Welfare), Amber Dubey (Civil Aviation), Arun Goel (Commerce), Rajeev Saksena (Economic Affairs), Sujit Kumar Bajpayee (Environment, Forest and Climate Change), Saurabh Mishra (Financial Services), Dinesh Dayanand Jagdale (New and Renewable Energy), Suman Prasad Singh (Road Transport and Highways), Bhushan Kumar (Shipping).
“Recruitment process for selection of candidate for Joint Secretary Level Post on Contract Basis (lateral Entry) for the Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance has become infructuous at the Interview Stage," the UPSC notification stated.
In 2014, the Centre had mooted the idea of allowing lateral entry from academia and the private sector at the joint-secretary level. Initially 10 such lateral entries were to be selected and had drawn criticism from the serving and retired members of the Indian bureaucracy.
There have been instances wherein people from outside IAS have been brought in at senior positions in the central and state governments. While Vijay Kelkar served at the finance secretary, Montek Singh Ahluwalia was India’s commerce and finance secretary. Also, Ram Vinay Shahi was India’s power secretary and Shashank Shekhar Singh served as Uttar Pradesh’ chief secretary.
The recruitments have been done in a bid to infuse domain expertise in key government departments and is aimed at bringing in specialized talent in various government departments, contributing to better governance. A case in point being Amber Dubey, who is partner and India head of aerospace and defence at consulting firm KPMG.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has been posting officers from other all India services such as the Indian Forest Service (IFoS) at the joint secretary level to the chagrin of the many in the IAS.
“It doesn’t make a difference. The bureaucracy has anyways been made redundant in the present dispensation. It takes you years to learn how to handle then system? Handling the central secretariat services has been even difficult for us. The IAS officers have hardly been coming for central deputation and hence the focus on other services to fill these positions. In a situation like this, it is just optics," said a retired secretary in the Government of India requesting anonymity.
This comes in the backdrop of the NDA government’s proposed cadre allocation policy on the lines of its overarching theme of “One Nation", drawing criticism from the bureaucracy. Under the new policy, officers from all India services such as the Indian IAS, Indian Police Service (IPS) and Indian Forest Service (IFoS) will have to choose their respective cadre from among the five zones comprising of 26 existing cadres. At present, officers from these three services are allocated a cadre state to work during their career along with central deputation postings.
The 10 lateral entry JS level positions were open to state government officers in similar positions, officials in public sector undertakings, autonomous bodies, universities, research institutes and those working in private sector companies, consultancies and multinational firms. Candidates were to be at least 40 years old, with those with a minimum of 15 years experience eligible to apply.
The period of contract will be three years from the date of joining and can be extended up to five years depending upon performance, the department of personal and training had earlier said. Compensation and perks offered are on a par with that offered to others at this designation.
The NDA government has also evolved its engagement matrix for the bureaucracy including the 360-degree review which goes beyond the officer’s annual confidential reports (ACR) to culling of non-performers.
Since the NDA government assumed office in May 2014, there have several been massive reshuffles of the top levels of the bureaucracy, including secretary-level appointments.
Also, senior IAS, IPS and IFS officers have been dismissed from service on grounds such as misconduct and misbehaviour, disproportionate assets, and prolonged unauthorized absence from duty. In addition, IAS and IPS officers have been prematurely retired on the basis of their performance appraisal reports, vigilance status and service records.