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Posted at: Jun 13, 2018, 12:24 AM; last updated: Jun 13, 2018, 1:02 AM (IST)

‘Lateral’ entry is a spoils system to spoil governance

MG Devasahayam
Lateral appointments will be made at the wishes of the political masters and they will mostly induct loyalists, hampering the neutrality of the civil services.
‘Lateral’ entry is a spoils system to spoil governance
Fair: IAS officers are selected through competitive examinations conducted by the UPSC. Tribune photo
MG Devasahayam 
A former Army and IAS officer

he Government of India (GoI) has opened up 10 joint secretary-level posts in important departments (meant for civil services, mostly IAS) to "talented and motivated" candidates from the market who are willing to "contribute to nation building." These positions are at a crucial level of senior management in the Central government and lead policy-making as well as implementation of various programmes and schemes of the department assigned to them. Ten could become hundreds if the powers-that-be and their puppet-masters taste blood!

This 'lateral entry' would introduce the Spoils System in the government run by members of the permanent civil service. The Spoils System, also called the Patronage System, is an arrangement that employed and promoted civil servants who were friends and supporters of the political party in power. The word 'spoils' means incidental, secondary benefits reaped by a winner. The Spoils System developed into the firing of political enemies and the hiring of political friends. In a parliamentary democracy, this is anathema ab initio.

Ever since the commencement of the LPG (liberalisation-privatisation-globalisation) era in the early nineties, the GoI has been tinkering and tampering with the civil services, particularly the IAS. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had this to say after being in office for nine years: "In the last two decades or so, the role of the government has undergone a major transformation in many sectors of the economy…. Ensuring good governance and managing the economy today are extremely complex tasks…. I would also like to emphasise that officers in the civil services need to be provided with top-class training early in their careers to equip them with the tools necessary to understand the underlying logic and complexities of governance and having good systems in place." 

His exhortation to civil servants was characteristic: "Acclimatise as per the new world order. The world is knocking at your door." To acclimatise and 'open up the door', the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) chalked out a scheme under which batches of young civil servants were regularly dispatched to ivy-league universities in the US for courses at the expense of India's taxpayer to imbibe American/MNC business culture and practices. Subsequently, many of them were deputed to plum corporate sector jobs to learn it first-hand. Seniors enjoyed their own jaunts and sabbaticals to foreign lands at regular intervals. 

A results-framework document-based performance monitoring and evaluation system was imported from the US and anchored in the PMO. It was supervised by several 'syndicates' and 'ad-hoc task forces'! This 'most happening mission ever undertaken by the Indian government' was headed by a former Harvard Professor and World Bank economist who hardly had any knowledge about India and its administrative system! 

There was nothing surprising in all these. Because, the only knock the PMO heard was that of the multi-national and corporate carpetbaggers carrying sacks of FDI and FII and not the wailings of country's teeming millions suffering from poverty, hunger, corruption, repression, inequity and injustice. The objective, therefore, was not to equip civil servants to deliver basic governance — an ambience and atmosphere for the common man to work and live with equity, justice and dignity. Instead, it was meant to facilitate a 'corporate culture' through LPG, with some crumbs thrown to the ordinary citizens.

The former Prime Minister confined himself to training and equipping the civil servants to be professional. But the present one has gone several steps ahead and is importing 'professionals' themselves in place of civil servants. Under his watch, the PMO has become a specialist in demolishing and even destroying institutions and instruments of governance. For the IAS, NITI Aayog is doing the hatchet job. The Aayog has virtually become a corporate consultant, urging the privatisation of all institutions, infrastructure and services. Now they want to privatise the IAS, which is the most potent instrument of democratic governance covenanted in the Constitution (Article 312).

Numbers are being put out to justify this serious move of 'lateral entry' into the IAS. According to recent statistics given to Parliament, there are 4,926 IAS officers as against their total authorised strength of 6,396 leaving a shortage of over 1,400. The government has increased the annual intake of IAS officers to 180 during the last four years. Without analysing and understanding the reasons for this shortage, which is mainly due to the archaic recruitment system and chaotic cadre management, the GoI has opted to abandon the constitutional scheme of things and run to the market. 

The Spoils System is prevalent in the US, which has a presidential form of government. Because of the privilege of a directly elected president to form his own team to run the government, he has the right to choose his top bureaucrats from anywhere, along with their confidential assistants without any competitive procedures. But there are limits and checks and balances in which the career civil servants predominate and are safeguarded from arbitrary dismissals and adverse actions from political appointees. 

In fact, political appointees cannot, willy-nilly, occupy positions traditionally served by career federal employees. There are 1,212 senior leaders, chosen by the president, including cabinet secretaries and their deputies, heads of most independent agencies and ambassadors, who must be confirmed by the Senate. A "Schedule C" is a type of political appointment in the US who serves in confidential or policy roles immediately subordinate to other appointees. In 2016, there were 1,403 "Schedule C" appointees. They do not need Senate confirmation. 

The agency responsible for monitoring and implementing the US civil service system is the Office of Personnel Management, like our Union Public Service Commission. As US government expert and analyst David Cohen puts it: "While the political appointees at the top cannot be blamed for all the ills of the federal government, they are a large part of the problem. They make the job of the career civil servant harder, draining his energy and dampening his creativity and initiative. They comprise whole layers of unnecessary bureaucracy and impede communications and work flow. They often have fish other than their management duties to fry, and some of those fish have a bad smell. They also cost a lot of money." 

This sum up the Spoils System in the US and the shenanigans of the Trump presidency bear testimony! The apprehension about lateral entry in India is that such appointments will not be made by merit. Currently, IAS officers are selected through a fiercely competitive and largely fair examination conducted by the UPSC. In the Indian context, lateral appointments will be made at the wishes of the political masters and their corporate sponsors and they will mostly induct loyalists, hampering the neutrality of the civil services. It will lead to an exponential growth of favouritism and nepotism.

Yet this option is being pushed with vigour. The lethal combination of a weakened permanent civil service and the corrupt Spoils System is bound to spoil whatever governance that is still left!  

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