Lateral entry of outside talent as Joint Secretary level in Government of India


It is not happening for the first time that officers at senior level would be appointed from outside the Government.

Dr. Manmohan Singh was appointed as Secretary in the Finance Ministry in 1976 by the Congress Government headed by Indira Gandhi, while he was not in IAS.

Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who was not an IAS officer, had held several senior positions in the Central Government, including Special Secretary to the Prime Minister, Commerce secretary, Secretary Department of Economic Affairs in the Finance Ministry and Finance Secretary.

M.S. Swaminathan (a famous scientist, who was not an IAS officer) was Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India in 1979-80.

The post of the Chief Economic Advisor, Government of India, has traditionally been occupied by a lateral entrant.

Thus, even in the past, the Government has inducted outside talent into the higher tiers of Government, usually in advisory positions, but many times even in key administrative assignments. I have given some examples above, and I don’t want to multiply such examples because there are many.

In his book – “GovernMint in India – An Inside View”, published in 2009 by Rupa & Co., New Delhi – former Cabinet Secretary T.S.R. Subramanian, who was an IAS officer of 1961 batch from Uttar Pradesh cadre (he unfortunately died recently on 26 February 2018; I had the fortune of working with him closely in one of our common PIL in Supreme Court on administrative reforms, which we won), while recommending a Presidential form of Government, had supported selection of senior officers from open market:

“…The political chief of each department would equally have the opportunity to choose the secretary of the department and even the next rung, for example, the special secretary, additional secretary, etc., from the open market based on experience, qualifications, and ability to perform. Such appointed persons, as in the USA, will have co-terminal tenures with the government in power. The permanent bureaucracy will be confined at the most to manning, say, posts up to the joint secretary level, though they may not be precluded from consideration for induction to higher levels, at the discretion of the political chief. Thus, we would have a meritocracy in each department at the political and senior-most levels to run the affairs of each department.” [Emphasis supplied by me]

At another place in the same book, T.S.R Subramanian had mentioned (this was in 2009):

“Out of about two hundred officers of secretary rank in the Government of India, roughly half are from the IAS cadre, the others from Central services as well as experts in different fields, such as economics, applied sciences, statistics etc.”

So, way back in 2009 or so, only half of the Secretaries to the Government of India were IAS officers, and many of them were experts in different fields, such as economics, applied sciences, statistics etc. Thus, there is nothing new in lateral entry of officers at senior positions in Government of India.

I may also point out that the Sixth Central Pay Commission had made, inter alia, the following recommendations with regard to taking outside experts in Government on contract basis by way of open selection [Paragraphs 11.11 and 11.12 of its Report] [see Report]:

“11.11 Certain posts in Senior Administrative Grade (SAG) and Higher Administrative Grade (HAG) requiring technical or specialized expertise and not encadred in any of the services to be opened up for being filled by suitable officers within the Government as well as by outsiders on contract. Shift from career based to post based selection in the higher echelons of Government in order to get the best domain based expertise.

11.12 Creation of additional posts in Senior Administrative Grade/equivalent/ higher grades in future to be strictly on functional considerations with such posts invariably being created outside the cadre to be filled by method of open selection.”

Likewise, the Second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC), which was set up by the UPA Government led by Congress party, and which was headed by the Congress leader Veerappa Moily, had recommended lateral entry at the senior management level from the private sector in the following words [on page 207 of Chapter 9 of its 10th Report] [see Report]:

“ After evaluating the pros and cons of a position-based SES model for India, the Commission agrees with the view that there is need for introducing an element of competition in appointments to the top posts both in the State Governments and Government of India. What is proposed is not an abandonment of the idea of career-based system altogether, but introduction of a combination of a career-based and a position-based systems in which the career-based system could be opened up to encourage competition for appointments to senior civil service positions in Government of India. For creating a senior management or leadership pool in Government of India, competition can be infused through two main mechanisms:

a) opening up the senior management cadre to all existing Services; and

b) lateral entry by opening the senior management cadre to aspirants from the private sector who can bring new skills into government.”

The Second Administrative Reforms Commission further recommended that:

“ … there is almost universal acknowledgment of the need to induct outstanding skills and talent from outside the government to staff some positions in government departments. The Commission feels that lateral entry as done in the past on an ad hoc basis can hardly be considered a suitable model of manpower planning since the present incumbents in government departments tend to resist entry of outside talent and the whole process remains personality driven and inchoate. There is therefore a need to institutionalize the process of induction of outside talent into the government.”

It is noteworthy that even the First Administrative Reforms Commission had distinguished between two categories of senior management posts viz. posts within the functional area which should be staffed by the relevant functional cadre and posts outside the functional area for which the required functional experience may be available in the All India Services, the Central Services and among specialists like engineers, scientists, economists etc.

It may thus be seen that there is nothing new in the Government of India notifying 10 posts of Joint Secretaries to be filled by outside talent as lateral entry. There are many such precedents in the past and various expert committees / commissions have supported such lateral entry of outside talent.

As mentioned above, previous Congress Governments have used this practice and Committees / Commissions appointed by Congress Governments have supported lateral entry in Government at senior positions. The Congress party should not have double standards on this issue now.

Likewise, a former IAS officer, who held the highest post of Cabinet Secretary has also supported outside talent from open market.

The lateral entry from the open market at the higher management levels in the Government is likely to bring in corporate exposure as well as specialized knowledge and experience which may not always be available with the regular civil servants.

The post of Joint Secretary in the Government is quite important as it has both roles – the role of policy making and that of supervision of policy implementation. Bringing outside talent at the level of Joint Secretary in some selected posts will definitely improve the working of the Government.

Moreover, the 10 posts of Joint Secretaries which are to be filled by outside talent, are posts which require expert knowledge and experience, such as financial services, shipping, civil aviation, new and renewable energy, etc. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that there are no IAS officers with expert knowledge in these fields. There are many IAS officers who have excellent knowledge and experience in these fields too. Yet, bringing in outside experts may result in more competition and fresh ideas. The IAS officers will also enrich their knowledge and experience through interactions with such fresh entrants. At the same time, when such outside experts go back to their private jobs, they will carry excellent knowledge and experience about the Government working. This will result in a better synergy between the government and private sector, at least to some extent.

In any case, the number of 10 posts is too small in comparison with the total number of posts of Joint Secretaries in the Government. In my humble view, the IAS cadre should not feel unnecessarily threatened by such small induction, which is in national interest. I am sure it will help the IAS officers themselves in the long run, as competition is always good in the long run.

Of course, it is necessary that these 10 officers from outside are selected purely on merit, on the basis of certain well-defined objective criteria, and by an expert body consisting of impartial and independent persons of repute. There should be no scope for any politically motivated postings and unmeritorious people getting into service. It is besides the issue that at the minister level, it is only politicians (and generally non-meritorious persons who have little or no domain expertise) who are bosses of their respective ministries. Nonetheless, I earnestly hope that Narendra Modi Government will not fail us in this regard.

About Dr. Ashok Dhamija

Dr. Ashok DhamijaDr. Ashok Dhamija is a New Delhi based Supreme Court Advocate, holds Ph.D. in Constitutional Law, is author of 3 law books, and is an ex-IPS officer. He is the founder of this law portal. Read more by clicking here. List of his articles. List of his Forum Replies. List of his Quora Answers. List of his YouTube Videos.

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