Union Public Service Commission has recommended nine candidates to be inducted into central government as joint secretaries. A joint secretary is the administrative head of a department and has critical influence on its efficacy. This is a positive development and has its origin in NDA government's decision last year to search for talent from outside government for earmarked posts. In a world increasingly driven by technological innovation, India's administrative architecture needs a higher proportion of specialists. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of an institutionalised process to enhance the quality of administrative performance.
The concept of lateral entry into India's administrative architecture is not new. Manmohan Singh has perhaps been the most successful lateral entrant. More recently, the creation of Aadhaar, a transformative project, took place under the supervision of Nandan Nilekani, an outside expert. The aim now should be to enlarge the pool from which government can recruit people for some critical posts on a regular basis because they need the best available talent regardless of where it is to be found. It's important that the idea of an institutionalised process of lateral recruitment percolate to state governments too, who are in the vanguard of delivering the lion's share of essential services.
One issue which needs more thought is the creation of a framework to minimise conflicts of interest when lateral entrants go back to private sector. Also, the current round of lateral entry restricts candidates to at best five years of service, which seems odd as some lateral entrants may well have the desire and performance to stay on longer. Moreover, the power to make an impact increases with the duration of service. In future there should be the option of a career path till retirement for lateral entrants.
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