The Modi Government has taken another far reaching step in opening up 10 positions of joint secretaries to competent and well qualified individuals from the private and public sector.
Private sector individuals are brought in to top Government jobs in several countries with excellent results. There is no reason why this should not be done in India as well.
The posts advertised are in the areas of financial services, agriculture, economic affairs, revenue, commerce, civil aviation, shipping, climate change and road transport and highway. These positions have so far, been the preserve of individuals who have joined the service through the Union Public Service Commission through competitive examinations.
This move will undoubtedly, result in a serious pushback from the powerful IAS lobby. The message to the IAS should be that these are complementary skills being brought in to supplement the already overburdened bureaucracy. They have largely delivered a reasonably credible work environment and have provided checks and balances in a large country like India.
But the IAS has also had its fair share of challenges, given their need for political patronage to move ahead in their careers.
Senior lawyers have been brought is Attorney Generals at the Central and State levels and politically connected individuals are brought in as diplomats for sensitive countries. While specialised recruitment in the Government exists in the areas of taxation, customs, posts and telegraphs and banking, most other areas are deemed to be the preserve of the IAS officers.
It is assumed that no job is complex or challenging for an IAS officer.
They believe that once they have qualified as an IAS officer, they can move seamlessly from preparing the financial budgets of a state to building roads to developing a credible health plan to managing airports and running airlines. And if they are liked by the political party in power, it does not matter what their prior experience maybe. They can pick any role they want!
The “bureaucracy,” which according to some have kept the wheels of Government functioning despite the political uncertainties, has also been responsible for the ridiculous delays is decision making and for holding back progressive Governments because it does not suit their interests.
The famous British television serial “Yes Minister” and its sequel “Yes Prime Minister” where the politician is merely a puppet in the hands of the mighty bureaucrat exemplifies the dangers of an over powerful bureaucracy!
Let us examine the positives of such a step for our country:
- Highly qualified professionals in specialised areas will bring in the much needed skills to sensitive and specialized ministries without relying on the generalist “know all” IAS bureaucrats. The induction of such individuals will also open up many more related skills for the Government from the private sector.
- These individuals will bring in fresh thinking and will not carry any baggage from their past roles or from the political masters they have served.
- Private sector individuals will be financially more secure and therefore, hopefully, much less prone to corruption and political influence.
- Since these individuals will have a fixed three year term, the Government of the day will be able to hold them accountable to deliver on what is expected from them. If they do not perform, their contracts can be terminated and they can be replaced with fresh thinking as opposed to the IAS officer who cannot be fired easily.
- The private sector will get a closer look at the functioning of the bureaucracy and this will go a long way in bridging the gaps in understanding of these very different careers.
- The shortfall in the numbers of the IAS service can be supplemented through this process.
The Government must ensure that only the most competent are selected into these roles because only strong individuals will be able to stand up to the hundreds of bureaucrats who will surround them once they start work. The vetting process must be done meticulously. Only the best and the brightest must be brought in. Support must be given by the political masters to ensure that this experiment does not fail because no political party will be able to push this through again if this does not work.
Retired Government officials have found lucrative jobs in the private sector and some of delivered excellent results. The reverse opportunity has now been made available.
Only 10 positions have been opened up and if this works, more spots can be made available. It should not become the subject of endless debates in Parliament and a rallying cry for the disjointed opposition.
The challenges faced by the first few batches of such lateral recruits will be significant. Individuals who put their hand up for this service will be stepping onto an unfamiliar turf at significantly lower salaries. Their superiors, peers and subordinates from the IAS and related services will do everything in their power to ensure that they fail. Therefore, in order to make this succeed, they must get the support of the Government.
This cross pollination will help the country in bringing about the much needed mix of different skill sets in different roles.
This is a welcome step and must be supported.
The author is the founder Chairman of Guardian Pharmacies. A keen political observer, he is an Angel Investor and Executive Coach. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, Reboot. Reinvent. Rewire: Managing Retirement in the 21st Century; The Corner Office; An Eye for an Eye; The Buck Stops Here – Learnings of a #Startup Entrepreneur and The Buck Stops Here – My Journey from a Manager to an Entrepreneur.
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