Lateral hiring may sound like an exciting concept, but it is a flawed one for several reasons. For one, it will destroy what it aims to rebuild. One of the reasons for its acceptance is that it will allow people with domain knowledge to participate in governance. What’s forgotten in such a logic is that, over the decades, governance and public policy have themselves acquired the status of new domains. A public servant now requires expert knowledge in both these areas. More important, an excellent doctor cannot manage AIIMS, a brilliant engineer cannot ‘Make in India’, and a lawyer cannot draft PPP contracts.
Two, the IAS structure allows those in governance to understand and master the unique federal structure of this country. It enables the public servant to realise the needs of the people at several levels. As she starts from the district and works towards the centre, she undergoes a bottoms-up approach that helps her to always put the needs of the people before anything else. An efficient and effective policy maker, be it a minister or a civil servant, should never forget it. Domain experts may not even think along these lines.
What most proponents fail to grasp is that the workings of the civil services is enshrined in the Constitution. Part XIV deals with “Services Under the Union and the States”. Article 309 states, “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, Acts of the appropriate Legislature may regulate the recruitment, and conditions of service of persons appointed, to public services and posts in connection with the affairs, of the Union or of any State.” Any change in the governance structure requires constitutional amendments, and cannot be done through executive orders. Lateral talent will undermine the Constitution.
There are several other problems with the concept. We talk about the corruption and lack of transparency in the civil services. However, outsiders, who are directly hired by the government, may be as corrupt. In addition, such a process can easily become rotten, and lead to crony capitalism, patronage, and favouritism. Over the past decade, we debated on how to reduce the government’s discretionary powers. This will only enhance them, and in areas where recruitments were meant to be completely transparent and merit-based. A wrong cannot be righted by another wrong. Like two wrongs don’t make a right. Prabhat Kumar former Cabinet Secretary and MG Devasahayam a former IAS officer have debated the issue.