LATERAL Recruitment in Senior Positions in Government’ is the headline of the advertisement by which Central Government has invited 10 ‘outstanding individuals’ who have minimum educational qualification of a ‘graduate’ with expertise in the areas of (i) Revenue (ii) Financial Services (iii) Economic Affairs (iv) Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers’ Welfare (v) Road Transport & Highways (vi) Shipping (vii) Environment, Forests and Climate Change (viii) New & Renewable Energy (ix) Civil Aviation and (x) Commerce. The only criterion for short listing is through a ‘personal interaction’.
It has become the topic of discussion at almost every social gathering and TV studios. What is the problem? We have so many appointments made laterally in our administrative set up like the IAS, IPS, IRS, PCS and all other administrative services in which one gets inducted into the Government laterally.
Take example of the Police Services where there are broadly three levels of entry; Constables, Sub-inspectors/ Asst. Sub-inspectors and IPS Officers (at the level just above Inspector). The result is that most meritorious of Constables rarely become Inspectors and most meritorious of sub-inspectors never become Commissioner of Police and it doesn’t stop there, as no IPS Officer has ever become a Cabinet Secretary in the history of independent India. That is a post most civil servants would dream of occupying but which has always been occupied only by IAS Officers to the exclusion of best of the civil servants from other services. Why shouldn’t the most outstanding of IPS Officers or for that matter an IRS officer be allowed to become the Cabinet Secretary or at least compete for the same?
Similarly we have huge lateral entries in the Judiciary. The lowest entry point is a Judicial Officer at the post of Civil Judge/ Magistrate. The first lateral entry is at the level of Addl. District & Sessions Judge. Neither an officer appointed at the level of Civil Judge/ Magistrate nor the one appointed as Addl. District & Sessions Judge, ever dreams of becoming a Supreme Court Judge. It is because a huge percentage of judges, who are appointed laterally to High Court and now more frequently, to the Supreme Court, are so appointed that the most laudable of lower court judges would never reach Supreme Court or become the Chief Justice of a High Court.
Though these lateral entries have proved to be a big dampener and have discouraged the merit for long in the lower cadres, they have been happening since time immemorial, so what is the big deal now? What is the problem? Take the example of a sub-inspector who might have repeatedly put his life at risk and worked hard for years just to earn some promotions, regularly gets young IPS officers who might be half his age and having nil experience, as his boss. This young officer has full opportunity to maltreat or at the least, domineer this senior inspector. This senior Inspector, after having worked in police for few decades, is bound to be treated as a junior by this young officer. Do we really believe that such officers who have risen through the ranks after toiling hard would really feel satisfied and content being controlled by a young boy of their son’s age? We meet many of these senior officers, who would boast of their vast experience, contacts with informers, knowledge of ground situations as compared to this young IPS officer who becomes their boss and who virtually possesses no experience of the on ground situations. Hon’ble Supreme Court has held in many judgments that provision of promotional avenues is a must to keep the forces in high spirits. They must have a hope to be able to reach the sky, if they work hard.
SIMILARLY a Civil Judge who works for almost two decades almost in all domains such as civil, criminal, revenue, labour and so on to earn his first promotion, suddenly finds that a lawyer, who had been appearing in his court only in one particular type of cases/ domain and had been addressing the former as ‘your honour’ suddenly became a High Court judge and consequently his boss and colloquially his ‘My Lord’. What no one gives a thought to, is how must this judge, who has slogged for decades, be feeling on such lateral appointments.
So lateral entry is not new to our country and in my humble view it has had its dampening effect on the whole system. One of the biggest reasons for corruption is that junior officers don’t get credit for their work and the same is normally grabbed by senior officers, most of whom come into services via the lateral entry route. Majority of the cadre which came in to services at the lowest level also can’t hope to reach high levels in the administration and feel choked and suffocated. This feeling of injustice and resultant frustration provide an excuse to such officers to morally legitimize their corruption as well. It is routine to see junior level officers saying, “However hard I work, it is not going to give me the high position, so why not earn some money and make my family’s life better financially at least?” “We are not given credit for our hard work, so why should we work hard?” The hope of attaining the highest of offices can actually work as one of the best methods to eradicate corruption and an impetus to promote hard work.
Therefore unless we seek the scrapping of lateral entry system in all the services or at least a holistic review, we cannot justifiably object to present case in isolation.
Having accepted in principle that there could be and there are numerous instances of lateral entry in Government, a fair question to ask would be, “What is it which the Government wants to achieve by the present move?” There is nothing in public domain except the statements of Niti Ayog CEO and some BJP party spokespersons about the aim and object of this move. It would be best if the Government comes out with a policy document specifying the aims and objective of the move.
The advertisement only says it is seeking applications from ‘outstanding individuals’. Who is an ‘outstanding individual’? How does one decide who is outstanding? Is the Government seeking ‘outstanding individuals’ or ‘outstanding professionals’? Presuming the Government is seeking outstanding professionals and not individuals, wouldn’t the qualifications of the professionals for revenue; Financial Services; Economic Affairs; Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers’ Welfare; Road Transport & Highways; Shipping; Environment, Forests and Climate Change; New & Renewable Energy; Civil Aviation and for Commerce, be different from one another?
There cannot be any quarrel with the idea that the Government must have the benefit of the best brains in the field. But would it not be better to specify more detailed and higher minimum qualifications than just a ‘graduate’ and more specific character qualities in the individual than a vaguely defined parameter, ‘outstanding’ for all the posts? It certainly gives a very wide discretion in the appointments, that too when the only mode for short listing is by ‘personal interaction’.
FOR instance, an outstanding individual in the field of finance could be a person who has headed a particular type of organization for a minimum number of years, or had taught at specified category of universities for a minimum number of years or had a minimum number of papers published in particular standard of publications. Government could actually have invited vision documents from such people proposing the ways to make the system better. Not adopting any objective and transparent criteria, would certainly invite criticism and the opposition would be doubtful of the intentions.
As I said earlier, it would have been better if the advertisement was based on some pronounced policy by which the selection committee was also predetermined. After all, selection committees for every field will have to be different. For all services in the Government, it’s a must to have Recruitment Rules. It would definitely be better to have the same for these appointments as well. The nomenclature used, for posts advertised, might be that of a ‘Joint Secretary’, but I doubt whether existing Recruitment Rules will be able to serve. Using existing rules might create even more complications.
To conclude, I feel that, in principle, there cannot be any criticism of such lateral entries as not only almost all administrative services are lateral in nature only (with its shares of negatives and of criticism), but we have them even in judiciary. Though, in my humble opinion, there should only be one level of entry into the Government and then Seniority-cum- merit must guide the career path and the Government must provide all assistance to the meritorious ones to acquire latest knowledge with continued training and an opportunity to reach the highest positions. This alone can create hope. But till that is done, one can not oppose lateral entry. In fact all Ministers have had “Officers on Special Duty” (OSD) and “Advisors” for time immemorial in keeping with the wide “discretion” the Ministers enjoy in our “Democracy”. I personally feel all this discretion is bad and excessive, but we can’t single out one appointment till we do away with this whole defective and inefficient system, which only creates corruption in the name of ‘discretion’. More the discretion, more are the chances of corruption and misuse of power in the Government. After all, history is the witness that testifies, “Power Corrupts & Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.”
The writer is an advocate, expert in Constitutional Law