26 September 2023

INDIA: More outsiders to join Ministries

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In what is seen as a further assault on India’s time-hallowed examination system for entry into its Public Service, the Government has announced a new scheme for hiring external experts directly into senior roles.

This latest ‘lateral entry’ scheme, designed to pull in experienced professionals from the private sector, is set to recruit 30 to 40 new officers into Ministries covering fields such as agriculture, civil aviation and commerce.

Most of the new candidates are to serve as directors for periods of three to five years.

While these latest new hires are on a small scale, they represent a significant challenge to India’s traditional approach to recruiting Public Service leaders.

Those seeking entry into the elite Indian Administrative Service (IAS) currently have to undertake one of the most competitive Public Service examinations in the world, with around a million candidates annually for fewer than 200 places.

Successful candidates then undertake intensive training, followed by probationary periods in middle management, before joining the leadership of State or Central Government Departments.

One source, with knowledge of the new scheme, said one of its goals was to plug recruitment gaps.

The source said IAS members served in both State and Central Governments and there were simply not enough qualified people to go round.

“Bureaucrats serving in the States do not wish to come to Delhi to serve in Central Ministries,” the source said.

“They enjoy serving in the States as, due to India’s still largely feudal countryside and semi-urban areas, they can more easily lord it over their subordinates there,” it said.

However, the source said previous lateral entry schemes had run into conflict-of-interest problems.

“Someone with connections to the civil aviation industry was hired in the concerned Ministry,” they said.

“Then a candidate with experience with one shipping firm was hired in the Shipping Ministry. It created problems,” the source said.

While these individuals’ experience had obvious benefits, their appointments sat awkwardly with an Indian Public Service culture where the ‘generalist’ still ruled and private businesses were kept at arm’s length.

New Delhi, 6 August 2021

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