Lateral entry was a much-awaited administrative reform introduced in 2018 as part of Modi Sarkar’s larger civil service reform agenda. The noble aim was to bring fresh perspectives, expertise and efficiency into the government system.
The bold experiment is now being seen as losing its sheen. Saurabh Mishra, joint secretary in the department of financial services in the ministry of finance, who was among the initial six lateral entrants, is reportedly quitting the service, even after receiving a two-year extension in August last year. With his exit, only five lateral entrants remain, namely Rajeev Saksena (DEA), D.D. Jagdale (MNRE), Sujit Kumar Bajpayee (MoEF), Suman Prasad Singh (road transport) and Bhushan Kumar (shipping). Those who preceded Mr Mishra to the exit are Arun Goel (joint secretary, commerce) who resigned in December 2020, and Amber Dubey (joint secretary, civil aviation) who left on the completion of this three-year contract in September last year.
Some observers believe that Mr Mishra has quit for the lure of the corporate world, but there are also some who think that Mr Mishra will join the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) as life member.
Clearly, lateral entry into government is facing stiff headwinds. One of the main challenges is a rather obvious one. There is resistance from the existing bureaucracy, often due to a lack of trust and acceptance of lateral entrants. Also, when the government introduced this initiative, it only opened up a handful of positions for lateral entry, which limits its impact on the larger bureaucracy. Some babus have criticised lateral entry for lacking transparency and objectivity in the selection process.
Now after Mr Mishra’s exit, the government will be under increasing pressure to address these challenges and limitations.
Yogi retains retired babu as industry adviser
Uttar Pradesh's chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, has been trying to shape a new image for the state, aimed at bringing in global investments and making UP the biggest economy in the country. International events like the Global Investors Summit and the G-20 have brought the spotlight to the state. The recent appointment of 1988-batch IAS officer Arvind Kumar as adviser to Yogi Adityanath for Industries is being viewed in this context.
Mr Kumar’s appointment comes barely a month after his retirement as infrastructure and industrial development commissioner. During his last month of service, Mr Kumar oversaw the Global Investors Summit, whose success the Yogi claims has given recognition to "a new UP all over the world." Apparently, 10,000 investors attended the summit and pledged more than Rs 33 lakh crores in industrial investment. Mr Kumar is seen as the architect of this success, and Yogi has prudently retained Kumar’s services.
Interestingly, Mr Kumar’s appointment as adviser to the CM is a temporary post created for a period of 11 months, until February 29, 2024. Not surprisingly, the term of his service coincides with the end of the term of the G-20 secretariat. Some babus clearly are indispensable, and if Mr Kumar can help Yogi improve UP’s economic outlook, it would be no mean feat.
Babu turf war in Uttarakhand creates headache for CM
In the Narendra Modi government, turf wars between the IAS and IPS and other services have become more frequent, and decidedly one-sided. In recent years, the IAS officers have watched with growing trepidation the "encroachment" on senior positions by the other AIS services. The trend now is catching on in some states, too.
The Secretariat Association in Uttarakhand has objected to the recent appointment of IPS officer Riddhim Agarwal as the special secretary in the secretariat. Despite being promoted to the rank of inspector general, the association is unhappy with the increased authority given to Mr Agarwal. The association believes that creating a new post of special secretary is unnecessary, and the responsibilities of the position should, traditionally, come under the additional secretary and secretary roles.
Sources have informed DKB that the aggrieved babus are blaming additional chief secretary Radha Raturi for ceding ground in the home department by appointing Mr Agarwal as special secretary. Further, the president of the Uttarakhand Secretariat Association, Deepak Joshi, has complained to chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and strongly opposed Mr Agarwal’s new appointment. With the association taking a firm stance, the situation looks ripe for an escalation in the days ahead. Mr Dhami will have to act soon and put out this bushfire before resentment spreads.