Lateral Entry into Civil Services – Advantages and Disadvantages

The issue of lateral entry into civil services at mid-level positions of the Union government at the Joint Secretary level has received much attention recently due to the advertisement published by the Department of Personnel and Training in leading newspapers inviting applications from outstanding individuals for filling up 10 Joint Secretary level positions in various departments of the Union Government. In this post we will analyse the issue of lateral entry into civil services and whether it is an idea whose time has finally come. In this process we will also look at the pros and cons of lateral entry into civil services.

The Need for or Advantages of Lateral Entry of Specialists into Civil Services

Let us first discuss the need for lateral entry of outside specialists into the middle rung of Indian bureaucracy.

  1. The administrative problems at the implementation level (district, tehsil, panchayat) require intervention of specialists with domain expertise and not generalist IAS cadre who head the department in the capacity of Secretary for a period of 3 years but lack the understanding of the ground level problems and the specific solutions required.

[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=””]Let us take the example of Water Supply and Sanitation department of Maharashtra. The Secretary, who is an IAS officer, heads the department in Maharashtra. As per the NSSO 2012 round survey, only 74% of  the rural population of Maharashtra had access to drinking water throughout the year. However, around the same time, the department reports claim that the state had 85 per cent coverage by piped water supply schemes. The Secretary seemed unaware of such a major discrepancy in numbers. Moreover, problems such as the drying up of groundwater sources, increasing levels of nitrate contamination in drinking water sources, and failure of major water supply schemes have been overlooked. Source: Indian Express


  1. Although there is recruitment of subject specialists like Engineers and Doctors in the IAS by the UPSC at the time of their initial appointment, but that is the precise time when their specialisation comes to an end since the IAS is a generalist service and IAS officers are posted to different departments & wings and are allotted different field posting irrespective of their academic specialisation over the course of their career. The end result is that after 9-10 years of service the IAS officers usually retain very little or nil knowledge of their academic specialisation and turn into generalists, or jack of all trades, in their outlook and working due to the nature of their work profile.

Infographic: Lateral Entry in Civil Services

Advantages and Disadvantages of Lateral Entry
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  1. The experience of domain level experts in Planning Commission and NITI Aayog has been quite good so far. Even before this many Economic wizards have been handed positions of responsibility like Governor of RBI (Bimal Jalan and Raguram Rajan), Sam Pitroda (Head of many technology missions), Montek Singh Ahluwalia (Economic Advisor in Finance Ministry and later Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission), Nandan Nilekani (Chairman of UIDAI or Aadhar) etc.

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  1. There will be much needed cross-flow of ideas between the career based bureaucrats and domain level experts recruited from outside who have been deputed at key positions of Joint Secretary for a period of 3 to 5 years. Similarly, career civil servants should also be allowed to serve in the private sector on deputation basis to gain fresh insights and expertise which then can be gainfully utilized at the decision making and policy making level of the government.


  1. Lateral entry into civil services has been recommended by many commissions and committees and is not a new idea. In its 2002 report, the Civil Services Review Committee headed by Yoginder Alagh recommended lateral entry into other Departments as well (apart from Space, Science and Technology, Telecommunication, Electronics etc). The Surinder Nath Committee and the Hota Committee followed suit in 2003 and 2004, respectively. In 2005, the second Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) recommended an institutionalized, transparent process for lateral entry at both the Central and state levels.
  1. The lateral entrants will catalyze the career civil servants (mostly IAS officers) to specialise in their chosen field. This will infuse much needed competition at the senior levels of management in the bureaucracy which is non-existent at present.

But Why Lateral Entry at the Joint Secretary Level?

As per the recruitment advertisement issued by the Department of Personnel and Training, [pullquote align=”normal”]Joint secretaries are at a crucial level of senior management in the government of India and lead policy-making as well as implementation of various programmes and schemes of the department assigned to them. They report to the secretary/additional secretary in the ministry or department and are normally appointed from all India services like the IAS, IPS, IFS and other allied services. [/pullquote]

A Joint Secretary is placed at Level 14 of the Pay Matrix and outside candidates recruited for this post would be placed at the beginning of the pay scale of Rs 144200-218200. A Joint Secretary level post in the Union government is equivalent to Secretary/Principal Secretary level post in a state government. Being a senior management post, tasked with policy formulation and implementation, it is expected to attract the brightest talent from the private and public sector.

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The Argument Against or Disadvantages of Lateral Entry into Civil Services

In the above paras we have seen the advantages of lateral entry of outside domain experts into the rule clad Indian bureaucracy. Now let us discuss the pitfalls or shortcomings of introducing subject specialists into a generalist civil service.

  1. There is a fear that lateral entry could turn into a spoils system where politically committed individuals could get handpicked into important positions that influence policy making and program implementation in the government. It is worth noting that the advertisement calling for “10 outstanding individuals” to the post of Joint Secretary in the Union government made a mention of Indian nationals and not Indian citizens who were invited to apply for these posts. Some would argue that nationals could soon turn into nationalists, who could be of leftist or rightist ideological leanings, and there goes the ideal of politically neutral civil service.


  1. Lateral entry into civil services undermines the career progression avenues of existing civil servants and also hampers the employment opportunities of young aspirants looking to enter the famed civil services for a fulfilling career.


  1. The argument that there is dearth or scarcity of specialists at the senior level of management in the civil services is flawed. After all, more number of Engineers and Doctors are being recruited into the civil services today than anytime in the past. Moreover, the civil servants also undergo in-service training and also some of them get the opportunity for offshore training assignments in a span of 9-12 years from the time of their recruitment into the civil service. However all this specialisation (graduation and training) is of little use as the field of expertise of the civil servants is rarely matched with their posting profile in a generalist bureaucratic setup.


The civil services job profile turns a specialist recruit into a generalist administrator over a period of time. Just consider the example of a District Collector who is tasked  with the responsibilities of conducting elections, collecting land revenue, overseeing public order (magistrate), crisis management, chief coordinator of state and central agencies etc all at the same time. Also, civil servants do not remain in the same post for more than 3 years. Then after 12-15 of service when they reach the rank of Joint Secretary or Secretary (in the state government), when they have served in different and unconnected postings, how can they be blamed for not specializing when the bureaucratic structure itself mandates civil servants to generalize?


  1. Lateral entry into civil services undermines the policy of reservation mandated by the Constitution. Also, the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has been specifically established to conduct examinations and recommend candidates to various civil services posts in the government. The present advertisement nowhere mentions the UPSC as the agency tasked with the recruitment of the lateral entrants to the 10 Joint Secretary level posts. This implies that not only Constitutionally mandated reservation provisions have been bypassed but also the Constitutionally established recruitment agency for the purpose has been ignored.

How to Make Lateral Entry into Civil Services a Success Story

Notwithstanding the above drawbacks of lateral entry, its benefits will outweigh the shortcoming if this civil services reform measure is handled with the sensitivity it requires.

  1. In order to attract the best and brightest talent from the private sector the remuneration should be on par or only slightly lower than what is offered to similarly situated executives in the private executives vis-a-vis Joint Secretaries in the Union government otherwise we may end up with the worst of both worlds, a demoralized bureaucracy and underpaid private sector executives.


  1. Lateral entry may be more successful in ‘mission mode’ projects on the lines of Aadhar i.e. projects which are for a short duration (say 3 or 5 years) and are not bogged down by red-tape and have a clear vision and expectations attached to them. It can then be gradually extended to the regular departments, not just in the Union government but also in the state governments.


  1. In order to ensure that career progression of existing civil servants is not hampered by entry of outside domain experts and to provide a level playing field, the civil servants should be encouraged and allowed to choose a broad area of specialization in which they would like to serve for the next 10-15 years once they have achieved a certain level of seniority after 9-12 years of service. For instance a civil servant should be allowed to serve in the Human Resources (Education) departments at the state and Union level and he or she can be rotated between different postings within broad field like Primary, Secondary, University education etc.


  1. The civil servants should be allowed to work in the private sector on deputation to gain new skills and upgrade their knowledge. This will also help them to compete with the lateral entrants on better terms.


To summarize, lateral entry into civil services is not a new idea but it has not been followed as an institutionalized practice earlier. Although there are some shortcomings with this approach, that need to be addressed, there are many benefits associated with lateral entry of outside experts into the civil services which should, hopefully, catalyze the rule bound bureaucracy to become the agents of change; a role which the founding fathers, like Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru, had envisaged for the civil services.

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