Last year, Arvind Panagariya, former vice-chief of the government Niti Aayog, wrote in his book, India Unlimited — Reclaiming the Lost Glory, that Indian babus suffered from the socialist hangover, which has slowed down the pace of reforms the Modi sarkar wishes to introduce. To support his view, he cited Narendra Modi’s initiative for lateral entry at the top levels of the bureaucracy. According to Mr Panagariya, babus slowed down the process to the extent that at the very end of his term only nine officers could be inducted from outside.
But the government has not given up, yet. It is making another push to induct 30 more private sector specialists into different government departments at the crucial decision-making level of joint secretaries and directors on a contract basis. The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) will shortlist the candidates for interviews.
Prime Minister Modi has introduced the mechanism of recruiting fresh talent in the bureaucracy from the private sector during his first tenure. But the first round hasn’t been the success that the government was expecting. It could recruit only nine of the 10 domain experts it had selected, and one of them, Arun Goyal, who had joined the commerce ministry as joint secretary, put in his papers barely a year later. It appears that far from changing the system, the lateral entrants are more likely to be subsumed by it. Further, a year after their appointment, the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) had issued a notice to the UPSC after a petition from whistleblower Indian Forest Service (IFoS) officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi alleged irregularities in the recruitment of three of the nine lateral entrants by the government.
The government is catching flak already. Some Opposition leaders are calling for the policy to be withdrawn. Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad has threatened to ‘gherao’ parliament, calling the government’s move a violation of constitutional rights. Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejaswi Yadav has said that UPSC’s lateral recruitment an injustice to the youth.
Will the Modi sarkar overcome the political resistance from outside and from the babus within who may try to defend their turf?
ED and Kerala polls
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has reportedly registered a case against senior officials of the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB) for alleged FERA violations. But things get blurred around election time when the stakes are high. Questions are being raised about the timing of the probe, with the ruling LDF claiming the ED action as a “political conspiracy” by the BJP, which is trying hard to make a dent in the state.
Sources say that ED has served notices to KIIFB CEO Dr K.M. Abraham, former chief secretary of Kerala, and deputy managing director Vikramjit Singh, a serving IPS officer of the Kerala cadre. As it so happens, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan is chairman of the board. Not surprisingly, therefore, the ruling party has linked the ED action to the forthcoming elections. The LDF leaders have said that the ED moved only after Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s statements against the Board.
The Centre has denied the allegations. It is being said that ED’s investigations discovered that the board earned Rs 2,100 crores by issuing bonds for infra projects, but the money was used by cultural, fisheries and tourism departments. Besides, the state government issued the bonds without the Centre’s permission, which violated rules.
Politics, or not, the dust will only settle once the state elections are done with.
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