31 December 2020 ~ 0 Comments

Govt’s lateral entry move fails as babus defend turf

Earlier this 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 (Dilli Ka Babu, April 16. 2020). To buttress his view, he claimed that the government’s attempts to privatize several PSUs remained stalled for long despite Prime Minister Modi’s push to get Cabinet approval for the list of PSUs drawn up by the NITI Aayog. He also cited Modi’s initiative for lateral entry at the top levels of the bureaucracy. According to 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.

His prophecy now seems to be coming true (though this will be hotly contested by the babus!). One of the nine officers has decided to call it quits. According to sources, domain expert Arun Goel who had joined the Commerce Ministry as joint secretary has put in his papers, barely a year after the much tomtomed lateral entry of specialists in government. It is widely believed that the others hired under the scheme may exit the government in a similar fashion. If that happens, it will ring down the curtain on one of Modi’s pet “reforms”, which no previous government had shown the inclination to implement.

The signs are already there. There have been no new appointments this year through lateral entry since the scheme was introduced last year to bring in domain experts from outside to fill the shortage of specialists in the upper echelons of the bureaucracy.

Is it a brave experiment destined not to succeed? Some observers believe that the scheme was not expected to succeed since the entrenched babus were wary of those who intruded on to their turf and would stymie any such attempt by the government. The babus seem to have fought off this breach of their castle. The walls they have erected around themselves are still holding up.

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