Given the expertise that the private sector has, it is always a good idea to try and induct as many sector experts as possible into government. And that is why, over the years, the government has inducted people like Dr Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and, more recently, Nandan Nilekani. While the contribution of all three, and others like them, has been enormous, they were mostly inducted at a fairly or very senior level. The problem with inducting experts at a senior level, however, is that, by and large, their numbers tend to be quite limited. Which is why, it is welcome, as The Indian Express has reported, that the government is planning to induct private sector individuals at middle levels as well—these experts are to be inducted at the rank of deputy secretary, director and joint secretary level. Given the government’s emphasis on using digital innovations to help power change, for instance, being able to recruit techies into various flagship programmes can only be a good thing. Similarly, given the sheer enormity of most government projects, good managerial talent is critical.
But inducting professionals and allowing them to flourish are two different things, given the intense inter-service rivalry—tax officials, for instance, resent the fact that the revenue secretary is an IAS official and not an IRS one—as well as the IAS ability to muscle others out. Hiring top-notch managers as chairmen of PSUs like Air India, for example, has meant little in the past since these individuals had no real power. And, in the case of a Nandan Nilekani who is at the heart of the revolution centred around Aadhaar—this includes the DigiLocker, eSign, UPI, etc—it was very strong political commitment to him as well as his stature that made the experiment work. So, while it is good that the prime minister’s office is driving the effort, it will have to put in place institutional structures to ensure these lateral entrants have as good a chance at advancement as career bureaucrats. Apart from addressing the talent shortage in the bureaucracy, it will also go a long way in addressing the manpower shortage—according to a statement in the Lok Sabha by the junior minister for personnel Jitendra Singh last March,there is a shortage of over 1,400 IAS officials and 900 IPS officials.