Policy think-tank Niti Aayog has suggested outsourcing of public services to private hands in order to reduce dependence on the government administrative machinery. It has also recommended induction of specialists into the governance system through lateral entry, a move which, it says, will bring “competition to the established career bureaucracy”.
In its draft report on a three-year action agenda made public recently, the Niti Aayog has set a target of full-digitisation of governance-related works by the end of 2018-19. Civil service is the backbone of the government and it needs to be empowered to make quick decisions and implement them. Sustained high levels of performance can only be achieved if it is objectively measured with high performance rewarded and poor reprimanded, it said.
“Today, rising complexity of the economy has meant that policy-making is a specialised activity. Therefore, it is essential that specialists be inducted into the system through lateral entry. “Such entry will also have the beneficial side effect of bringing competition to the established career bureaucracy,” as per the draft three-year action agenda for 2017-18 to 2019-20.
The draft was circulated among the Governing Council (consisting of chief ministers of all states and others) members of the Niti Aayog on April 23. The recommendation may come under criticism from Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers, who are part of top-level management in government departments.
The Niti Aayog said the dependence on the government administrative machinery for the delivery of services needs to be reduced wherever possible. “We can make use of the power of Aadhaar-based identity verification to allow private channels to provide services wherever possible. Identification of such services should be taken up and public-private-partnership model to provide those services should be explored,” the draft report said.
It also favoured longer tenure for Secretary-rank officer in government departments. Currently, by the time officers are promoted from Additional Secretary to Secretary level, usually they have two years or less left before retirement.
This feature creates two important inefficiencies, the report said. One: with a time horizon shorter than two years, the officer is hesitant to take any major initiatives; and two: the officer is reluctant to take decisions on any major project fearing any mis-step may become the cause for charges of favouritism or corruption post retirement.
“This causes inordinate amount of delay in decision-making,” it said, adding that one possible solution is early promotion to the Secretary position and introduction of lateral entry. The report said officers may be encouraged to gain expertise in specific areas in the early stages of their careers and the current system of rapid rotation of officers across ministries may be replaced by a system of longer postings according to specialisation.
“Officers should also be encouraged to enhance their knowledge and skills in the chosen area of specialisation through intensive training. This specialisation by the internal staff needs to be complemented by lateral entry of highly specialised staff on fixed-term contracts,” it said. Specialists could be brought on three to five year contracts as such a system will bring top talent and energy into the government system and lend new dynamism to ministries, the report said.
“The NITI Aayog performs many tasks requiring specialised knowledge and skills. Therefore, it has recently proposed changes to its rules of recruitment, which if approved would open the door to lateral entry. This initiative could serve as a pilot for other ministries,” it said.