The Centre’s decision to induct specialists at the joint secretary level through lateral recruitment has generated criticism from opposition parties and a Dalit member of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the new policy sidestepping caste-based reservations.
The lateral-entry openings, widely advertised in newspapers on Sunday, will bypass the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination system, which reserves 15% seats for the Scheduled Caste, 7.5% for the Scheduled Tribe and 27% for the Other Backward Castes in the Indian Administrative Services (IAS). The government says its intention is to hire talent from different spheres including the private sector to augment its own capacity. On Monday, opposition leaders from several parties described the move as a ploy to undermine the process of selection of bureaucrats and undercut the reservation policy.
Though the advertisement was for only 10 jobs, it would set a precedent for any such induction across government departments in the future.
Udit Raj, BJP MP from north-west Delhi, said he was “concerned” about adherence to reservation. He said he would be writing to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which published the advertisements, to ensure that the policy of reservations was followed.
The BJP has, at the highest levels including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, consistently said that the system of reservations will not be diluted.
The Congress attacked the new policy on Monday, alleging that the BJP wanted to induct people who were aligned with its own ideology.
“The decision has been thought through; the government wants to bypass the rigorous process of selection through the UPSC to make way for the absorption of people affiliated to the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and the BJP through the back door,” alleged PL Punia, Congress MP and former chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes.
“…also, there is no mention of whether the reservation policy will be followed,” he added.
But a ministry of personnel, public grievances and pensions official familiar with the matter said the government has been recruiting outside talent on contractual basis for quite some time.
“It is not a new thing except that now jobs at the level of joint secretary have been advertised specifically,” said the official. He was not clear on whether reservation will be implemented in the policy.
In May, the social justice and empowerment ministry had written to the DoPT to ensure the a reservation policy is followed for appointments of consultants and contract employees, for timebound assignments, and for outsourced work.
Minister for social justice and empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot was not available for comments. Two prominent Dalit leaders from the NDA, Union ministers Ram Vilas Paswan and Ramdas Athawale, also could not be reached. The current chairman of the National SC Commission, Ram Shankar Katheria, was also not available for comments.
Some experts have hailed the move, saying it will infuse much-needed fresh blood into the bureaucracy. Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant tweeted: “Niti’s experience with lateral entry has been extremely good.They bring in a vast number of fresh & vibrant ideas.This move in govt was long overdue & I welcome it.Will catalyse UPSC entrants to specialise. Govt must also allow deputation of its officers to private sector as well.”
Other experts said the details of the selection criteria should be decided first to aid better implementation.
“We should look at the crucial aspects such as who will hire them, what will be selection process, will UPSC be tasked to hire them,” said former cabinet secretary KM Chandrashekhar.
There was concern among the Dalit community over the quota system being eroded. While Milind Kamble, founder chairman of Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry , said the government “must consider proportional reservation” while filling the posts, Dalit writer Chandra Bhan Prasad said the move is “an indication that the government is trying to end reservation.”
“They are trying to render reservation meaningless,” Prasad said.
In a tweet, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said, “Why are time-tested UPSC and SSC (State Services Commission) being sought to be undermined? To fill IAS ranks with Sanghis and undermine reservation too, in the BJP’s last few months in office.”
The Samajwadi Party, too, criticised the ambiguity over reservation. Party leader Rajesh Dixit said, “It is a conspiracy to put people affiliated to the RSS in the government and disturbing the reservation policy.”
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati said the decision to hire those who have not qualified the examination conducted by the UPSC is indicative of administrative failure of the Modi government.In a statement, the BSP chief said it is a “dangerous move that could benefit big businesses through policy making.”
”We must also not forget that the idea of reservation/representation in public employment through the lens of Article 15(4) and Article 16(4) is being diluted systematically to the huge disadvantage of SCs, STs and OBCs by throwing the positions in contractual appointment bereft of any provisions of reservation,” said Rashtriya Janata Dal Rajya Sabha MP Manoj Jha.
The controversy comes as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fights discontent among several Dalits organisations over the perceived dilution of the the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and delays in implementation of quotas in jobs and promotion. Dalits form around 16% of the country’s population.
In April, Dalit groups protested across India after the Supreme Court barred automatic arrests and FIRs under the act. Then, in May, Dalit groups protested over delay in implementation of faculty reservations in academic institutions and an ongoing controversy over reservations in promotions for government jobs.
The ruling NDA has attempted to reach out to Dalit groups, filing a review in the top court on the SC/ST judgment and even promising an ordinance in case of an adverse decision.