Considered a key cog in the successful implementation of a policy decision in any ministry, currently personnel manning the posts of JS seldom have domain expertise, understanding of the issues involved, or any hands-on experience.
Realising that ‘domain expertise’ was missing in his thrust to speed up reforms and ensure better delivery of his varied programmes, Prime Minister Narendra Modi belatedly decided last year to induct experts in a number of ministries at the joint secretary (JS) level.
Considered a key cog in the successful implementation of a policy decision in any ministry, currently personnel manning the posts of JS seldom have domain expertise, understanding of the issues involved, or any hands-on experience. His or her knowledge is mostly of the armchair variety, being what could be gleaned from the office records. In June 2018, the UPSC set about inviting applications for the post of JS in 10 designated ministries, which saw a flood of nearly 6,000 applications. The shortlisted candidates were subject to an interview and the final list issued on April 12, 2019, a full nine months after the posts were advertised.
Persons selected include Kakoli Ghosh for the ministry of agriculture and farmers’ welfare; Amber Dubey for the ministry of civil aviation; Arun Goel for the ministry of commerce; Rajeev Saksena for the Department of Economic Affairs; Sujit Kumar Bajpayee for the ministry of environment, forest and climate change; Saurabh Mishra for the Department of Financial Services; Dinesh Dayanand Jagdale for the ministry of new and renewable energy; Suman Prasad Singh for the ministry of road transport and highways; and Bhushan Kumar for the ministry of shipping. Only time will tell how effective will they be and how long would they last trying to cut the red tape strung across by the entrenched army of directors, section officers, and achieve results.
However, it appears that the UPSC has done a fairly good job by selecting persons who have excellent domain expertise and proven expertise in their chosen field. For instance, Dubey, selected for the ministry of civil aviation, is not only a partner at KPMG in India, but also heads the Aerospace and Defense vertical at the firm. He, along with his team, has been engaged with the ministry of civil aviation, AERA, AAI and has worked closely in drafting of the National Civil Aviation Policy 2016, as well as policy framework for the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS).
Similarly, Saksena, in the Department of Economic Affairs, is director, Economic and Infrastructure, SAARC Development Fund (SDF). With over 22 years of relevant work experience, he comes with strong skills in credit and risk management. Working with the Standard Chartered, he had managed to steer Japanese and Korean investments into the Dedicated Freight Corridor and Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor. Earlier working in IDBI Bank, he advised PSEs and government bodies and was instrumental in designing and implementing IT-enabled solutions for the MGNREGA.
Here, it is interesting to note the way experts got inducted by the US government when they set up a separate department under the Department of Energy for developing alternative sources of energy. Modelled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) but focused on the development of transformational energy technologies, Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) was recommended to Congress in 2005 by the National Academies. A statutory authority, its director is appointed by the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate. The director can appoint up to 120 experts and shall have the authority to make appointments of scientific, engineering and professional personnel without regard to civil service laws!
In a true story, the person-in-charge for inducting experts set about acquiring talent not by placing advertisements in newspapers, but seeking them in places such as conference on energy matters. On one such occasion, he was able to discover a Mr X who fitted his bill of requirements, was invited over for a detailed interview, and being found satisfactory, handed over an appointment letter the same day.
Hopefully, the experts selected by the UPSC would be fired up enough to work with the zeal of a true ‘karma yogi’ even if their pay takes a hit, find navigating the bureaucratic jungle frustrating, and are often driven up the wall.
The author is former member, Railway Board