In an unprecedented move, the Narendra Modi government sanctioned lateral entry of private individuals into top bureaucracy, arguing that it would bring "fresh ideas and new approaches" to governance as also to augment manpower.
However, the opposition rejected the government's argument, calling the move a ploy to fill top bureaucracy with "people from the RSS, BJP and some select industrial houses".
In an advertisement released on Sunday, the government invited applications for 10 Joint Secretary-level posts through lateral entry.
The Joint Secretary level posts are held by top civil servants who are inducted through a rigorous multi-level competitive exam conducted by the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and make their way up to senior position after years of experience in the government at lower levels.
"The government of India has decided to invite talented and motivated Indian nationals willing to contribute towards nation-building to join the government at the level of Joint Secretary," said a notification issued by the Department of Personnel and Training.
The government notification said that candidates with expertise in specific areas of revenue, financial services, economic affairs, agriculture, road transport and highways, shipping, environment and forests, new and renewable energy, civil aviation and commerce can apply for the posts.
While candidates from state governments as well as central or state public sector undertakings will be appointed on deputation, the candidates from the private sector will be appointed on contract basis, the notification said.
Reacting to the development, Congress Spokesperson P.L. Punia told IANS: "This is just to sabotage the efficiently-running system and with a view to take people from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and some industrial houses so that they can directly influence the decision-making of the government."
Punia, a former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer himself, said there was a time-tested efficient system of recruitment of IAS and officers in other services which was "foolproof", and that the recruits were "brilliant minds" who are given training keeping in mind the government's requirements.
He also pointed out that the advertisement said the positions were open for "Indian nationals". Normally, it is open for Indian citizens.
"What do they mean by 'nationals'? Why have they not mentioned 'Indian citizens' but 'Indian nationals'. So, we will have to examine whether they have something else in mind -- whether they want to include NRIs," he said.
Asked if he suspected foul play, the Congress leader said: "Yes".
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury wondered as to what were the Modi government's real intentions behind the move.
"Why are time-tested UPSC and SSC being sought to be undermined? To fill IAS ranks with Sanghis and undermine reservation too, in the BJP's last few months in office," Yechury tweeted.
"BJP's attempt to subvert Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and OBC reservations in the IAS is not the first. They have done the same for university professors as well, through similar devious methods. This, when we need more affirmative action, not less," he added.
Meanwhile, NITI Aayog Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Amitabh Kant - an IAS officer himself -- welcomed the move, saying it was "long overdue".
"NITI's experience with lateral entry has been extremely good. They (candidates) bring in a vast number of fresh and vibrant ideas.
"This move in government was long overdue and I welcome it. (It) Will catalyse UPSC entrants to specialise. The government must also allow deputation of its officers to private sector as well," Kant said in a tweet.
Joint Secretaries are placed at a crucial level of senior management in the government and lead policy-making as well as the implementation of various programmes and schemes of the department assigned to them. They report to the Secretary or the Additional Secretary in the respective Ministries.