In the end, there was no need to rock the boat.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi-headed appointments committee of the cabinet appointed an additional secretary-rank officer Suresh Chandra as the next law secretary on Tuesday.
Chandra’s appointment comes at the end of a three-month long selection process after the government ended the decades-old monopoly of the Indian Legal Service officers to the top post at the ministry earlier this year.
In March, the government had invited lawyers, bureaucrats and judges to apply for the post.
About 45 bureaucrats had applied for the job.
A panel of top officials headed by Cabinet Secretary Pradeep Kumar Sinha had interviewed the shortlisted candidates and settled for Chandra, who had a three-decade long experience in handling legal issues related to domestic and international law.
This was the first time in recent decades that the government decided to look outside the legal service for a candidate for the top post in the ministry.
If the government had appointed an external candidate, it would also have been the second time that an outsider would have been appointed to head a non-scientific department at the centre.
In February, the PMO had handpicked a World Bank expert Parameswaran Iyer to lead his Swachh Bharat initiative for rural areas and appointed him secretary of the department of drinking water and sanitation. But Iyer was not really an outsider; he had started out as an IAS officer but kicked his job after a foreign stint to remain with the World Bank.
In fact, Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh had pushed hard to go for lateral induction but the civil service did not play along and the PMO did not demand compliance.
The department of personnel & training – that reports to the PM – had to identify posts where the experts could be inducted. It asked other department heads to give their suggestions. The departments ignored the communication, and that was the end of the initiative.