By Rajeshwar Singhal | PUBLISHED: 05, May 2011, 13:17 pm IST | UPDATED: 09, May 2011, 13:10 pm IST
This may sound like a dilemma, but it is not far from truth. Conduct Rules are meant to govern conduct of civil servants or public servants. Even though there are ample judicial pronouncements holding even elected representatives as ‘public servants’, yet, these Rules are applied only to those working for the government on an appointed post. While the terminology or nomenclature can be anything, but in practice we know that these rules are applied selectively even among public servants to punish them for their misdemeanors or uncivil behavior.
Many decades ago famous writer George Orwell in his masterpiece work, Animal Farm, wrote that all animals are equal but some animals are more than equal so that they can enjoy better facilities in the farm. In a similar manner, conduct rules are applicable to all public servants, but some public servants are ‘better’ public servants, so that they can escape the cover of conduct rules.
Those in civil services would without fail come across many such instances where some of their own kin in civil services happen to be ‘more civil’ than others so that they are ‘above’ any rules or regulations. And this revelation would not be any different from the experience of a common citizen at the receiving end of the ‘public service’ done by civil servants. While many such acts affect the public at large directly, some affect the reputation of the civil service and the government as such.
Some are more ‘Common’ than the Common Man
As the approach to this article remains strictly from the point of view of a common man, including a civil servant as a common man and recipient of services from his own brethren, there is no research oriented detail or specifics here. Suffice to say that Conduct Rules for civil servants are no different than general rules of conduct of any citizen with responsibilities towards his organization, society and self, including his family. These can be found in the Ten Commandments also.
For that matter I recall having attended a lecture many years ago at Nehru memorial library, by a senior and much respected politician who belonged to the then opposition. He had some, yes some royal lineage, some army background, and a stiff upper lip mouthing clipped accent that even originals would find hard to match. His audience were as august as the venue itself and the claimed stature of the speaker. They included diplomats, retired and serving officers from civil and defence services and a host of guys from the shadowy or shady area called the intelligence.
Members of his family, including women in expensive saris worn in traditional style covering their heads like Indian nobility, sat in the front row. The lecture itself was on predictable lines, since he was in opposition and found everything in the country wrong. According to him, even the simplest of interaction between public and a civil servant, like an average person buying stamps at a post office, is not devoid of misbehavior by the civil servant, howsoever low or high be his rank. Needless to say that the fact is without challenge as we all face such simplest act of misbehavior by civil servants quite often. But fact also remains that there is nothing political about it and it cannot remain a political issue. It was evident as even the political dispensation this speaker belonged to was unable to even think of making any effort in effecting change in behavior of civil servants. The uncivil acts by civil servants continued as such even then. Further, the man himself got embroiled in several questionable acts within his own community and his government, thus making him equally liable to action as a ‘public servant’.
We are also aware that even civil servants, as common citizens, are equally anxious of uncivil behavior that they would be subjected to when they have any work in a government department. On such occasions, they also try to find someone with clout or someone known working there, so that they can get their work done without harassment or bribes. But again, when they themselves are in their offices, they are ‘back in business’ of being uncivil and causing harassment to their own clients.
Conduct Rules be damned for them
And this applies equally to all, whether in security, intelligence, civil, defence services, or even in judiciary. We all fail in discharging our duties not only as per statute, but also within due time, thus making the clients suffer. But then we ourselves, as common citizens are also at receiving end of similar treatment. Bulk of the several million cases pending in various courts across the country involve government as a party. Needless to say that government agencies treat human beings as mere files and go on prolonging the judicial process endlessly, unless there is sufficient influence peddling, with or without any benefits. Same is the approach in the judiciary. But then, there are any number of instances, where government gets rapped on its knuckles for false evidence and false cases.
Even judges also seek judicial intervention in their own cases, where they lose faith in administrative measures. The Chief Justice of the oldest High Court in the country was reported to have got his own service and pension matter settled after a gap of seventeen years by the very court that he once headed. Another high court judge had to seek help through PIL route for a botched up medical operation by a government run hospital. But in jurisdiction of another High Court, several serving judges of lower and high court were charged with graft and misappropriation of provident funds. In yet another high court, a tout and a lawyer were arrested some years ago for delivering cash at the doorstep of a high court judge. Even though, it was later found out in investigations, the cash was meant for another judge with almost similar name, but truth was that both judges had rather questionable reputation in such matters.
Some years ago, head of a major revenue department in the central government, that is virtually the bread winner for the country as it earns bulk of country’s tax revenue, was philosophical and candid in his retirement farewell speech. One can afford to be so at that time as one’s retirement papers have been processed and duly handed over by that time. He admitted that ‘we are powerful against the powerless and powerless against the powerful’. Sure enough, that is another way of reiterating what George Orwell or many before him wrote. So, during our tenures, we remain a cog in the wheel, going along the pre-determined path, uncaring, imbalanced, and often causing trouble, while all the time trying to save ourselves.
‘Bura Mat Dekho’, Bura Mat karo
Many years ago, in a popular Hindi film having several top billed stars, a reigning actor was portrayed as a police officer, who went to enjoy a mujra alongwith his friends. Needless to say that he was noticed by everyone, respectable and otherwise, present there and the news travelled up the proverbial grapevine with all spices thrown in, to the higher ups. And we all know, whether it is any government organization or private or any social set up, negative news, howsoever true or untrue, bare or spiced up, always has ears waiting for it. And once it reaches the eager ears, tongues go into hyper speed and proverbial knives and pens are out to mete out the retribution by way of ‘punishment’.
So, his superior chastised him for ‘conduct unbecoming of a civil servant’. The junior officer, with his tail between hind legs, claimed meekly that he had a personal life also and an equal right to enjoy a ‘performance’ in a public place, howsoever lascivious. True, he was so told. Yet, he could not disassociate himself from his public duties and image from his personal life, as a result of which his conduct was to remain ‘becoming of a civil servant’. Again, very true. But we all know rampant instances of officers from civil, defence services, and even haloed institutions like intelligence, security, and even judiciary, being involved in bribery, harassment, sleaze, vice, extortion, etc.
In early 1990’s a IG rank officer of a prestigious investigating agency was reported to have been arrested for his involvement in gun running for militants, obviously in return for huge bribes. He ostensibly knew that the guns and ammunition would be used to kill political leaders and mainly members of community that he himself belonged to. But his arrest came about when his name cropped up in an investigation for an entirely different, that is, financial investigations, thus indicating that his own haloed institution had failed to see his machinations through any inbuilt mechanism.
Earlier this investigation agency’s topmost officer himself was found to have violated basic rules of conduct when a young, barely 23 years old cub reporter, in absence of cell phones, e mail, or internet, dug out this officer’s unreported to the government, deep nexus with a top business house which was being investigated by this much touted agency. Predictably, government did not take any action against the Director of the agency and allowed him to retire gracefully.
There was much noise, justifiably, after the incident of Jessica Lal’s murder and even more after the flawed trial and its outcome. But fact remains that at the time of event, many top police and civil officials were present in the select gathering at the venue, which did not have any permission to serve alcohol and had violated the municipal zoning laws also. Nobody has heard of any action against them under conduct rules. In fact one police official rose to the top of his force later.
‘Bura Mat Kaho’
Conduct Rules apart, even normal official protocol require release of information to press and public as per norms, which by themselves are based on common sense and civic behavior. Then, there are stringent guidelines and statutory punishments against unauthorized sharing or release of information considered classified and having national security angle. Beyond these are the guidelines for release of information having a bearing on any judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding. In this domain also, experience shows that action has generally, if at all, been taken against junior functionaries, while those in senior positions, merrily go scot free even after releasing confidential information to press with malicious intent.
‘Bura Mat Suno’
We all love to hear something spicy, saucy, negative, howsoever ‘bura’ it may be. Why? Simply because it whets our appetite built up jealousy and inspires us to ‘take action’ by way of malicious complaints. Bapu Gandhi or his earlier or later avatars may have preached anything against giving an ear to malicious talk and unverifiable rumours. Yet we are ever eager to listen and then talk, and complain so that the person talked about is ‘downed’ from his pedestal, immaterial of the fact that he is not even remotely concerned about us, and his actions do not harm us even indirectly. We do it in our professional, social and even family setups with equal relish. The outcomes are predictable. But here too, fact remains that action gets taken generally against any ‘powerless’ person based on a unverified rumour and the ‘powerful’ perpetrators of verifiable acts of misconduct remain untouched by any statute.
Deadly sin of vanity (misbehavior by a public servant)
Here too, we love to use our official position, generally with an overdose of vanity. Be it the beacons on official cars, more than required security retinue brandishing guns and smirking at passersby, huge designation plates and special number plates on cars, VVIP parking slots, or keeping people waiting at ceremonials, all have attendant discomfort for general public. Display of arrogance and uncivil behavior with juniors are other features of this trait. Expectedly enough, here too, the powerful breed of public servants with loaded vanity not only escape the statute, but thrive in the very system that they take for granted.
Take the case of a Divisional Commissioner, a relatively senior officer in the civil administration in the country, who some years ago thrashed a very junior functionary in full public view and while being recorded by TV cameras. This was certainly an actionable act under the Conduct Rules and even IPC. The media showed the unpardonable act of vanity for some hours on national channels for some hours. The outcome was not as expected under any statute, but as expected from the system. Next day the hapless victim claimed on television channels, obviously he was made to claim under pressure, that he himself was wrong and had had sought pardon from the senior officer.
Much the same were two recent cases where a bank manager and a development officer in a district were slapped and beaten up by elected representatives of state assemblies. Both acts were in also in public view and recorded by TV cameras. But here too, the outcome was as expected from the system. In surprising and equally sickening similarity, both victims later lauded the ‘worthy’ and ‘public welfare minded’ elected representatives. About the slapping and thrashing incidents, they claimed that they had inadvertently come in the way while the elected members were gesturing and waiving. So, here too, the powerful public servants had twisted the facts, made the powerless victims of their vanity kneel and buckle under pressure, and reinforced the general disregard for conduct rules.
Thou Shalt Not Steal
This by itself is a contentious area. Though everyone accepts it as a reality, and everyone suffers from its ill effects, yet arguments remain about its nature and reasons behind it. In simple words, it is called corruption or bribery. And need anyone say that it never comes without an adjunct of harassment. It plays equally on greed of the bribe taker and helplessness of the bribe giver. But at times, the bribe taker is equally helpless, maybe on account of his low wages and he being an equal part of society where he also has to ‘pay up’ a little extra for his and family’s daily needs. But again, this sub argument as a reason behind ‘stealing’ through misuse of one’s official position fails, as those with bigger positions and bigger salaries and allowances, are known to steal more than the functionaries at the lowest rungs of the hierarchy.
Sad to say that any person in power or any institution wielding power, howsoever ordinary or mighty, are often seen synonymous with harassment, delays, extortion and corruption. While the police are often seen as ‘dacoits in uniform’, the low level Block Development Officer in local administration setup is seen as one who blocks the development of the area. Border Security Force is derogatorily called by many as border smuggling force, for their illegal acts in abetting smuggling on borders. No doubt that many security personnel and their families were targeted by militants in Punjab, Jammu & Kashmir and northeast, its in common knowledge that postings in border areas were much sought after, for obvious reasons. Same applies to other sections of the security, revenue, and civil services, howsoever holy or holier than others.
The vortex of corruption is so systemic that none escapes its tentacles, be it by way of taking money or being forced to cough up money for doing or getting any work done. The quagmire makes one taking money with one hand for doing a genuine work, giving it out by other hand for getting his own work done. The dreams, expectations, ambitions, hopes, and desires, name them whatever one wants, keep rising and fantasy levels keep going up equally high, making competition for ‘public dealing’, ‘purchases’, ‘recruitments’, or ‘finance sanction’ postings stiffer day by day. And when such dreams or hopes are not realized, even after making sacrifices and payments for getting these postings, despair sets in early leading to increasing incidents of suicides, and intra service fratricide.
These principles or modalities apply to all, whether in political or administrative executive, and even in the private sector. Those elected to any post, whether in local, state or national executive, need money to get elected, and then get a ‘proper’ post so that they can make more money. And this process involves all machinations. Same is true of important executive posts in civil administration. In recent years, Judiciary and defence services, earlier considered as incorruptible and solid pillars of a functioning democracy, have also been blamed of verifiable instances of bribery and stealing of public money. They are also said to be plagued with misuse of authority, unreasonable spoiling of careers by greedy and jealous superiors, and cut throat competition.
But again, how often do we hear of any big time stealer of public money getting punished as per statutes? What is commonplace in news are instances of railway, bus conductors getting dismissed for overcharging passengers by few rupees, or equally puny and hapless low level civil servants being charged with petty embezzlement. It cannot be denied that stealing of public funds is a crime, whether for less than a rupee by a bus conductor, or for several thousand crores by those in powerful positions. But harsh truth is that the statutory provisions are applied generally against the ‘powerless’ by the powerful, and the ‘powerful violators’ remain unaffected.
Even in some few instances of cases being registered against powerful embezzlers, under pressure from public, media or judiciary, the assets built up through stealing remain intact and productive, allowing the powerful embezzlers to enjoy their returns. Many use these assets to payoff the investigators, prosecutors and the judiciary. While those in general sight of public, as being corrupt and ‘money takers’ are also associated with assets and properties built up through slush funds, members of judiciary and defence services, earlier considered beyond reproach, can be seen now with blatant and openly displayed ownership of properties that would be hard to come by even through business earnings.
Thou shalt not covet another man’s wife
Matters of the heart. This remains the most tricky area. Even though there are punishments prescribed against bigamy in conduct rules and criminal statutes, these are hardly ever enforced, even in extreme cases where the reputation of the civil service is at stake. There are ample instances of gross behavior by senior administrative and political functionaries Involving sexual misconduct. Yet, whatever we hear of any action taken under any statutory provisions, is generally against hapless lower level functionaries, while those at senior levels in politics and administration not only remain unconcerned and immune, but rise to the top, without any hindrance whatsoever.
In the last few decades, perhaps the only senior level functionary ever to get the boot was the supercop from Punjab, who was otherwise justly lauded for winning Punjab back for India, but had been unable to control his drink and resultant lust in public. Perhaps he thought that his action would be taken lightly by the recipient, as in American comedy films, but he was, sadly for him, proven wrong. His credentials and successes got lost sight of, albeit justifiably. Otherwise, we often hear from the word of mouth and media about instances of lowly functionaries getting beaten up by cheated wives, and then acted against by the government with the entire ‘rule book’ thrown at them.
Many years ago, we heard of a lady government lawyer in an eastern state having been subjected to regular sexual abuse by her seniors. She did raise a hue and cry about it. Nothing came out of it, except that she lost her job and her father died of shock. Some years ago, a very senior officer from the revenue department was charged by his lady colleague of sexual misbehavior in office premises. There were official witnesses to the said act. Yet, all that was done against the said officer by way of punishment was his transfer to an even better place. Pretty soon he even got promoted and retired at the highest possible rank in his setup.
The paradigm of monogamy, and staying away from philandering has so far been gender specific, since time immemorial. But it should have been, and should even now, be applied universally as women are equally, if not less, culpable. Take yet another case, but this time of a senior level lady officer, who coveted her married colleague in same service so much that she had kids from that man. While that man’s real wife continued to raise the issue of bigamy with his department and sought transfer of his provident fund to her account, no action was taken against either officer by their department. Both officers got regular promotions, and their kids, from legally wedded wife and a non-wife, grew up and went to professional colleges. Maybe the stress of maintaining two families or the almighty’s retribution saw the man passing away about five years before retirement.
His death created the expected scenes, with his real wife and non-wife and their kids staking claim to the dead body and department’s senior officers, who had come to mourn the death of their colleague, looking at them helplessly. The last we heard was that the non-wife lady officer rose to the highest level in her hierarchy and retired recently. Obviously, no action ever was taken under any statutory provisions. A lady officer who retired as Chief Secretary of a state some years ago was left by her husband of many years who himself rose to the post of secretary in the central government. The man had been having affairs and it was known to most of his kin in the services. Yet he retired as secretary in the central government. Such cases are numerous. So are the cases where no action was taken against any senior officer and only junior functionaries were hauled over embers for same offence.
Enjoying a drink may not be a bad thing under the Conduct Rules, as long as it is done in a private place or a place which is as per decorum and protocol of the public servant, and the public servant is not habituated or addicted to drink and he does not misbehave after consuming alcohol. Here too there are numerous instances of action having been taken against relatively junior staffers for such violations of conduct rules while the high and mighty were duly ‘taken care of’. We have heard of serving public servants of stature making horrible sight of themselves in clubs and hotels and misbehaving with public and staff after drinking in excess, but have hardly heard of any substantive action against them.
Take the unique case of a senior intelligence officer who belonged to an important enforcement service, decorated defence officers’ family, and had powerful connections. His addiction to alcohol and substance abuse reached a critical stage during his posting in a plush European capital. Instead of any action under the statute for addiction, disrepute, and dereliction of duty he was put in a rehab in Europe for an extra two years stay during which, not only his work suffered, but he continued to draw salary and foreign allowance, and making government pay for his treatment in Europe.
Rajeshwar Singal is working with the Central Government. He has worked in different departments and served on deputation overseas also. He has written a book of short stories entitled 'Zanzibar Bed' and other stories.