At a time when the Prime Minister has been spotted sporting what appeared to be Maybach Character III eyewear, it was a little strange that the headlines were dominated by reports of two young IAS officers
being pulled up
for their "inappropriate attire" including sunglasses, while receiving Narendra Modi in Chhattisgarh last week.
Amit Kataria and KC Devsenapathi – considered among the best young Indian Administrative Service officers posted in areas of Chhattisgarh affected by Maoist violence – were reprimanded for the informal clothes they wore while receiving Modi on May 9.
According to the state’s General Administration Department, Kataria’s offence was compounded because he wore ‘dhup ka chashma’ (sunglasses) while welcoming the Prime Minister. Some folks on social media also noted that he had changed his shirt – from a bright blue one to a white one with black stripes – by the time he saw off Modi.
The state government chose Section 3(1) of the nearly 50-year-old All India Services (Conduct) Rules to give a dressing down to the two officers. Curiously, this section merely says that officers should “maintain absolute integrity and devotion to duty” at all times and do nothing “unbecoming” of a member of the IAS but it states nothing about the attire for formal occasions.
According to several serving and retired IAS and IPS officers, there is no written dress code for official events though officials are expected to be “appropriately attired” in keeping with the occasion – a ‘bandhgala’ for a ceremonial event and “formal” clothes for a visit by a dignitary such as the chief minister or Prime Minister.
The only mention of a dress code can be found in the “joining instructions” for the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, where IAS officers are trained. These guidelines state a ceremonial event requires officers to be clad in a black or white Jodhpur suit or sherwani with formal shoes while the attire for a formal event is a black or white Jodhpur suit or a two- or three-piece lounge suit, preferably in dark colors.
On the day that the Prime Minister visited Chhattisgarh to interact with people hit by the activities of Maoist rebels and to launch development projects, the temperature had soared well past 40 degrees Celsius. In such circumstances, a bandhgala or even a dark suit would hardly be the logical attire for an official who would be out in the sun, handling logistics and ensuring such a key visit went off smoothly.
By any yardstick, Kataria can be forgiven for his decision to change a shirt that must have been permeated with sweat after several hours in the hot sun. And not many would grudge his decision to don a pair of sunglasses though, as some have said, he could have removed them in the Prime Minister’s presence as a mark of deference.
In any case, one wonders whether there was any need for the General Administration Department to issue formal letters to Kataria and Devasenapathi regarding their perceived transgressions. Possibly this matter could have ended with a verbal reprimand.
The Chhattisgarh government has begun posting the brightest officers in areas where Maoists are active in order to give a boost to its policy of winning over hearts and minds and pushing development projects.
Officers like Kataria and Devasenapathi are at the forefront of the state’s battle against Left wing extremism and the manner in which they were publicly pulled up will hardly have helped boost their morale. In some ways, this entire episode has again put the spotlight on the need for overarching reforms of the rules that guide IAS officers and the very system they are part of.
This was probably a case of the rules being implemented in letter, though the spirit was of greater significance.
(The views expressed by the writer are personal. He tweets as @rezhasan.)