What is the yardstick for assessing the gravity of misdemeanours committed by bureaucrats? The Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) has made recommendations in individual cases, but the government hasn’t always followed its advice.
For instance, according to a report tabled in Parliament last week, a woman Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer was retired for shoplifting at London department store Marks & Spencer a decade ago. But other officers accused of corrupt practices have got away with milder punishments.
The Uttar Pradesh cadre officer — part of an official delegation to Britain — was caught stealing two cashmere jumpers and a jacket. On the advice of a lawyer arranged by the high commission, she pleaded guilty and paid a fine of £150 (about Rs 11,000, as per current rates) imposed by the Magistrate Court of Marlborough Street.
The inquiry she faced back home exonerated her, but the red-faced government decided to make an example out of her.
While the UPSC agreed her conduct was unbecoming of an IAS officer, it said compulsory retirement was too harsh a punishment. It recommended that her salary be reduced in two stages over two years.
The government, however, told Parliament last week that the misconduct made her retention “untenable and the penalty advised by the UPSC did not meet the ends of justice”.
“Compulsory retirement seems too severe for a silly act like shoplifting,” said a senior government official, “especially when people who rob the exchequer go scot-free”.
Like this senior diplomat posted as head of the chancery in Riyadh who reemployed his India-based domestic help but misreported facts by claiming $5,086 (Rs 2.5 lakh, as per today’s rates) as the help’s salary from the government.
The UPSC recommended compulsory retirement “at the very least” plus recovery of $5,086. The government, however, declined to accept the advice since the officer’s disciplinary authority only initiated proceedings for a minor penalty.
And then there was this IAS officer in West Bengal, who was let off with a “notional penalty of 5 per cent cut in pension” after an inquiry found he “failed to maintain absolute integrity”, acquiring assets worth Rs 7 lakh in excess of his known income.
(Officers’ names withheld by UPSC in all cases)