Babus will need to be careful what they say, or draw, on social media.
The Centre on Tuesday proposed changes to the rulebook to explicitly treat criticism of government policies on social media as a violation of conduct rules. And the threat of disciplinary action is not limited to the written word. It includes caricatures that are uncharitable to the government too.
The proposal comes weeks after an IAS officer Ajay Gangwar ‘liked’ a Facebook post critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and praised first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
“Let me know the mistakes that Nehru should not have committed...Is it his mistake that he prevented all of us from becoming Hindu Talibani Rashtra in 1947?...” he wrote in the post, an oblique rebuttal to continuing attacks on Nehru by BJP leaders.
Gangwar, who was Barwani collector, was transferred to the secretariat in Bhopal by the BJP’s Madhya Pradesh government and told to give an explanation.
Government officials have always been barred from criticising government policy or making statements that embarrass the Centre’s relations with a state government or a foreign country.
But the provision only spoke about criticism made in a radio broadcast, public media (such as television) or documents. Social media was not clearly covered.
The change now fixes this gap.
“The member of service shall also not make any such statement on television, social media or any other communication application,” the draft rule, sent by the Centre’s department of personnel & training to state governments for their views, said. It will be applicable to anonymous and pseudonymous posts by officials too.
The restriction, however, is not unique to India.
Back in 2011, a British civil servant, identified at the end of a 7-month investigation, was dismissed for mocking ministers through an anonymous Twitter account. Next year, a Sergeant in the US Marines was sacked for a Facebook post critical of US President Barack Obama. In 2013, an immigration officer lost her job in Australia for posting tweets critical of the country’s asylum policy. She too had tweeted from an anonymous account but it didn’t help.
In India, governments and courts have taken a more liberal view of officials criticising its policy.
A senior IAS officer serving in the central government who criticised the Election Commission in 2005 was only sent back to his cadre, West Bengal, in 2005. And the Supreme Court shielded another officer – now fertilizer secretary VS Pandey -- from penalties in 2014 for remarks against corruption in the government in his petition.
A government source said the existing rules were primarily addressed at criticism made by officials in traditional television and print media, not the new media. “The change primarily seeks to clarify the situation and not leave any scope for misinterpretation,” he said.
For now, the changes are being made to the conduct rules for the three All India Services – Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and Indian Forest Service.
Once the government notifies the changes after reviewing suggestions from the state governments, similar changes will be made to a separate set of the conduct rules applicable for other employees too.
They paid for FB posts
January, 2016: A trainee civil police officer in Kochi is suspended for posting lewd comments on a Facebook photo of Malayalam actress Manju Warrier
February, 2016: A senior Assam police officer is suspended for posting comments against Muslims on Facebook
May, 2016: Barwani district collector Ajay Singh Gangwar is transferred by the Madhya Pradesh government for praising the country’s first prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in a Facebook post