The prime minister’s office has ordered corporate-style ethics norms for civil servants, regulators and watchdogs to ensure that their private interests do not affect their performance as public servants.
The government’s stress on ethics comes in the backdrop of PM Narendra Modi’s promise to back them all the way if they get into trouble for doing their job honestly.
But the government also needs to ensure that extraneous reasons do not influence their decisions.
Government sources said the cabinet secretariat had told the department of personnel and training to enact a law for civil servants on the lines of the provisions in the companies act to prevent conflict of interest.
The first draft prepared by the department, which has been sent for vetting by the committee of secretaries, goes a step further. It not only requires all government officers to declare financial interests of their family but also their association with all organisations, public or private. Besides, it proposes to make them file an annual declaration that they and their families haven’t derived an improper advantage due to access to “inside information”.
The proposed rule would cover all 4.7 lakh Group A and B officers of the central government.
Since it would be difficult to monitor deviations of such large numbers, a government source said one suggestion was to go public with this information and impose punitive penalties on those found providing wrong information.
Citizens will have to wait for some more time before they can expect basic courtesies from babudom.
Members of Parliament — who rank higher than all civil servants except the cabinet secretary in the pecking order — are still struggling to get the same.
Last week, the department of personnel & training (DoPT) sent out another circular to all central departments reminding them about the ground-rules in dealing with MPs after a nudge from a parliamentary panel.
The DoPT had put all its instructions laying down the courtesies that officials need to keep in mind in interacting with parliamentarians in one place after a nudge from the Lok Sabhs’s committee on violation of protocol norms and contemptuous behaviour of government officers with MPs.
In its report to Parliament in February, the panel had asked DoPT to sensitise all civil servants for strict compliance of its instructions. The panel — reconstituted after the General Elections — made a similar point and asked DoPT to send out the instructions again.
Noting the “important place” of parliamentarians in a democracy, the government pointed to instances where the parliamentarians seek information from departments at the centre or the states, make suggestions or seek an appointment with the officers.
According to the guidelines, communications from parliamentarianshave to be acknowledged within a fortnight and the final reply sent across over the next 15 days.
In case the matter does not relate to the officials who have received the communication, they can’t just chuck the letter into the files but have to send it to the officials concerned.
“All ministries are requested to ensure that the basic principles and instructions are followed... both in letter and spirit,” the order by DoPT director JA Vaidyanathan said.
The state governments have been asked to similarly sensitise its officers. The basic principles of the civil servant-MP interaction requires officers to show courtesy and consideration to the elected representatives.
“An officer should be meticulously correct and courteous and rise to receive and see off a Member of Parliament/State Legislature visiting him,” the guidelines say.
It, however, stresses that the officers must listen to the elected members but always act according to their best judgment as per the rules.