The NDA government introduced a fresh code of ethics for civil servants last year. But like all previous regimes, it too hasn’t bothered to update the 1964-vintage code of conduct for ministers and chief ministers.
So external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj might be on the back foot for facilitating former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi’s travel well after his passport had been cancelled. But as far as the code of conduct for ministers is concerned, she has committed no wrong.
“Had a civil servant been caught making a similar call for someone known to him, he could have faced the music for violating the rulebook,” a government official said, pointing that he was only making the point on a matter of principle.
The code of conduct for ministers doesn’t even explicitly require them to uphold ethical standards. It is far too focussed on the declaration of assets and severing links from businesses.
One reason why the political executive has gotten away with an outdated code of conduct was that existence of the 1964-era document had been a secret till 2007. This is when the Second Administrative Reforms Commission included its contents in its report.
The commission quickly spotted gaps in the code and recommended that the home ministry come up with a code of ethics for the ministers. A home ministry official pointed out that when they tried to suggest that the code be overhauled, there was a studied silence from the political executive. The Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) recommendation was rejected.
According to documents accessed by HT, the home ministry rejected the ARC recommendation on grounds that “the Code of Ethics would only be a duplication and may not serve any purpose”. It still does not.