In the wake of transfers of bureaucrats and dismissal of governors because of their perceived political leanings, the two-month-old Narendra Modi government has amended the service conduct rules for bureaucrats, mandating them to be politically neutral, besides maintaining high ethical standards and discharging their duties with impartiality.
A statement from the ministry of personnel late on Thursday said the government of India had amended the All India Services (Conduct) Rules,1968, so that officials of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and the Indian Forest Service (IFoS) should maintain “high ethical standards, integrity and honesty; political neutrality; promoting of the principles of merit, fairness and impartiality in the discharge of duties (and) accountability and transparency."
A press release from the New Delhi-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a not-for-profit organization that works in the area of human rights and transparency, hailed the new rules.
The “importance of the amendment lies in the requirement for IAS, IPS and IFoS officers to maintain accountability and transparency," it said.
The new rules “require officers of these three services to maintain confidentiality of information in relation to one’s duties as required by existing laws and rules. Particular emphasis is placed on maintaining confidentiality and refraining from disclosing information if it may prejudicially affect the interests protected under Section 8(1)(a) of the Right to Information Act, 2005," it said, referring to a landmark law brought in by the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to curb corruption and increase transparency in governance.
The new list of “do’s and don’ts" include being “responsive" to the public “particularly to the weaker sections", be courteous and maintain “good behaviour with the public".
One of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s key election planks has been “good governance" and Prime Minister Modi in many of his election campaign speeches had repeatedly stressed “minimum government and maximum governance", besides making the administration more people friendly and more transparent. During his term as Gujarat chief minister between 2001 and 2014, Modi’s supporters say he was famous for his clean and deft administration, besides efficient delivery of state services through a toned bureaucracy.
The amended service rules also call on the officials to “commit themselves to and uphold the supremacy of the Constitution and democratic values, defend and uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of state, public order, decency and morality."
They also call on bureaucrats to “maintain integrity in public service; take decisions solely in public interest and use or cause to use public resources efficiently, effectively and economically; declare any private interests relating to his public duties and take steps to resolve any conflicts in a way that protects the public interest."
One of the reasons for the poor showing of the Congress-led UPA in the April-May national polls was its image as a government mired in corruption. During its second five-year stint in office between 2009 and 2014, many UPA leaders and bureaucrats were sent to prison or accused of corruption in a slew of alleged scams.
The amended service rules also mandate officials not to “place themselves under any financial or other obligations to any individual or organization which may influence him in the performance of his official duties; not misuse his position as civil servant and not take decisions in order to derive financial or material benefits for himself, his family or his friends."
Officials should “make choices, take decisions and make recommendations on merit alone; act with fairness and impartiality and not discriminate against anyone, particularly the poor and the under-privileged sections of society; refrain from doing anything which is or may be contrary to any law, rules, regulations and established practices..," according to the rules.