INDIAN INITIATIVES TO STRENGTHEN ETHICAL FRAMEWORK

 

  • Accountability to Parliament – In India, administrators are responsible to the political executives, who in turn are answerable to the Parliament. Besides administrative accountability there is also financial accountability. For instance, legislature must authorise the executive before the latter can spend any money from the Consolidated Fund of India or the state.
  • Code of Conduct for Ministers – The Government of India has prescribed a Code of Conduct which is applicable to Ministers of both the Union and State Governments. However, steps needs to be taken towards prescribing code of ethics as recommended by 2nd
  • Committee on Ethics of the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha – Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Rajya Sabha provides for constitution of the Committee on Ethics to oversee the moral and ethical conduct of Members. Similarly, there is a Committee on Ethics of the Lok Sabha to oversee the moral and ethical conduct of Members of that House.
  • Disclosure of Interest – In India, disclosure of interest is provided in both Houses of Parliament. It has been ruled by the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha that a Member having a personal pecuniary or direct interest on a matter before the House is required to declare the nature of interest.
  • Code of Conduct for Civil Servants – Code of conduct has been prescribed for civil servants which aims to increase confidence in government by reassuring citizens that private power and interest do not subvert government decisions.
  • Legal Mechanism to Check Corruption – Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 is the substantive law to deal with corruption in India which applies to all categories of “public duty”. Besides this, other enactments to check corruption are, Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988, the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 etc.
  • Right to Information Act, 2005 – The Act is based on the principle that all government information is the property of people. It takes democracy to the grassroots level and is also a step towards ensuring participatory governance in the country.
  • Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 – The Act was a product of people’s movement against corruption led by Anna Hazare. It aims to prevent and control corruption through the setting up of an independent and empowered body at the central level, called the Lokpal. The Act also makes it incumbent for each state to pass, within a year, a law setting up a body of Lokayuktas at the state level, but leaves it to the states to work out the details.
  • Whistle-blowers Protection Act, 2014 – The enactment of RTI Act saw the rise in the number of attacks on whistle-blowers. In order to protect them, Whistle-blowers protection law was enacted which seeks to establish a mechanism to receive complaints relating to corruption or wilful misuse of power or discretion by public servants, to inquire into those complaints, and prevent the victimization of the complainants.
Need for legal Protection

As “part of society’s alarm and self-repair system”, whistle-blowers are valuable for organizations and the society because they call attention to problems before they become more damaging. They are “lone voices of reason, morality, and truth who speak out to protect the public from harm”. Some of the major recent cases of whistle-blowing are as follows;

Satyendra Dubey – A sincere whistle-blower in the National Highways Authority of India, Satyendra Dubey had to pay a heavy price in term of his life for drawing attention of the Prime Minister’s Office to corruption in Golden Quadrilateral Project.

Manjunath Shanmugam – A young manager with Indian Oil Corporation was shot dead for drawing attention to irregularities in the quality of fuel being marketed in some petrol pumps.

Rajiv Kumar – Professor at IIT, Kharagpur has been suspended for exposing irregularities in the IITJEE Entrance Test for admissions.

Many such whistle-blowers and RTI activists have been facing problems and there have been situations where it became difficult for them even to get police protection. Therefore, there was dire need for some kind of legal protection.

 
  • Vigilance and Investigative Mechanisms
  • Central Vigilance Commission – It is the apex vigilance institution, monitoring all vigilance activity under the Central Government. It is the “Designated Agency” to receive written complaints for disclosure on any allegation of corruption or misuse of office and recommend appropriate action. The Commission has been empowered through the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013 to conduct preliminary inquiry into complaints referred by the Lokpal to it.
  • Central Bureau of Investigation – It is the premier investigating police agency in India which plays a major role in preservation of values in public life and in ensuring the health of the national economy. It is involved in collection of criminal intelligence pertaining to three of its main areas of operation – anti-corruption, economic crimes and special crimes.
  • National Investigative Agency – The Mumbai terror attack in November 2008 highlighted the need for a strong investigative mechanism and as a result, the NIA was created by an Act of the Parliament. According to the Act, the Agency is an investigation agency at the national level to investigate and prosecute offences affecting the sovereignty, security and integrity of India, Security of State, and friendly relations with foreign States
  • Right to Public Service Delivery Legislations – Every Citizen is entitled to hassle-free public services and redressal of grievances which requires Right to Service legislation to be put in place. A number of states have enacted Public Services Guarantee Act which guarantees “right to public services”, which are to be provided to the public by the designated official within the stipulated time frame.

Even at the central level, efforts had been made to pass Citizens Charter Bill, 2011 which seeks to create a mechanism to ensure timely delivery of goods and services to citizens. 

In spite of all these initiatives, morality in public administration seems to be in poor state. We need to take up more radical initiatives to strengthen moral framework for each stakeholders in governance to bring effective transformation. Some of the initiatives that can be taken in this regard are as follows; 

  • Political Commitment to Ethics and Moral Values – Political leaders are responsible for maintaining high standards of propriety in the discharge of their official duties. Their commitment is demonstrated by example and by taking action that is only available at the political level.

The culture and values of the public services to a large extent depends on the political leadership and its commitment to high ethical standards. It is time that the political leadership should focus on probity, integrity and a value-based governance.

A message of zero tolerance to corruption, unethical action and behaviour as given by PM Modi will send a strong message and help promote ethical governance.

In addition, Political will to hold public services accountable and weed out non-performers is the need of the hour. For instance, 340 non-performing officers were prematurely retired by government between 2014 and 2020.

  •  Making Directive Principles of State Policy justiciable – DPSPs are nothing but principles of Raja Dharma which means that it is the moral responsibility of the state to guarantee the quality of life of each citizen so that he can live in dignity which is a basic human right. Therefore, it is time to examine the possibility of making Directive Principles of the State Policy a justiciable right.
  • National Commission on Integrity and Transparency in Governance – The role of this Commission would be to assess the effectiveness of code of conduct for civil servants and take steps to promote ethical values among public servants.

The Commission could on a regular basis develop and review policies, procedures, practices and institutions influencing ethical conduct in the public service. It could also incorporate ethical dimensions into management frameworks to ensure that management practices are consistent with the values and principles of public service.

  •  Transparency in Delivery of Public Services – Citizens are losing faith in the service delivery mechanism due to rampant corruption and inefficiency. This requires the need for reconstruction of the image of the public service. For this the public trust in public services need to be re-established by ensuring citizens are heard and their complaints get redressed.

It is not only the legal duty of the state but also ethical and moral obligation of the state to provide effective public services to all its citizens.

  • Use of Innovative Technological Tools – Technological tools can help in promoting ethical and moral governance by reducing avenues of corruption and narrowing down the scope of discretion. New innovation technology needs to be adopted in governance which makes the system much more transparent, accountable and inclusive.

The recent initiatives of DoPT to move towards a paperless office is to be welcomed. However, care has to be taken that digitalization process doesn’t lead to exclusion errors as seen under PDS scheme wherein some old age people couldn’t take benefits due to limitations associated with AADHAR linked distribution system. 

  • Abuse of Discretionary Powers – Absolute discretion is a ruthless master and highly destructive freedom than any of man’s other inventions. However, discretionary power by itself is not pure evil but gives much room for misuse. Therefore, remedy lies in tightening the procedure and not in abolishing the power itself. 

2nd ARC in this regard recommended that all government offices having public interface should undertake a review of their activities and list out those which involve use of discretion. Further, well defined regulations should attempt to restrict the discretion and decision making on important matters should be assigned to a Committee rather than individuals. However, Care has to be exercised that this practice is not to be restored to when prompt decisions are required. 

  • Protection and Incentives to Honest Public Servants – In the quest for making systems and structures of governance ethical, moral and accountable, we need to provide protection to honest civil servants. For example, Transfers and postings should be based only on merit and performance. 

Governance and the citizens suffer a serious setback when corrupt and incompetent public servants are rewarded on considerations other than merit. Such postings, when based on political cronyism or nepotism, are a form of corruption that tends to lead to other forms of corruption related to mismanagement of public resources and abuse of authority.

  • Permanent Civil Service and Re-employment – There should be restrictions upon former public servants with respect to re-employment and the rendering of services to private organizations. It is generally seen that the quid pro quo begins even before retirement. It is equally important that people holding high constitutional posts should be barred from both public and private re-employment. 

In addition, there is an urgent need to examine permanent civil service and protection given to civil servants under Article 311 of the Constitution. Under the garb of protection, a large number of civil servants continue to bleed the system. There should be a mechanism to filter those with doubtful integrity. 

  • HRD Training in Ethics and Moral Values – Ethics training for public officials is one of the instruments for building integrity in state institutions and ensuring good quality public governance. 

UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) requires that the States “promote education and training programmes to enable them public officials to meet the requirements for the correct, honourable and proper performance of public functions and that provide them with specialized and appropriate training to enhance their awareness of the risks of corruption inherent in the performance of their functions”. 

Ethics training must consist of awareness raising for rules, codes and principles, dilemma-training, leadership training, conflicts of interest etc. Training facilitates ethics awareness and can develop essential skills for ethical analysis and moral reasoning.

In addition, one public agency needs to be assigned the task to develop overall framework for ethics training, for central planning, coordination and evaluation of results. Institutions like Indian Institute of Public Administration should play a leading role in designing modules for ethics training. The Department of Personnel and Training should explore the feasibility of setting up a Centre for Excellence in Ethics and Values for a continuous assessment, evaluation and research in this area.