In a column he wrote for a fortnightly magazine (Outlook, March 5), a senior serving IAS officer posted as secretary of the Coffee Board of India in Bengaluru, denounced Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP Government and concluded with the forthright statement, “It’s time to say goodbye to this government. Nay, good riddance.”
The column raised eyebrows even in bureaucratic circles. Are serving officers allowed to make political statements or criticise on political developments, government policies and elected representatives of the people ?
The officer appears to have interpreted the All India Services (Conduct) Rules to mean that if he makes it clear that the views are ‘personal’ and not of the Government, he could get away by writing anything. The column does mention that the views expressed are ‘personal’.
But this lenient and charitable interpretation is clearly not valid for most of the officers. Several officers stated clearly that the conduct rules bar them from voicing political opinion, leave alone call for the removal of an elected chief minister.
Vibhuti Narain Rai, a retired Indian Police Service officer and author of Curfew in the City says: “A civil servant can’t get anything published or broadcast in the media while in service. In certain cases where they are allowed, they first are required to seek prior permission from the higher authorities concerned. But the civil service conduct rules in no un certain terms make it clear that an IAS or IPS officer while still in service can’t write political commentaries or make political statements in the media or on public platforms.”
Efforts to contact Krishna were futile. Mails sent to him did not elicit any response. Phone calls to his office and to his Personal Secretary also did not elicit any reply. In a email sent to the officer, NH had asked whether he had sought the permission of the competent authority before writing the political column, whether his opinion ran against the service rules and if he had ever faced any disciplinary measure for his writing.
Senior Aam Aadmi Party leader Ashutosh said, “This is not only a violation of the service code; one needs to understand as to why a senior bureaucrat would make serious political statements. The article is a part of a larger conspiracy which has been hatched at the top level in the (Modi) government. He is clearly saying what he has been asked to say against an elected government.”
“No action has been initiated against him as yet whereas the government was quick to pull up a bureaucrat who commented on communal clashes in Kasganj, in a Facebook post,” he pointed out before adding, “the Modi government is undermining the steel-frame. Bureaucracy must remain neutral and apolitical.”
Significantly, many bureaucrats in the past have faced music for criticising government policies or making political statements. Such instances have in fact grown under the Modi government, though the Central government seems comfortable with the bureaucrats making political statements as long as they serve the ruling party’s interest.
‘Discreet inquiries ’ conducted by the Intelligence Bureau and the MHA in August 2017 apparently asked the Jammu and Kashmir government to take “disciplinary action” against Basant Kumar Rath, a 2000-cadre IPS, for violating service code.
“Rath became the subject of IB’s ‘discreet inquiry’ in 2016-17 on account of his articles in The Wire and The Indian Express. Even the state government’s Home Department sought a detailed report about his activities from the then outgoing DGP, K Rajendra Kumar and some of his articles were labelled by the IB as “dangerously critical of government policy” and “brazen violation of the IPS service conduct rules.
A prolific writer, Srivatsa Krishna, however is not known to have ever written anything against any other Government or chief minister. But as a civil servant, he felt outraged enough at the alleged controversial assault of the Delhi Chief Secretary at midnight in the residence of Arvind Kejriwal, who denied the charge.
The column did not confine itself to the assault. It amplifies the charges against the Delhi Government levelled by the critics. The four kinds of misdemeanour : “ First, loot the treasury and assign monetary as well as other benefits to its volunteers. Two, engage in a job generation programme—again, for its volunteers. Three, subvert every norm to ensure the above. Four, attribute every failure of its misgovernance to the Union Government…”
Which state Government or indeed the BJP ruled Centre can escape such charges, asked a bureaucrat as an aside. But the columnist was clearly emboldened to write against the Delhi Government because he felt that it would not be frowned upon by the Home Ministry or the DOPT. With BJP at loggerheads with AAP, his temptation, say his disgruntled colleagues in the IAS, is easily understood. But what is not so easily understood is if other serving officers can also get away with similar criticism of the Centre or other state governments and couch them as their ‘ personal opinion’.
Krishna topped the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) examination in 1994, served in Andhra Pradesh under Chandrababu Naidu , graduated from Harvard Business School and served in the World Bank. Not surprisingly he has been writing favourably about the BJP, the Prime Minister and the work done by him in Gujarat.
Srivatsa Krishna’s public criticism of AAP and the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is noteworthy because even Facebook likes, general statements or even reproducing and sharing media reports on social media have landed other officers in trouble.
Giving any statement that may amount to “criticism of the government” on television, social media or any other communication application by any means including a “caricature”, would be held against the service rules, specified an amendment in the draft rules circulated in July 2016 by the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) which functions under the PMO.
These rules were to be part of the proposed changes in All India Service (Conduct) Rules, 1968, applicable to the three All India Services–Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and Indian Forest Service (IFoS).
Since then several government employees including senior bureaucrats have been pulled up by the government for expressing their political views on social media or even for facebook likes. A few examples: