Expressional Paradox : A Perspective on Indian Bureaucracy
In my opinion, the Indian Constitution is a beautifully designed art. I would rather say that the first social innovation happened after independence. Being a son of a lawyer, I was brought up edifying the constitution’s power of upholding justice to people and protecting the rights of citizens under any circumstances. If you would have asked me this question during my 1st grade: “What do you want to be after growing up?”. I’d have proudly told “Indian Police Service — IPS Officer”. Later, my career paths changed through a series of life events, and also I believe civil services is not the only route to public service. But, That proud boy in me always has a special respect for bureaucrats.
Despite all the greatness of the constitution, we know a few obsolete and archaic rules still being followed are detrimental. Some of those laws repealed in recent times were the Dramatic Performances Control Act, 1876, The Bangalore Marriages Validating Act, 1936, The Ganges Tolls Act, 1867, Salt Cess Act, 1953. Though we call ourselves as largest Democracy in the world, in reality, with these kinds of laws existing, we are just a “Guided Democracy”. This article highlights my perspective on one of those laws that are affecting — Freedom of Expression.
According to Rule 7 of the All India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1968,
“No member of the Service shall, in any radio broadcast or communication over any public media or in any document published anonymously, pseudonymously or in his own name or in the name of any other person or in any communication to the press or in any public utterance, make any statement of fact or opinion, i. Which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy or action of the Central Government or a State Government; or ii. which is capable of embarrassing the relations between the Central Government and any State Government; or iii. which is capable of embarrassing the relations between the Central Government and the Government of any Foreign State: Provided that nothing in this rule shall apply to any statement made or views expressed by a member of the Service in his official capacity and in the due performance of the duties assigned to him.”
We need to understand its very nature of existence before discussing repealing it. It started from the colonial period when the British government introduced these to control the sub-continent. Whether the policies are good or bad, Bureaucracy needs to implement them without any objection/opinion. Thus, this law ensures that Bureaucrats have no power to comment on policies; even if it is factually wrong, they must not speak against them in public.
This specific law prohibits Civil services officers’ Right to Freedom of Expression. To highlight, “I want my freedom of expression intact. I joined the services believing I could give voice to others, but here I am unable to use my own voice. My resignation will give me my freedom of expression back.” said Kannan Gopinathan in August 2019 after resigning from the Indian Administrative service. Harsh Mander, Sasikanth Senthil, Arunaya Roy, etc., are some of them who quit IAS for different reasons, but the core concern is the same.
Recently, while speaking to a friend who is also a civil services aspirant, he said, “Though I have different views on certain policy actions like demonetization. I cannot write it in my papers against the government. Here, the unwritten rule to get good scores is to write always in support of the government. Coaching institutes also instruct the same.”. These words genuinely scare me.
All this resulted in the failure of the system to be democratic and expressional at all levels. If this law is repealed, it will create more robust and healthier policies with constructive criticism. Unfortunately, these archaic autocratic rules will be encouraged irrespective of whichever party wins the election mandate, Because this gives the ultimate power to the politicians and their projection of governance. But hoping someday, there will be a change where Freedom of Expression will be given to all.
P.S: This writing is more of my opinion, and it’s my Freedom of Expression. The aim is only to create a discussion around the topic.