In a bid to address the sensitive issue of the relationship between ministers and civil servants, a GoM on administrative reforms headed by Defence Minister A K Antony recently decided to draft a code of conduct for bureaucrats and a code of ethics for ministers.
The move comes in the backdrop of the controversy involving previous railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, in which his private secretary Rahul Bhandari, a 1997-batch Punjab cadre IAS officer, is being investigated in connection with the bribery scandal related to Bansal’s nephew.
The GoM members were in agreement that the recommendations of the 10th administrative reforms commission (ARC), which had proposed that such codes be developed to ensure a “neutral relationship” between a minister and civil servants, be accepted.
Drafts of the codes, to be prepared by the department of administrative reforms and personal grievances, are to be presented to the GoM at its next meeting which is going to take place in the ongoing month. According to sources, the move can be the first step in stemming the rot over the interdependent relationship that exists between ministers and civil servants, particularly in the states.
The bureaucracy had been conceived as an independent, permanent and impartial service but has not been able to live up to this reputation. The codes of conduct and ethics will define division of responsibility between the ministers and civil servants with the underlying theme that the political neutrality and impartiality of civil servants need to be preserved.
The GoM also discussed concepts of accountability for civil servants as recommended in the 10th ARC report but did not arrive at a decision on whether the period of review of their performance should be reduced. Currently, civil servants have two reviews — one on completion of 15 years of service and the second on completion of 25 years. However, the ARC has recommended that this be reduced, with the first review on completion of 14 years and second on completion of 20 years of service.
One more thing to take stock of here is that the “thinking” fraternity (read the legislative and Ministers) has been entrusted with the code of ethics while the executing authority (read the bureaucrat) is being tethered with the code of conduct. All this is important to comprehend in the context of Paper IV of the GS in the changed syllabus of UPSC. The section speaks separately about the code of conduct and the code of ethics.