Question: Honesty and uprightness are the hallmarks of a civil servant. Civil servants possessing these qualities are considered as the backbone of any strong organization. In line of duty, they take various decisions, at times some become bonafide mistakes. As long as such decisions are not taken intentionally and do not benefit personally, the officer cannot be said to be guilty. Though such decisions may, at times, lead to unforeseen adverse consequences in the long-term.
In the recent past, a few instances have surfaced wherein civil servants have been implicated for bonafide mistakes. They have often been prosecuted and even imprisoned. The instances have greatly rattled the moral fibre of the civil servants.
How does this trend affect the functioning of the civil services? What measures can be taken to ensure the honest civil servants are not implicated for the bonafide mistakes on their part? Justify your answer.
Answer: In Indian bureaucracy, major administrative decisions are taken by civil servants, who like normal humans are susceptible to make mistakes. But there is a thin line between intentional and bonafide mistake, which needs identification for making administration easy as well as transparent.
How punishing civil servants for bonafide mistakes affects their functioning
- Less scope for innovation
In matters such as administration there are very high chances of failure due to various circumstances. Civil servants who may fear for going wrong along with chances of getting punished, then they will be compelled to play safe. There will be no innovative practice or solution in administration.
Ex: An IAS officer concerned with designing a scheme comes up with a brilliant idea that has potential to improve life of citizens drastically. But if it fails to succeed then there is a high chance for government losing crores of rupees. If he believes he can be punished, then there are chances that the idea may be discarded.
- Losing confidence on organisation
Moral boosting plays an important role in shaping up the work profile of a civil servant. For that to happen, he/she must believe that the organisation will stand with him/her during bad times. Possible punishment from the same organization will demotivate him/her from dedicating his/her efforts for upliftment of organization.
Ex: A police officer part of an encounter is charged for murder by the same seniors who backed the operation. In such cases the officer will lose his belief in system after getting free from the charges.
- Policy paralysis
Policy paralysis is one of the most dangerous event that can seriously impact government working. The officers working in the government hesitate to take decisions fearing prosecution. If decisions are not taken fast the country’s growth will become stagnant.
Ex: After series of scams during UPA II, there was a belief that a policy paralysis was happening for the fear of prosecution.
Measures to be taken to protect civil servants
- Legal immunity
The civil servants are given legal immunity, meaning that they cannot be held accountable for their official acts if they are undertaken after following due procedure. This will be a great confidence booster for honest civil servants.
- Intention checking
To distinguish between corrupt officers and honest officers whose actions went wrong, there is a need to have a framework that can decide whether the actions had good intentions or not. If found to be within the framework, the officials can only be warned and not punished with criminal charges.
Thus, if we can observe that the civil services indeed is prone to mistakes which may not be always intentional. There is a need to segregated mistakes from conspiracy in order to protect the honest and punish the guilty.