Eyes Wide Shut: A unique ini­tia­tive

A be­gin­ning of eth­i­cal re­vival seems to have been made in pub­lic gov­er­nance through Mis­sion Satyan­ishtha. It does not use the much-abused anti-cor­rup­tion jar­gon, but in­sists on the in­ner call­ing of every in­di­vid­ual civil ser­vant

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A be­gin­ning of eth­i­cal re­vival seems to have been made in pub­lic gov­er­nance through Mis­sion Satyan­ishtha. It does not use the much-abused anti-cor­rup­tion jar­gon, but in­sists on the in­ner call­ing of every in­di­vid­ual civil ser­vant

Ihave spent al­most four decades in govern­ment. But in my knowl­edge, never be­fore has a cam­paign to in­tro­duce and spread ethics in pub­lic ser­vice been at­tempted by any depart­ment, or min­istry, or pub­lic en­ter­prise or even by a state govern­ment. There­fore, what started on July 27 in the Rail Mu­seum was a unique ex­per­i­ment in pub­lic gov­er­nance in In­dia. On that day, the mis­sion of ‘Satyan­ishtha’ was un­veiled by the Chair­man of the Rail­way Board in pres­ence of the top brass of In­dian Rail­ways as well as su­per­vi­sor level of­fi­cers. It was not a much ad­ver­tised event, but was care­fully crafted to reach far and wide in the Rail­way uni­verse. The event was we­b­cast live all over the coun­try and con­veyed to var­i­ous for­ma­tions of In­dian Rail­ways through video con­fer­enc­ing. In due course, the mis­sion of Satyan­ishtha is sought to be car­ried to every rail­way em­ployee through an in­ge­nious mech­a­nism de­vised in Rail­way Board un­der the lead­er­ship of the Chair­man. The ethics of pub­lic ser­vice or satyan­ishtha, or by any other name you choose to call it, is qual­i­ta­tively dif­fer­ent from vig­i­lance. While vig­i­lance asks you not to do the wrong thing, ethics urges you to do the right thing. On one hand, there are cases of eth­i­cal fail­ure that ought to be caught by the vig­i­lance. On the other, there are cases of eth­i­cal ex­cel­lence which ought to be cel­e­brated by the civil ser­vants. There is a need to bring ethics to the cen­tre stage in the work­ing of the govern­ment, and in the con­duct of the pub­lic ser­vant. It should be ac­corded the high­est pri­or­ity in gov­er­nance re­forms. In fact, if eth­i­cal work­ing could be in­tro­duced in the sys­tems and pro­cesses of govern­ment, we may not need any other re­forms. Af­ter much study and re­flec­tion, I have come to the re­al­i­sa­tion that ‘Ethics of Pub­lic Ser­vice’ is a lin­guis­tic ab­strac­tion. It means what mean­ing you give to it. Apart from philoso­phers like Kant and Mill, many so­cial and po­lit­i­cal thinkers have given dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions of ethics in the past. The in­ter­net is re­plete with hun­dreds of vari­ants float­ing on it. It can be de­fined by what­ever we want it to mean for our pur­pose. So they are go­ing to try to evolve their own def­i­ni­tion of satyan­ishtha, which sat­is­fies their con­cerns re­gard­ing pub­lic ser­vices. Ev­ery­one is talk­ing about ethics these days. Even news chan­nels and news­pa­pers are com­ment­ing on the moral­ity of govern­ment’s ac­tions. Ex­am­ple of Ma­jor Le­tul Go­goi ty­ing a pro­tester in front of his jeep to pre­vent blood­shed and res­cue a polling party in Srinagar is cited. This is an ex­am­ple of Robin Hood ethics or util­i­tar­ian ethics, where ends jus­tify means. Ethics is gain­ing promi­nence in the dis­course about gov­er­nance to­day. There is a per­cep­tion that stan­dards in pub­lic life are in de­cline. This raises ques­tions about the costs of mis­con­duct on the part of those who have been en­trusted with pro­mot­ing pub­lic in­ter­est and wel­fare. These costs are losses in trust and con­fi­dence in pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions and losses in pre­cious re­sources which were meant to sus­tain eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment. Twenty years ago, the in­ter­na­tional Col­lo­quium in Brazil was per­haps the first global ini­tia­tive to dis­cuss how to deal with the is­sue of un­eth­i­cal con­duct

in the pub­lic gov­er­nance with civil ser­vants. The main con­clu­sions of the de­lib­er­a­tions among civil ser­vants of sev­eral na­tions in­cluded the need to im­ple­ment the laws and reg­u­la­tions, though it was not con­sid­ered the sole rem­edy for eth­i­cal fail­ures. It also em­pha­sized upon the need for an ed­u­ca­tional process, in­clud­ing a teach­ing of ethics at all lev­els, in which all the arms of govern­ment should be in­volved. The Col­lo­quium also in­sisted on cre­ation of new in­sti­tu­tional chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with civil so­ci­ety, with a view to al­low the pub­lic to reg­is­ter com­plaints of eth­i­cal vi­o­la­tions by govern­ment func­tionar­ies. In the In­dian con­text, it is of ut­most im­por­tance to un­der­take re­defin­ing val­ues, de­vel­op­ing new or mod­i­fied stan­dards of be­hav­iour and in­spir­ing the civil ser­vants to achieve higher lev­els of eth­i­cal con­duct. Within the over­all par­a­digm of the de­liv­ery of pub­lic goods and ser­vices, the role of civil ser­vice is to serve the cit­i­zen as a stake­holder and a client of its ser­vices. Its func­tion is pri­mar­ily to meet the le­git­i­mate de­mands of the cit­i­zen. In or­der to achieve this ul­ti­mate goal, the civil ser­vice should try to use more del­e­ga­tion and de­cen­tralised de­ci­sion mak­ing, more hor­i­zon­tal struc­tures and in­cen­tives for eth­i­cal ex­cel­lence in ser­vice de­liv­ery. Now, a be­gin­ning of eth­i­cal re­vival seems to have been made in pub­lic gov­er­nance through an imag­i­na­tive id­iom— satyan­ishtha. It does not use the much-abused anti-cor­rup­tion jar­gon, but in­sists on the in­ner call­ing of every in­di­vid­ual civil ser­vant not­with­stand­ing her place­ment and sta­tus in the hi­er­ar­chy. The in­au­gu­ral in­ter­ac­tion was, there­fore, equally di­vided be­tween the se­nior most rail­way of­fi­cers and cut­ting edge su­per­vi­sors.

THE idea to be cel­e­brated was that ev­ery­body mat­ters. Ev­ery­one is a leader. Lead­er­ship does not come with higher po­si­tion or more perquisites, big­ger staff car or larger of­fice. It comes from tak­ing care of the peo­ple around you. Many highly placed in­di­vid­u­als in a bu­reau­cracy are not lead­ers at all. Their or­ders are obeyed be­cause of the au­thor­ity they wield, but they will never be fol­lowed. On the con­trary, per­sons at lower rungs of the hi­er­ar­chi­cal lad­der can be ab­so­lutely lead­ers. A clerk in Mal­la­pu­ram district in Ker­ala is a leader when he an­nounces that ‘he gets 811 per day from the govern­ment to do his job hon­estly’ and re­fuses to ac­cept any bribe. The un­der train­ing police con­sta­bles in Mo­rad­abad be­come lead­ers when they col­lec­tively con­trib­ute to buy a cy­cle for a hawker who lost his cy­cle. One hopes that this ini­tia­tive of dis­sem­i­nat­ing ethics in pub­lic ser­vice be­comes con­ta­gious. End­point: We can­not stop talk­ing about what’s wrong. But can we also talk about what’s right? The writer is for­mer Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary

On one hand, there are cases of eth­i­cal fail­ure that ought to be caught by the vig­i­lance. On the other, there are cases of eth­i­cal ex­cel­lence which ought to be cel­e­brated by the civil ser­vants. There is a need to bring ethics to the cen­tre stage in the work­ing of the govern­ment, and in the con­duct of the pub­lic ser­vant

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