‘Bureaucrats Must Maintain Dignity and Self-Respect at All Cost’ – Anil Swarup
| Onkareshwar Pandey - Editor in Chief - CEO, IOP - 18 Jul 2020


‘Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant’ is Anil Swarup’s attempt to highlight some of the dilemmas that civil servants face during their career.


By Onkareshwar Pandey with Dr. Sonali Mishra

New Delhi, July 18, 2020:

A civil servant is expected to work according to rules and regulations as well as hierarchical conventions. But civil service officers must fight against decisions which they feel are not in the interest of the people. Ultimately however if the government takes a decision it must be followed,” says Anil Swarup, a former IAS officer and the author of the bestseller 'Not Just a Civil Servant' in his latest book “Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant”.

Born in Allahabad, UP, Anil Swarup got his Master's Degree in Political Science from Allahabad University in 1978, where he was also awarded the Chancellor's Gold Medal for being the Best All Round Student. Before joining the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1981; he served the Indian Police Service for a year. He won the Director's Gold Medal for the best Officer Trainee at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration amongst the officers of his batch.

During his career spanning 38 years as a civil servant, he held various assignments within both the State (Uttar Pradesh) and Central Government. As a strategic thinker and an innovative leader, he won several awards and nominations, the prominent ones being: Nominated as one of the Policy Change Agent by The Economics Times during the years 2010, 2012, 2015 & 2016. He was selected as one of the 35 Action Heroes in India Today's 35th Annual Edition.

His latest book also demonstrates that despite several obstacles, schemes like the RashtriyaSwasthyaBimaYojana which was a unique health scheme covering large sections of the population, could be formulated. This became world famous and was recognised and endorsed by the UNO also. Welfare of the poor was always the prime objective and it helped. Wherever it necessitated, cudgels were taken up with the seniors as well as his political masters.

‘Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant’ is Anil Swarup’s attempt to highlight some of the dilemmas that civil servants face during their career.

“What is ethics? How important is ethics in the context of governance? What are the challenges that hinder an officer's pursuit of ethical conduct? Does it pay to remain ethical while the unethical, seemingly, rules the roost? Is it worth paying the price of being ethical? These questions are but refrain of the thought process of every civil servant: new and seasoned. These questions cloud his judgment. And also affect his productivity. For some unlucky few, these questions may even bring forth a lifetime of torment. Even more unfortunate are those whose conscience never raises these questions,” Swarup writes in his book.

“What makes matters worse is the absence of any well-defined, legally tenable, and universally acceptable model code of conduct for officers that define ethics. Coupled with political vendetta this spells the perfect recipe for disaster for them,” he wrote.

Mr. Anil Swarup, the former Coal and HRD Secretary to Govt. of India, is one of the few un-bureaucrat like bureaucrats in the country. 

His book ‘Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant’ is an attempt to highlight some of the dilemmas that civil servants face during their career. Almost all youngsters, some of whom aspire to become civil servants, are blessed with a lot of energy, purpose and enthusiasm amongst them. This is also true of youngsters who get into the service. However, officers who put in a couple of decades or more in the service, this enthusiasm seems to wane, bordering on cynicism in some cases. They feel that only such officers climb the ladder as they have learnt the tricks of the trade. While recognizing the ground reality, this book also attempts to dispel these misapprehensions. Yes, there are movers and shakers but there are an equal, if not more, number of officers that have made the civil service proud.

The book is divided into five parts. The first one centres around the rationale for being ethical. After 38 years of his career as a civil servant, the author contends that it is beneficial for a civil servant to be ethical. It pays to be ethical. An honest and efficient bureaucrat can be put to inconvenience but the dishonest one is more likely to suffer in the long run.However, the bottom line isn’t merely an honest existence.

A bureaucrat has to deliver. He is the prime instrument available with the state to deliver. This gets demonstrated in the second and the third part of the book where some personal experiences have been narrated to drive home this point.

Remembering his days in service, Anil Swarup wrote, “There are indeed a number of choices that have to be made during the career. Yes, there were a few failures as well, but there was a deep sense of satisfaction in having done what was done. The‘sense’ of satisfaction (or the ‘kick’) mattered. Whether it was while working in the difficult State of Uttar Pradesh (that primarily constitutes the second segment) or working at the Centre (the third segment), the choices were to be made,”

 “Over a period of time, there was in fact no dilemma. The consequences of one’s action ceased to matter. The action itself became the prime determinant. Some price had to be paid but it didn’t matter. The thrill of doing what I considered to be right was a reward in itself,” author says.

The fourth part of the book focusses on improving governance. There is an attempt to look at some aspects that are impacting governance.

These are not observations as an expert but as a practitioner who experienced various challenges in bringing about an improvement and the environment that is inhibiting such improvement. Post-retirement ‘rewards’, disconnect with the ground realities, intellectual dishonesty and obeisance to extra-constitutional authorities are some of the issues that have been discussed.

The concluding part of the book is about the possible way forward.

“One of the most critical aspects of improving governance is whether the performers and those with integrity are seen as ‘victors’ or those who shamelessly display their ‘allegiance’,” the author underlines.

This segment also looks at the number of incidents wherein the officers are getting caught in the political cross-fire.

“Can the civil servant act in a manner that he doesn’t get caught in the political cross-fire? If a change has to come, the inspiration has to come from within. It has to come from a belief within. That would perhaps be a step towards bringing about any change in others,” says Anil Swarup.

Author Anil Swarup, a strategic thinker and an innovative leader, who won several awards and nominations, (the prominent ones being: Nominated as one of the Policy Change Agent by The Economics Times during the years 2010, 2012, 2015 & 2016; he was also selected as one of the 35 Action Heroes in India Today's 35th Annual Edition), in his book tries to contextualise a framework that will help civil servants make a learned decision in the face of the aforementioned questions.

This book is an aid to help them find their moral compass. A civil servant in India, with a conscience and a motivation to do something for his country, faces ethical dilemmas in various stages of his career.

After each of the chapters questions have been raised on whether what was done was right or wrong and why the reforms which were felt necessary could not be carried out. 

To the young IAS officers there is a clear message that they must not bow to pressure from politicians and those trying to benefit themselves financially at the cost of national interest.They should always give their views without any fear or favour.

While summing up, the author, who is the Founder Chairman of Nexus of Good: an initiative towards recognising positive action and providing inspiration to the society at large to replicate them, has cautioned the civil servants that they will be confronted with such dilemmas throughout their careers. The onus lies on the civil servant himself to resolve these issues by taking inspiration from those who have travelled on the path previously. Dignity and self-respect can and must be maintained at all cost.

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