Ethics in Public Service-Police Service Included

AIbEiAIAAABDCNHI9JDL38HrYSILdmNhcmRfcGhvdG8qKGRmZjM3Y2IyNGFiNzVkYTE5Y2QxOWM5YjVjZDg5YzZhODkzY2FhYmYwAeb12e_1DLWxFoaTlOyiwl7aGBdwThe recent news reports on the Preliminary Enquiry initiated by CBI against the previous Chairman and Member of SEBI, on the issue of grant of permission in 2008 to the currency exchange, MCX-SX, provoked me into thinking about the environment of ethics in our governance structures. The news report ( mentions the view of the former Coal secretary, Shri EAS Sarma, that there is need for a grading system to capture the reputation of public servants on their integrity and take the same into account before enquiries are started against them. The entire concern is on the harm that is caused to reputations built carefully over a lifetime, even in the initiation of enquiries by investigating agencies.

Clearly, investigative agencies have tremendous ethical responsibilities. Though there is general public perception of a serious lack of high moral standards in most public service delivery systems of government, it has been my experience that every government office and institution has some people who are motivated only by ethics and the spirit of public service. Investigative processes which do not take into account these nuances ab initio, lower the credibility and trust that the investigative agencies should experience on their work.

I have been writing on this blog, on the need for autonomy for investigative agencies, since clearly, investigation should be an unbiased and fair process. The need for trust of the people in the fairness and ethical conduct of business by investigative agencies, is critical to having a sense of justice in society. If fairness and ethics are so critical for investigative agencies, then what systems should be in place to institutionalize these attributes?

The prompt response from policy makers is to create another organization (like say the Lokpal) to intrusively supervise the work of investigative agencies. But will this additional layer guarantee fairness and ethics? Or does it have the potential to become another arm of government to control investigative agencies? Another response is to tighten administrative checks by alienating powers of transfers of personnel from the police hierarchy, to outside the police. This solution cuts two ways: 1) It can weaken good intentioned police leadership and consequently weakens the performance of the organization, and 2) It keeps the investigative agencies beholden to the political and bureaucratic layer at the expense of fairness and impartiality in conduct of its business. These solutions are therefore person-dependent solutions (I don’t like such solutions!) and will give variable results. If the political-bureaucratic layer is well intentioned, things will run well, but the system will crack in the event of  an alternative scenario.

So the question to answer is: can institutions of public service delivery be made accountable enough to reform from within? Can police as an organization reform from within and offer itself to public, third party checks on the use of its investigative powers?

For different police organizations, this check will have to be structured in different ways, taking into account the core concerns on ethical working in each such organization. Say for organizations like the CBI, which deal with anti-corruption and vigilance, the internal reform could lie in addressing the concern mentioned above about protecting the integrity reputations of government officials, as a first principle. The mechanism of taking into account the integrity scoring or grading before initiating enquiries, as suggested by Shri EAS Sarma, could be one such way. And the third party check could be devised through a periodic reporting mechanism addressing this very concern, to the Central Vigilance Commission, which could obtain public views on the same before submitting the same for scrutiny to the Supreme Court.

For ethical conduct in police stations, bringing in public  accountability mechanisms like crime victimization surveys, could be a way forward.

More thought obviously needs to go into designing the mechanisms for checks and balances for investigative agencies. These should go hand in hand with extensive capacity building through wide exposure to the police to a variety of training. It would be unsatisfactory to only add layers of intrusive supervision, since these can be ineffective for the end result sought. There is also an urgency to finding solutions on this issue, since it deals with scenarios that can destroy reputations of the few good people.


6 thoughts on “Ethics in Public Service-Police Service Included

  1. All law enforcement agencies, including the CBI, need checks at the stages where they use their coercive powers – at the times of arrest, search, seizure, seeking of remand, and submission of charge-sheet – and these can best be applied by the courts by scrutinizing the evidence available at that stage. Unfortunately the courts apply their minds to the evidence only at the end of the trial, and by that time the accused gets punishment through the process itself, even if proved innocent later. Thus the mere fact of CBI registering an enquiry becomes a cause for consternation.


  2. Dear Pradnya,

    Very well articulated concerns of honest reputations that are likely to be besmirched rather unwittingly. I look it from the point of lack of secrecy/discreetness while investigating – a trait that was rather fundamental for the police when we joined the service.

    Mr. Kulkarni – our DGP – said, ” Those who live by media, die by the same media.”

    Fond regards,

    SS Puri

    Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2014 09:25:59 +0000 To:


    1. Dear Sirs, I agree totally on both your points. But I feel it is important for all police organizations to identify their pain points on ethics, I.e where bad or irresponsible conduct by the keepers of the rule of law, can seriously undermine public faith in their actions. The idea was to focus organizational attention on the formal identification of its ethical concerns and itself putting together solutions to these concerns internally. Keeping intact the public faith in police investigative actions should be the primary goal for every good police organization and to that end, to me, systemically addressing ethics issues is vital.


      1. Often personal ethics and business ethics clash.
        It is comparatively easy to have a personal code of conduct and stick to it. Cloistered virtue, it is said, is no virtue. In the corporate context, people often struggle while balancing the two and totter. This dilemma brings on stress. Add to this the dimension of vendetta and witch hunting that awaits those who do not compromise and you get the picture. I know of hardly anyone who has been successful on both fronts. “Success,” of course, is a question of your perspective. The central teaching of Geeta that one should do one’s duty without an eye on the goal is a good starting point, but along the road we meet challenges that cry for compromise for survival.
        I love what you have said about “identifying pain points on ethics”.Can we begin by listing these “pain points ” and discussing the price one has to pay for treating it, confronting it without compromising with one’s basic integrity, or, finding via media solutions? In the police, field officials face day-to-day situations – big and small – that trouble them, test their values and moral compass.
        You have also touched on ethical conduct among officials of investigating agencies and the obvious victimization of a couple of SEBI officials with a sterling reputation. Also, on the ethics of police personnel at the cutting edge, street level, like PCs and thanedars. You speak of systemically addressing ethics issues
        All this is unexceptionable.
        We need to begin somewhere, begin here and now. Let us first make a laundry list of what you have rightly called pain points in the police. Realistically, let it be limited to drawing up a list pertaining to the thana level police. We are looking at complaints of unethical conduct (e.g. taking advantage of the vulnerability of the complainant like molesting, discrimination while enforcing law, bias and favoritism of all kind and a myriad other unethical conduct and behaviour that have no direct monetary implication. Reminds one of what Anna Hazare is supposed to have done within the limits of Ralegaon Siddhi. There is said to be strict ethical conduct in the village, specially about use of alcohol, refusal to pay bribes, and so on. Can the police be inspired to emulate such an experiment at multiple mohallas, purely as an experiment or a beginning, with no fanfare and watch how it grows? We can draw valuable lessons from such micro experiments.
        Finally, aren’t laziness, indifference and lack of work ethics unethical conduct? How often have we read something like this while rating a police head constable or Sub Inspector – “Lazy but honest”.?
        S S Vaidyanathan


      2. As mentioned by you and Shri Pandey in the comments on this blogpost, some of the ethics pain points for police stations are at the points of complaint enquiry, passport application verification, arrest, custody, charge sheet decisions etc. At each of these points, process documentation which is publicly available on the website, a maker-checker like system of supervisory checks at specific points in the process can be introduced and enforced through a compliance reporting system to the vigilance unit. The current manner of supervision enforcement is not fine tuned to ensure ethical performance.
        I’m currently attempting to set systems on this ‘preventive vigilance’ in Maharashtra’s urbanisation execution body called CIDCO, of which I’m CVO. Let me see if it can be successfully done. But what I’d like to emphasise is that our police organizations should begin to think and set the systems for ethical behavior of our employees and therefrom for the organization. It will improve the level of public trust in police actions and also make us feel good in our work.
        Equally important as police performance on crime detection and security, is emphasis on ethics of our workflows.


  3. Well said, Pradnya. There is a lack of oversight and accountability for those whose role is to enforce accountability. Every institution is now playing to the gallery and when that alone is the norm, diabolical developments like these are but to be expected. The good news is how well otherwise-reticent civil servants have all stood up to speak in one voice this time. That alone says a lot.


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