Civil servants can act on them in exceptional circumstances but written confirmation must be obtained
Civil servants must refrain from acting on oral instructions of political bosses, except in certain exceptional circumstances, the Supreme Court made it clear on Thursday.
The judgement, on a public interest writ petition by 83 persons, comes on the heels of controversies surrounding action against Ashok Khemka, IAS officer of the Haryana cadre, over the DLF-Robert Vadra land deal, and Durga Sakhti Nagpal, U.P. cadre IAS officer, for alleged misconduct.
A Bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Pinaki Chandra Ghose referred to the recommendations of the Hota Committee (2004) and the Santhanam Committee report, which highlighted “the necessity of recording instructions and directions by public servants.”
The Bench said: “We notice that much of the deterioration of the standards of probity and accountability with the civil servants is due to the political influence of persons purporting to represent those who are in authority. The Santhanam Committee on Prevention of Corruption, 1962 has recommended that there should be a system of keeping some sort of records in such situations. Rule 3(3) (iii) of the All India Service Rules specifically requires that all orders from superior officers shall ordinarily be in writing.”
It added, “Where in exceptional circumstances, action has to be taken on the basis of oral directions, it is mandatory for the officer superior to confirm the same in writing. The civil servant, who has received such information, in turn, is required to seek confirmation of the directions in writing as early as possible and it is the duty of the officer superior to confirm the direction in writing.”
The Bench said: “There must be some records to demonstrate how the civil servant has acted, if the decision is not his, but if he is acting on oral directions, instructions, he should record such directions in the file. If the civil servant is acting on oral directions or dictation of anybody, he will be taking a risk, because he cannot later take the stand the decision was in fact not his own. Recording of instructions, directions is, therefore, necessary for fixing responsibility and ensuring accountability in the functioning of civil servants and to uphold institutional integrity.”
Pointing out that “democracy requires an informed citizenry and transparency of information,” the Bench said: “Oral and verbal instructions, if not recorded, could not be provided [to citizens]. By acting on oral directions, not recording the same, the rights guaranteed to the citizens under the RTI Act could be defeated. The practice of giving oral directions/instructions by the administrative superiors, political executive etc, would defeat the object and purpose of RTI Act and would give room for favouritism and corruption.”
The Bench, therefore, directed all State Governments and Union Territories to issue in three months directions like Rule 3(3) (iii) of the All India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1968. The petitioners said weak governance manifesting in poor service delivery, excessive regulation, whimsical interventions for personal benefit, wasteful public expenditure, inadequate transparency and lack of accountability had reduced effectiveness of government policies and impinged on development.
They submitted that lack of good governance affected the quality of life and violated the guarantees provided under Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution.