“There is no ban on officers briefing media about government schemes”

Chief Secretary Debendranath Sarangi has advised fellow officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) not to get embroiled in controversial issues that are likely to embarrass the government.

He has also made it clear that there is no ban on officers briefing the Press about schemes and programmes of the government.

They should keep in mind the essence of relevant provisions of All India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1968 and “use their discretion and care in their briefing to the Press”.

A communication to this effect was sent by the Chief Secretary’s office about a week ago.

Apparently, this has been issued in the wake of an interview given by former State Commissioner for the Welfare of Differently Abled Persons P.R. Shampath (now under suspension) to an English television channel.

Maintaining the position as reflected in the 1968 Rules, the communication states, “Officers are free to participate in seminars and workshops, etc, arranged by various public sector undertakings and associations and to put forth details regarding the schemes and programmes undertaken by the government. They may also give any clarification sought by the Press in this regard.”

The letter quoted three rules — Rule 6, Rule 7 and Rule 13 (1) (f) and (ii).

According to Rule 6, previous sanction of the government is not necessary for a member of the Service, in the bona fide discharge of his duties or otherwise, for publishing a book or participating in public media.

But, the officer concerned, while observing the provisions of Rule 7, should make it clear that the views expressed were of his or her own and not those of the government.

Under the Rule 7, the officer, while interacting with the media, should not make any statement of fact or opinion adversely critical of policies or actions of the Central government or a State government; or, capable of embarrassing the relations between the Centre and any State government or between the Centre and any foreign country.

Rule 13 (1) (f) and (ii) broadly refers to the prior permission to be obtained by the officer for participating in any private media programme.

One more aspect which is expected to be followed by the officers is that All-India Service officers should obtain permission at the appropriate level before briefing the Press, especially the foreign Press.

All these stipulations will also be applicable to officers of the Indian Police Service and the Forest Service.

A copy of the communication is marked to the Departments of Home and Environment and Forests for conveying the message to these categories of officers too.

The communication ends with a caution: “Any failure to adhere to the above instructions will be viewed very seriously.”

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