Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct

Codes of Ethics, Codes of Conduct

This article deals with topic titled ‘Code of Ethics, Code of Conduct.’ This is part of our series on ‘Ethics’  . For more articles , you can click here



Why we need Code of Ethics & Conduct for Public Servants ?

Consider the situations

  • What should be done about men who do not directly and blatantly sell the favours of their offices for money and so not place themselves within the penalties of the law?
  • How do we deal with those who, under the guise of friendship, accept favours, which offend the spirit of the law but do not violate its letter?

A system of laws and rules, however elaborate, cannot provide for all situations. It is no doubt desirable, and perhaps possible, to govern the conduct of those who occupy positions in the lower echelons and exercise limited or no discretion. But the higher the echelon in public service, the greater is the ambit of discretion. And it is difficult to provide for a system of laws and rules that can comprehensively cover and regulate the exercise of discretion in high places.


Hence, although all citizens are subjected to the laws of the land, in the case of Public Servants there must be standards of behavior more stringent than those for an ordinary citizen. Due to this, need arises for establishing not just a code of conduct but a code of ethics.


Note from 2nd ARC Report : Most disturbing aspects of this problem of moral conduct is the revelation that morality has become identical with legality. We are certainly in a tragic plight if the accepted standard by which we measure the integrity of a man in public life is that he keep within the letter of the law.


Side Topic : Code of Conduct vs Code of Ethics

Code of Conduct
  • Dos & Donts
  • Prescribes mainly unacceptable behavior
  • Minimalist approach ie tells minimum to be required of person in particular capacity
  • Is enforceable
Code of Ethics
  • Contains Core values (like Honesty, Tolerance etc)
  • Aspirational (what that person must strive for)
  • Are mainly Benchmarks (maximalist approach)
  • Aren’t enforceable


ARC II Recommendation on Code of Conduct

  • Present set of Code of Conduct is  too vague , complex and difficult to interpret. There is need to re-write Code of Conduct in order to make them simple , precise and easily interpretable .
  • Still we don’t have written set of Code of Ethics and there is need to write Code of Ethics for civil servants



Code of Conduct for Civil Servants

  • Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules – 1964 and analogous rules applicable to members of  All India Services
  • It was a continuous process
1869 Disapproval of habitual lending and indiscriminate borrowing
1876 Ban on accepting gifts
1920 Ban on accepting commercial employment after retirement
1964 Formation of Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules , 1964  based on the recommendations of Committee on Prevention of Corruption headed by K Santhanam


Later These rules have subsequently been updated . Eg

  • Prohibiting demanding and accepting dowry,
  • Prohibiting sexual harassment of women employees


There is no Code of Ethics prescribed for civil servants in India 



Central Civil Service Conduct Rules , 1964


  • Direction of the official superior shall  be in writing.
  • Government servant who has received oral direction shall seek confirmation  in writing as early as possible


  • MPs or MLAs should be given preference over other visitors (as they have various other public works to perform) and in the very rare cases where an officer is unable to attend MP or MLA of which he had no previous notice, the position should be politely explained to him and another appointment fixed in consultation with him.


  • India = Secular State. Civil Servant is free to practice any religion in private life but in Public life his conduct should be such that it is not seen as favouring particular religion.


  • No Government servant shall indulge in any act of sexual harassment of any women at her work place.


  • No Civil Servant  shall, except with the previous sanction of Government, permit his son, daughter or other dependent, to accept employment in company  with which he has official dealings


  • If son or daughter or dependent of Civil Servant is employee of company which is interested in allotment of contract, then Civil Servant shouldn’t be part of process to  award of a contract  . 


  • Civil Servant shouldn’t be member of any Political Party and shouldn’t take part in any political movement.


  • A Government servant publishing a book or participating in a public media shall at all times make it clear that the views expressed by him are his own and not that of Government.


  • Government servant shouldn’t make statements in press which adversely criticises government policy or action , impact relation between Union-State or Union & other foreign government.


  • Civil Servant should provide Information demanded under RTI Act provided it is not classified information.


  • Civil Servant shouldn’t accept gift (including free transport, lodging etc) from anybody


  • Civil Servant shouldn’t take or give Dowry.


  • No subletting of Official Residence .


  • Civil Servant shouldn’t indulge in speculative investments or buy share in IPO or FPO of PSU in whose decision making he was involved.


  • Submit record of Assets and Liabilities on joining and submit annual return


  • A Government servant shall strictly abide by any law relating to intoxicating drinks or drugs in force in any area in which he may happen to be for the time being + Not be under the influence of any intoxicating drink or drug during the course of his duty


  • No Government servant shall employ to work any child below the age of 14 years.




Reasons for minimal impact of Code of Conduct 

  • Not all the provisions of code of conduct are legally binding. For example, provisions of Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules which are violated under the Prevention of Corruption Act invite punishment. Else, their enforcement boils down to departmental discretion.
  • Code of Conduct has to be supported by strong accountability and transparency mechanisms.
  • Erosion of moral values in public life has occurred to an extent that the cumulative impact is negligible.


Regarding Code of Ethics for Civil Servants

Although there is Code of Conduct for Civil Servants in India but there is no Code of Ethics (although there is urgent need to formulate Code of Ethics)


Reason/Need :

  • They have lot of Discretionary Power
  • They should live a life of high standards so that legitimacy of Civil Servants as a whole is not eroded .


Various Committees which have proposed to formulate Code of Ethics for Civil Servants

  • Santhanam Committee on Prevention of Corruption (1964)
  • Hota Committee (2004) :  Code of Ethics should be laid down for the civil servants
  • 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission : Recommended drafting a Bill on ethics to give code of ethics a statutory basis


Attempt has been made twice to formulate Code of Ethics

  • First Initiative in 1997 by Department of Administrative Reforms of the Government of India
  • Second Initiative : Public Service Bill 2006


Main provisions which should be included in Code of Ethics (according to 2nd ARC)

  • uphold rule of law and respect for human rights and act solely in public interest.
  • They must maintain the highest standards of probity and integrity.
  • Allegiance to the Constitution and the law
  • Function in apolitical manner
  • Act objectively, impartially, honestly, equitably, and in a fair and just manner
  • They should conduct themselves in such manner that the public feels that the decisions taken  by them are objective and transparent and are not calculated to promote improper gains for the political party in power, for themselves, or for any third party.
  • Conflict of Interest: Employees in public service should  disclose any clash of interest when there is conflict between public interest and private interest.
  • Ensure that public money is used with utmost economy and care




Case Study (UPSC)

Suppose one of your close friends, who is also aspiring for civil services, comes to you for discussing some of the issues related to ethical conduct in public service. He raises the following points :

  • In the present times, when unethical environment is quite prevalent, individual attempts to stick to ethical principles may cause a lot of problems in one’s career. It may also cause hardship to the family members as well as risk to one’s life. Why should we not be pragmatic and follow the path of least resistance, and be happy with doing whatever good we can?
  • When so many people are adopting wrong means and are grossly harming the system, what difference would it make if only a small minority tries to be ethical? They are going to be rather ineffective and are bound to get frustrated.
  • If we become fussy about ethical considerations, will it not hamper the economic progress of our country? After all, in the present age of high competition, we cannot afford to be left behind in the race of development.
  • It is understandable that we should not get involved in grossly unethical practices, but giving and accepting small gratifications and doing small favours increases everybody’s motivation. It also makes the system more efficient. What is wrong in adopting such practices?

Critically analyze the above viewpoints. On the basis of this analysis, what will be your advice to your friend? 250 words.

Questions raised by my friend are quite common which can put Civil Servant in dilemma during service too but there are some inherent flaws in that. During my analysis , touchstone on which I will analyse this will be securing public interest over private interest, maintaining integrity and probity, upholding civil service values and abiding by Code of Conduct.


Analysis of First Option

  • While choosing to be part of Civil Services , person has chosen Civil Service as value . Civil Servant has to place Public Service at highest priority even at cost of personal interest . Hence, Civil Servant has to be selfless &Civil service demands courage and fortitude as value
  • Apart from that , there is legitimate protection given to Civil Servant and his family . It is not essential that every honest and ethical Civil Servant is prosecuted . If Civil Servant has taken his decisions rationally and objectively, he needn’t fear . Civil Servants like Ashok Khemka etc have survived and is good example


Analysis of Second Option

  • Means are more important than ends .
  • Minority can become motivation for others . Hence, by being ethical , person can lead by example . Eg TN Sheshan led by example and uprooted corruption from Elections to large extend
  • As Gandhi has said , ” be the change you want to see in the world.” As common people, we want that Bureaucracy must be ethical and non-corrupt. When we become part of it, we cant indulge in same practices


Analysis of Third Option

  • Again means and end debate . Developing by wrong means is to define development narrowly. Such development cant be Sustainable . Such development will be limited to particular section of society only. Holistic development , fruits of which can be enjoyed by all sections of society can be achieved only by adopting ethical and pure means
  • If we allow MNCs to exploit poors and tribals by violating their rights , displacing them from their habitats and allow them to adopt all unethical means, it will end up in Naxal Movements and uprisings . In end, such practices backfire


Analysis of Fourth Option

  • Slippery Slope Argument : Such actions create slippery slope. How will one define corruption is small or big.
  • Think of people who don’t have anything to give.
  • Incentive for Civil Servant should be reward by government and not small bribes and gifts.



I will advice him that

  • While discharging all functions as Civil Servant , Always adopt pure means to achieve pure ends
  • After becoming Civil Servant, our aim should be helping the general public selflessly .
  • Becoming part of Indian Civil Services give chance to change life of millions for good and satisfaction that person can get by serving the needy is the best reward and motivation.





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