General Studies Paper 4 (Ethics): Honest & responsible civil servant

Civil Servants

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Syllabus: General Studies Paper 4 (Ethics)


You are an honest and responsible civil servant. You often observe the following:

  1. If one wants to remain effective and powerful to create impact on the lives of people, one should remain loyal to those in power.
  2. Following ethical means may not be practical and effective at all times.
  3. Petty corruption expedites the service delivery.

Examine the above statements with their merits and demerits.


While people join the civil services for a variety of motives, the government recruits them with the objective of serving the needs of the people. In order to carry out the duties, the civil servants have to work with different stakeholders- their seniors, colleagues in other departments, ministers, political representatives (which may be opposition as well) and common citizens. To be effective, it is important to be cordial and work in a manner that synergizes all efforts. Support of their superiors and those in power is necessary for that.

However, being cordial does not mean being loyal to those in power. A civil servant has to be neutral and impartial. The facts collected, their analyses, advice given on their basis and decisions ultimately taken cannot be colored based on loyalty to those in power rather they have to be based on objectivity. It is often the case that those who do not toe the line of people in power are shunted out. For the civil servant personally, it may hamper transfer postings/professional growth and may create disharmonious working environment. It is because of these reasons that many people believe that remaining loyal to those in power is necessary.



  • People in power may serve their own vested interest instead of public interest.
  • It is contrary to public service ideals of objectivity and political neutrality and hampers transparency which in turn breeds corruption.
  • Such political interference vitiates the working environment of executive and demoralizes public servant. Thus, one should always adhere to ethical conduct exhibiting honesty, integrity, fairness, truthfulness etc. Underlying Constitutional principles and ideals should be the guiding light for professional and personal conduct.


Following ethical means may not be practical and effective all the times.

Generally, people believe that following ethical principles at all the times is ineffective and impractical due to various reasons like:

  • Ethical ways of doing things may add costs in terms of delays and price.
  • Everyone has their own priorities i.e., what is good for one may not be beneficial for others.
  • One may not have complete information about the situation, so it is difficult to act ethically all the time.
  • For example, one may argue that unethical (and illegal) means like secret phone tapping may be required. Going through the entire process of permissions may be time consuming, may not yield in desired results and hence such means are better than inaction.

However, following ethical practices at all times is necessary because of following merits –

  • It helps in taking principled and right decision
  • An individual’s capacity to analyse information is limited, and hence systemic morality inform of laws and rules must be followed at all times even when they may seem as obstruction.
  • Ethical decisions have more acceptability and sustenance than unethical ones.
  • Ethical decisions are truthful, conscience based and hence they have more clarity than unethical ones. To cover a lie, a person may have to tell many more.

The person taking decision also lives in harmony with oneself and prevents undue stress.

  • Creates right precedence and working environment and thus leads to inclusive and sustainable growth
  • It brings respect and love from peers and citizens.

Development without ethics will benefit only few, raise inequality and will be unsustainable.


Petty corruption expedites the service

Corruption is normalized when people think that it is a necessary and acceptable tool in their lives. It includes both petty as high level corruption. Petty corruption is as expensive to society as large scams and cannot be tolerated as a small price to expedite the service delivery. It directly affects the end user(citizens/businesses) and imposes a cost on society as a whole. A 2014 Transparency International paper points out- “petty corruption typically afflicts those government processes or approvals that are deemed operationally critical and urgent”. For example, clearance and movement of goods, dealing with fines, on-site inspections or approvals, access to utilities, submission of documents to courts and other statutory bodies. Any hold-up of such activities can cause a paralyzing delay to any business or individual.

Petty corruption cannot be justified due to reasons as under:

  • Imposes huge cost in terms of efficiency and effectiveness of businesses and individuals.
  • Main cause of bottlenecks in our economic and social machine
  • Imposes loss of self-respect and feeling of lack of empowerment
  • Promotes a system where actual work is ‘outsourced’ to touts or agents and inhibits transparency and fairness.
  • Engenders a culture of rent-seeking, lack of service delivery and poor governance
  • Adversely affects investor confidence, entrepreneurship, SMSEs and thus economic growth.
  • Creates a very strong eco-system of vested interests that resists and any move to reform the

Though there are no merits, petty corruption is often accepted as a greasing mechanism by the public/businesses. However, such a myopic view overlooks its above mentioned demerits and long term cost to the society. There should be zero tolerance to corruption as it hurts the growth and development of the country. For curbing corruption, strong political will power is required along with an ethical administration committed to further the public interest with the goal of inclusive and equitable growth of all its citizens


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