3. Many a times, we have witnessed civil servants getting suspended over their remarks or criticism of the Government on social media platforms. Is it justified to stifle the right to free speech of a civil servant? Critically comment.
कई बार, हमने सोशल मीडिया प्लेटफॉर्म पर सिविल सेवकों को उनकी टिप्पणी या सरकार की आलोचना करने पर निलंबित होते देखा है। क्या एक सिविल सेवक के स्वतंत्र भाषण के अधिकार को रोकना उचित है? समालोचनात्मक टिप्पणी करें।
Demand of the question:
It expects students to present a fair judgement after considering the pros and cons on the issue of stifling the right to free speech of a civil servant.
In its recent judgement Honourable Supreme Court has observed that the right to freedom of speech and expression, as guaranteed to all citizens under the first section of article 19, covers the right to go online too. But when it comes to right to freedom of speech and expression for Civil servants there comes the debate of whether a civil servant is entitled to do so or not.
The right to freedom of speech and expression is restricted under Service conduct rules of Bureaucracy on Free Speech(rule 5)
- Rule 5(1) stipulates that no Government servant shall be a member of, or be otherwise associated with, any political party or any organization which takes part in politics nor shall he take part in, subscribe in aid of, or such in any other manner, any political movement or activity.
- Rule 5(4) stipulates that no Government servant shall canvass or otherwise interfere with, or use influence in connection with or take part in, an election to any legislature or local authority.
However, due to suspension of some of the civil servants over their remarks or criticism of the Government on social media platforms puts a limelight on the debatable issue of freedom of speech for civil servants.
Reasons for restriction:
- Indian parliamentary form of government forms the government on the basis of majority of number of seats. In practical terms sometimes it might possible that one decision of the government is beneficial for one group or community and discriminatory for the other one. In this times if a civil servant speaks against the government then it might disrupt the harmony in the administration and society.
- Freedom of speech and expression, enables an individual to participate in public activities. It is the constitutional duty of a Civil servant to implement the formulated policies and schemes by the government. Hence, if civil servants goes against the policies of government the who will do the job of implementation.
- The MP’s and MLA’s are elected on the basis of the universal adult franchise. Whereas the civil servants are selected through exams. Hence, in a democracy like India there is prime most importance for the decisions taken by the government as it represents the will of the people.
- Basic criticism of the government is not seen as sedition unless the Government believes that it was calculated to undermine the respect for the government in such a way so as to make people cease to obey it.
- Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code defines the offence of sedition as follows: “Sedition. Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine”.
- In Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar (AIR 1962), the court upheld the constitutional validity of the Section 124A of I.P.C and also upheld the view taken in Niharendu’s case.
However, recent judgements by Tripura High court and Kerala High court gave a different direction to this debate.
- In its judgment, the Tripura High Court has mentioned that government servants are entitled to hold and express their political beliefs, subject to the restrictions laid under Rule 5 of the Tripura Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1988.
- In its judgment, the Kerala High Court has mentioned One cannot be prevented from expressing his views merely because he is an employee. In a democratic society, every institution is governed by democratic norms.
- Healthy criticism is a better way to govern a public institution. e.g. The lokdarbar’s organised by the political leaders and civil servants are one such examples.
- Restrictions applied through the service rule, that come in conflict with Article 19 (1)(a), right to free speech shall override unless the rules in question are covered under Article 19 (2), the framework that provides for reasonable restrictions.
- In a nutshell, any restriction imposed even through the conduct rules will have to qualify the requirements of Article 19(2). The conduct rules are flexible enough to accommodate certain kinds of expression which may not necessarily be political in nature.
The right to Freedom of Speech and Expression plays a key role in the formation of public opinion on the political, social and economic matters. It is, therefore, quintessential for the functioning of democratic processes. Hence, a fair and constructive criticism is a welcome step even if it comes from the civil servant. But, the criticism should be in consonance with the principle enshrined in the Constitution of India.