The Manipur government Home Department issued an Office Memorandum (OM) on August 10, 2022 asking all government officials who are members of various social media chat groups which spread and push their agenda, indulge in spreading of false information, hate speeches/videos, and share information which are not in the public domain and asked them to leave such group within 48 hours that is by 6 pm of August 12 failing which appropriate disciplinary action will be initiated against them under the relevant legal and applicable conduct Rules provisions.
The said OM indicated that participation of government officials in such groups may be construed as involvement in activities of such groups/ blogging sites which is in contravention of Rules 5 and 7 of the AIS (Conduct) Rules, 1968 and Rules 5, 9, and 11 of the CCS(Conduct) Rules 1964 and are liable to disciplinary actions.
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Rule 5 and 7 of the IAS (Conduct) Rules provides that no AIS (All India Services) officers shall take part in politics and elections and no member of AIS shall make any statement which has adverse criticism of any current or recent policy or action, which is capable of embarrassing the government or capable of embarrassing the relations with a foreign country respectively.
Similarly Rule 5 and 9 of the CCS (Conduct) Rules provides for similar provisions as in the AIS Rules while Rule 11 provides for non furnishing of government information to anyone, except in furnishing information under the RTI Act as per the law.
Merely being a member of any social media group should not attract the above provisions, if the government officials do not participate in politic and elections (which many do especially in support of the ruling dispensation of the time), do not criticise recent or current government policies or actions or make available information which are confidential in nature or should not be in the public domain.
The interpretation of the Rules by the state government in the OM that being a member of such a group shall be construed as involvement in the activities of such groups can be considered a bit tenuous and also a bit too far stretched.
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In a few groups, official documents like the positive reports of SARS-Cov-2 from the testing centres were uploaded but not by officials, but by others after leak from officials and as these affect the privacy of the individuals concerned and liable to lead to stigmatisation, such upload in public domain need to be stopped.
After this OM all hell broke loose and many government officials left all groups irrespective of whether the group falls within the ambit of those described in the OM. There are some who continue with some groups, as they feel it does not fall within the ambit described in the said OM.
Issue of this OM makes one question as to what is the government doing for closing such groups/ blogging sites if it feels it is promoting hatred, spreading false information, etc.
Yes, if a government official upload items which promotes hatred, or false information, etc action must be taken against such erring officials, rather than directing all officials to leave groups which are difficult to classify whether it falls or not in the definition provided in the OM.
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Just because they are members does not mean they are involved and they may be taking advantage of the group to find out what these groups are doing and what the public or a section of the public is thinking on various government activities. Many of the groups provide a window on what the public feels about government action or inaction.
Like in the case of non-availability of urea in time or closure of lower classes due to COVID-19 situation. This government had reacted on many social media uploads and had even taken action to implement certain acts pointed out in the social media. Further how is one to know which group will fall under the category as mentioned in the referred OM.
And who will determine it, will it be the government which can be arbitrary or should it not be proper to leave it to the judicial system to determine it. The best alternative is to take steps to close all such groups or blogging sites through legal means.
There are many groups which are followed by Ministers and MLAs and other political leaders which show intolerance and try to impose their will on others through threats and intimidation. Our society is presently undergoing severe intolerance and trying to impose one’s will. No action has been taken on any such group and when action is not taken against the perpetrators, why action on the government officials who are mere spectators.
As indicated above, those officials who upload unacceptable posts must be brought to task but merely being a member of a group should not be liable to penalty as sober groups due to one member can create problems for all others, if the admin is not proactive.
Will this OM be challenged in the law court? Unlikely from government officials, but a PIL may be forthcoming. This OM is like the Manipuri proverb “Thingel thingba ngamdraga nasikhong da tainaba”. Is this OM a step in the direction to create what is called the “committed bureaucracy” , the concept first introduced during Indira Gandhi’s time? Possibly, but only time can tell!
Another interesting order is the one issued by DP & AR (AR Division) on 12 August indicating those who will receive the CM’S Award for Good Governance on Independence Day. There must be criteria for the selection of the Awardees and there cannot be any dispute on the decision.
However, in the team categories, there are eight awardees and the activities they had performed were also indicated. Inclusion of the chief secretary as a team leader in a group is a bit embarrassing as he is the overall head of the bureaucracy.
If one remembers correctly, after a Finance Commission’s visit, the team which handles the preparation of the Memorandum and the Visit was usually awarded some monetary benefits but the team leader, the Finance Commissioner and the overall in charge of the visit, the chief secretary were never included and only the lower officials were recommended.
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Further, one is confused when the whole Police Department was given the award for War on Drugs. How will the award money of Rs 2 lakh be distributed? At Rs 8 or so per person? Many policemen were caught for being involved in the drug racket and whether they will be deemed to be part of the awardees as a team member?
It would have been appropriate to identify the teams which had done the maximum to seize drugs and arrest those involved, including successful prosecution; and award them. Such a system will provide an incentive to do better but with the present order those who risk do not have any benefit over those who do nothing and hence can be a disincentive and a dampener.
Not only one team, even three or so teams from the Police including NAB can be identified. A little bit of detailed assessment could have easily identified the deserving teams.
The public statement made by the Chief Minister on the District Council Bill drafted by the Hill Areas Committee (HAC) is welcome in that it indicates the reason why the State Government is not supportive of the draft Bill. Those demanding the introduction of the Bill are now made aware why the draft Bill was not introduced and there should be interaction between the proponents and the State Government on the matter.
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This writer had insisted that HAC is a recommending Body and not an Executive Body and hence not competent to draft legislations, though the Draft may have been drafted with the help of lawyers. Their desire should be made known and it is for the State Government to draft the Bill.
The term “Autonomous” used in the 1971 Act has nothing to do with being autonomous from the state, but rather autonomous from the revenue districts, as against a total of five revenue districts then, six district councils were created and in the body of the Act, the term “autonomous district councils” was never mentioned and only “district council” was used.
(The views expressed are personal)