[Ethics] Complaints: sources, types, actions, case studies

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Pavan Kumar
  1. Prologue
  2. Sources of Complaint
    1. From Anonymous/ pseudonymous
    2. From Whistleblowers
    3. Oral Complaints
    4. From Civil Society
    5. From Media Reports
  3. Classifying the complaint types
    1. #1: Vigilance Angle
    2. #2: Administrative Angle
    3. #3: Criminal Angle
  4. Case studies

Prologue

Sources of Complaint

An officer comes to know about any misconduct/ mischief of his subordinates via complaint. Here are the major sources of complaint:

  1. Direct complaint to Administrative authority (i.e. public/NGO/MP/MLA anyone- making complaint to the officer or his boss)
  2. Direct complaint to Vigilance Commission, Lokayukta, Police, CBI, ACB.
  3. Visit, inspection, raid, audit, surprise check, stock-verification (by the officer or some other officer)
  4. Scrutiny of annual property statements, Income tax returns of his subordinates
  5. Press/Media reports. And nowadays- even social networking sites.
  6. PIL, Writ petitions in the court
  7. Reports of legislative Committees like the Estimates / Public Accounts, Committee on Public Undertakings. Debates on the floor of parliament / state legislature.

From Anonymous/ pseudonymous

anonymouscontains no name / address
pseudonymousContains name and address but no person exists on that given address.

CVC has issued following directive:

  1. Anonymous/pseudonymous complaints have become a convenient loophole for blackmailing public officials. They’re are denied promotions/career benefits while investigation is pending.=breaks the staff morale.
  2. Therefore CVC has instructed all Departments, PSUs and nationalized banks not to take action on anonymous/pseudonymous complaints.
  3. However, if they want to look into any verifiable facts alleged in such complaints, they should refer the matter to Vigilance Commission.

From Whistleblowers

At the moment, Whistleblower bill is pending Rajya Sabha. but

  • Government of India has already authorized the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) as the ‘Designated Agency’ to receive written complaints from whistleblowers.
  • limitation: protection only for the Central Government / PSUs / bodies owned by Central government

if the employee wishes to unearth scam in his department without disclosing his own identity, he should

  1. Send complaint a closed/secured envelope.
  2. To Central Vigilance Commission
  3. Envelop must mention “Complaint under The Public Interest Disclosure”.
  4. He must his name and address in the beginning or end of complaint. (because CVC will not entertain anonymous/ pseudonymous complaints)
  5. The details of the complaint should be specific and verifiable.

If CVC receives such letter, it’ll be treated as whistleblower. CVC will order the inquiry against department/PSU- without disclosing identity of the whistleblower.

Oral Complaints

  • While normally a public servant should to address all the instruction, communications, order through proper official channel and writing.
  • However, there is no objection in entertaining a direct oral complaint about corruption or other kinds of malpractice.
  • All the genuine complainants should be given protection against harassment or victimization.
  • Whenever a public/staff member furnishes any information orally in confidence, the confidence should be respected.

From Civil Society

  • Administrative authorities should welcome the cooperation from NGOs, civil society, press and public to combat corruption and irregularities.
  • But should not make distinction between one organization/person from another. (e.g. Anna Hazzare makes complaint then officer quickly takes follow up action but when some less known activist/NGO comes, officer takes the matter casually.)
  • NGOs or private citizens should not be authorized to receive complaints on behalf of administrative authorities. (because they’re not covered under conduct rules. may use this privilege for blackmailing others employees.)
  • Whenever a public organization furnishes any information in confidence, the confidence should be respected.

From Media Reports

  1. Responsible newspapers do not usually publish wild allegations against individuals.
  2. Therefore, Prompt action is necessary to deal with such reports to instill confidence in the public.
  3. The editors and reporters of the more responsible newspapers may receive information about corruption through their numerous contacts, and should be able to help fight corruption.
  4. Administrative authorities should welcome their help and should deal with any information given to them in an appropriate manner.
  5. Although How far a particular reporter /NGO is trustworthy = a matter of judgment depending on a number of factors =difficult to lay down a general rule but Administrative authority should not put blind trust on anyone.

At the same time, an Administrative authority cannot shy away from responsibility just because nobody made a specific complaint for example:

  1. Newspaper interviews a noted environmentalist, who talks about declining population of sparrows in the state and apathy of forest department. Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF) chooses to ignore thinking, “nobody made specific complaint to my office, besides these jholachhap NGO cum environmentalist always blame everything on our forest department.”
  2. Local MLA makes a statement in the assembly about how city is becoming unsafe place for working women, there is traffic congestion and nuisance of real estate mafias and so on. Police Commissioner chooses to ignore thinking, “these opposition MLAs always keep repeating the same tape in assembly. All is well in my city.”

Classifying the complaints

  • So far, we’ve learned about various source of complaints.
  • Suppose DevAnand is head of the office. (Revenue, police, forest, post, education, social welfare, irrigation ….whatever.) And He finds the name of his Office / subordinate / staff member in any such complaint/information. What should he do?
  • first –make sure it is not anonymous/pseudonymous complaint. Then Dev should further classify it according to the angle:

#1: Vigilance Angle

Vigilance hierarchy

Just a brief overview

@Union@State
  • CVC=>CBI
  • They look after vigilance/corruption matters in all ministries, departments, PSUs, Nationalized banks, sci-edu-culture etc. bodies, funded by the Union Government.
  • All such departments/PSUs/Bodies have a vigilance division– headed by Chief Vigilance Officer (CVO).
  • This CVO maintains liaison between department vs CVC (+CBI).
  • +/- Lokayukta
  • state vigilance commission=>Anti-corruption bureau (ACB)
  • Vigilance division in each department.

Whenever complaint has vigilance angle, boss (Administrative authority) should forward it to Vigilance division in the headquarter. Further action based their advice.

Vigilance angle is definitely present in following situation:

  1. Bribes: giving/ demanding/accepting bribes
  2. Obtaining valuable thing, without consideration from person he has official dealings with.
  3. Disproportionate assets.
  4. misappropriation, forgery, cheating, tempering official records

Vigilance angle may be present in:

  1. officer makes excessive delay in clearing a file/project/work (perhaps because he is lazy or because he wants bribes)
  2. Doesn’t keep his superiors informed in time.
  3. uses his discretionary powers in excess, where no public interest is evident
  4. Gross negligence or willful negligence,
  5. reckless decision making,
  6. blatantly violates rules, procedures and manuals

in all such Issues, vigilance division will decide future course of action which is: conduct enquiry by itself /departmental officers/ CBI/ ACB depending on jurisdiction and gravity of allegation.

  • Absence of vigilance angle = does not mean that the concerned official is not liable to face the consequences of his actions.
  • Even if no vigilance angle is present (or proved), official will still face disciplinary action under the service conduct rules that we saw in previous article.

Anyways, so far we saw complaints involving vigilance angle. Now the other types:

#2: Administrative Angle

  • e.g. late attendance, disobedience, insubordination, negligence of duty,  technical irregularities, sleeping on duty etc.
  • in such cases, boss (Administrative authority) himself has to take action. If his enquiry reveals any vigilance/criminal angle, he should forward matter accordingly + take disciplinary action for violation of conduct rules.

#3: Criminal Angle

  • e.g. theft of office computer, cable wires, accident of government vehicle etc.
  • Forward to local police.

So far, Complaint is received=>classified in three angles (vigilance, administrative and criminal). Next step is:

Administrative angle=>Preliminary enquiry=>departmental proceedings =>punishment.
vigilance/criminal angle=>Discreet/regular enquiry=>FIR=>investigation=>court proceedings =>punishment.

we’ll see about them in detail, in the next article. for the moment, let’s check some case studies

Ethics Case studies

  • in the following cases, DevAnand is a Superintending Engineer in PWD department and has received complaint about his junior engineer Prem Chopra. and Dev has to decide- what to do with the complaint.
  • Rule of thumb: If the nature of complaint is such that Dev will have to make enquiries to private citizen, examining non-official records, bank lockers, conducting search-seizures etc. = he doesn’t have such investigation powers like a police officer.
  • in such situation, He should better forward the matter to vigilance division (=>ACB, CBI) / local police.

Complaint: Prem Chopra has acquired a large farmhouse in another state using ill-gotten money from contractors. Then blah blah blah…

WRONG APPROACHRIGHT APPROACH
  1. Dev should file RTI to the land record office of given state to find ownership of the farm house.
  2. Should personally visit that farmhouse and inquire the neighbors / chowkidars / real estate agents about the owner.
  3. should seek explanation from Prem
  4. Should immediately suspend Prem Chopra and order inquiry.
  1. Disproportionate asset= vigilance angle. Dev should forward the complaint to vigilance division=>ACB.
  2. ACB will first launch discreet enquiry for disproportionate assets, once substantial matter is found, they’ll lodge FIR, make raid on his house, bank account, lockers and his game will be over. He’ll be prosecuted under prevention of corruption act.
  3. then, Dev should suspend him=>launch disciplinary action.

Complaint: Prem Chopra used substandard material in construction of municipal building. then blah blah blah

WRONG APPROACHRIGHT APPROACH
  1. Should immediately suspend Prem Chopra and order inquiry.
  2. Should forward the complaint to local police / vigilance commission.
first is Technical/Administrative Angle: should inspect the building quality by himself. If prima facie mischief appears=> vigilance angle.

Complaint: Prem Chopra secretly takes bribes from contractors via his wife’s SBI bank account. Then blah…blah blah..

WRONG APPROACHRIGHT APPROACH
  • Dev should write a letter to SBI manager to get detailed transections Prem’s Wife’s  bank account.
  • Then he should verify if there is any pattern of money donations by local contractors.=> suspend Prem Chopra=>order inquiry=>dismiss him.
  • Vigilance angle. Besides Dev has no power to get bank account details of a private citizen. Forward matter to vigilance division=>ACB.
  • ACB will first launch discreet enquiry for disproportionate assets, once substantial matter is found, they’ll lodge FIR, make raid on his house, bank account, lockers and his game will be over. he’ll be prosecuted under prevention of corruption act.
  • then, Dev should suspend him=>launch disciplinary action.

Complaint: Dev is the Superintending Engineer in PWD department. Local resident Madan Puri complaints how junior engineer Prem Chopra misbehaved with his daughter during Navratri night. But he doesn’t want to file FIR to protect his daughter’s honor… then blah..blah..blah..

WRONG APPROACHRIGHT APPROACH
  • Dev should immediately callup Prem and seek his explanation / warn / reprimand / suspend him etc.
  • Criminal angle. Besides incident happened outside Dev’s office, during off-duty hours. Dev cannot go around inquiring private citizen witnesses.
  • So, he should suggest the father to lodge complaint with local police and assure him that police and press donot divulge identity of female in such cases.

if police arrests Prem Chopra, then Dev should   transfer/suspend him and order departmental inquiry for violation of conduct rules.

Complaint: Dev is the Superintending Engineer in PWD department. Local resident Ranjith comes to his office and complaints any of the following, about his junior engineer Prem Chopra,

  1. Prem sold me his old laptop knowing fully well that it was faulty. Now laptop stopped working completely. I asked him to return money but he refuses.
  2. Prem is living as paying guest in my house but has not paid rent for last three months.

+Ranjith also mentions how desperately he needs money for his younger sister’s wedding / ill mother’s cancer treatment and requests DevAnand to cut money from Prem Chopra’s salary and give it to him.

WRONG APPROACHRIGHT APPROACH
  • Dev should immediately callup Prem and seek his explanation / make preliminary enquiry by himself and make payment to Ranjith from Prem Chopra’s salary.
  • These matters are outside Dev’s authority. He cannot directly cut money from Prem’s salary and give it to Ranjith.
  • He should advice Ranjith to seek relief from court.
  • If court rules in favour of Ranjith, Dev could initiate disciplinary action against Prem Chopra for violating conduct rules.

Whistle-blowing

Dev is an under-secretary in coal ministry- well known among the staff as an honest, upright officer. One day GuruDutt, the PA to Coal minister comes to see him. Guru talks about a secret deal going on between the minister and certain industrialists for allotment of blocks for hefty bribes….how the secretary and upper echelon of bureaucracy is also involved in this scam. Guru also shows him incriminating documentary evidences that prima facie prove all of his allegations. However Guru fears reprisal and hence afraid to lodge complaint. What should Dev do?

wrong approachright (atleast for the exam!)
  1. Dev / Guru should Write anonymous / pseudonymous complaint to CBI/CVC/PMO etc. (wrong because they are not required to act on such anonymous complaints)
  1. Dev should inform Guru about the existing mechanism to protect whistleblowers, and ask him to forward the documentary evidence to CVC under that.
  2. If Guru is still afraid, Dev should ask him to handover the documents, file complaint under whistle blower protection mechanism to CVC himself.

Following approaches debatable for directly talking to outsiders, without going to CVC/CBI first, and thus violating the sacred conduct rules.

  1. Leak the story to media.
  2. Leak the story to some NGO, ask them file PIL/writ petition in court.

Anyway, so far we learned about various types of complaints. The next stage is: preliminary enquiry/ discreet enquiry / regular enquiry / formal investigation. We’ll see about that in the next article.

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9 Comments on “[Ethics] Complaints: sources, types, actions, case studies”

  1. ur awesome sir……….thanx a lot..

  2. SIR U R BEST

  3. thank u sir:)

  4. can u post case studies in details… how to go abt it

  5. Gud job sir…..hats off 2 u

  6. Sir,Please write books for UPSC and SPSC.All your article are easy to understand and studentfreindly.

  7. Sunny Deol is looking quite angry and ready to pummel the baddies to dust in the ad displayed in your website. If everyhing else fails to materialise, one can approach the Singh Saab to set the things right with his dhai kilo ka haath.

  8. i want to know about relation between lokpal and citizen charter. thank you

  9. discuss the aptitude part of this paper……

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