Civil Servants right to Free speech

Civil Servants right to Free speech

News: A senior IAS officer, Smita Sabharwal from Telangana, tweeted from her personal account in support of Bilkis Bano and questioned the Gujarat government’s decision, sparking off a row over whether she was in breach of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules of 1964.

Was she right in tweeting this?
No. Why?
• Just like any other citizen, a civil servant has right to free speech guaranteed under Article 19 of the constitution.
• However, a Civil servant is bound to be adhered to disciplinary rules. Such rules prevent a government servant from becoming a member of a political organization, or any organization of such a nature, or expressing herself freely with regard to anything that has to do with the governance of the country.
• Rule 9 of the Rules of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules states, “No Government servant shall… make any statement of fact or opinion... which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy or action of the Central Government or a State Government.”
• In addition, she was not a stakeholder in the decision making process.

Yes, she was. Why?
• In the Lipika Paul vs The state of Tripura case (2020), a landmark judgement was given where the High court of Tripura opined that ‘a government servant is not devoid of her right to free speech, a fundamental right which can be curtailed only by a valid law.’ However, the court did observe that the expression of right to speech is subject to curtailment in certain circumstances.
• Kerala High Court had also observed that one cannot be prevented from expressing his views merely because he is an employee.

What is the way forward?
• Many government officers and ministers are encouraged to communicate government policies to the general public through social media. Unfortunately, government officers are only encouraged to say good things in the media. The problem with this is that if any policy is being implemented everybody has a right to express his or her opinion, a right to object, a right to dissent in a democracy.
• Government officers have a duty to increase transparency about policies through social media. A case-by- case approach must be followed.

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