It is widely acknowledged that the All India Services [] and other higher Central Services have collectively contributed positively to the stability and predictability to the system of governance in the country. These civil services have networked well within themselves and have strengthened the fabric of our country’s unity and integrity. In the first few decades, after independence, they were seen as a steel frame, riveting the country together, pushing the national agenda and were generally considered as an essential component of the basic institutional structure of the country. At the policy-making level, the services have assisted in the development of architecture of a welfare-oriented and progressive system. The Civil Services in India have also developed a strong service ethos, which is based on the democratic and secular values of the country.

But over the period of time, this face of Indian Civil Services has eroded considerably. With the strengthening of the democratic decentralization, the aspiration of the people has grown, while Civil Services have tended to show a mind-set which is not that of a service provider. One aspect of this mind-set is the lack of accessibility to the ordinary citizens, who approach them at the cutting edge level for the redressal of their grievances and difficulties. A second facet of this mind-set is the perceived arbitrariness and non-transparency of decision-making. The third one is the perception of absence of courteous and humane behavior. Instead of acting as reliable custodians of the country’s constitution and laws in the matter of rendering equitable, fair and efficient services to the people of the country, they are now perceived to be pre-occupied with their own survival with vested interests. This has generated perceptions of the lack of objectivity and propriety in decision making in bureaucracy.

To weed out the above weaknesses of the Civil Services, the Government is taking remedial steps, both at the stage of initial recruitment to the Civil Services, as well as, in post recruitment phase. It is possible to find and select candidates who combine intellectual competence with a strong ethical value system and a positive public service orientation. Taking a step in this direction, the Government will introduce a Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) to recruit Civil Servants in the forthcoming examination, which will be held in the month of May, 2011. In CSAT, one of the aspects is to test the candidate’s ‘aptitude for civil services’ and also his/her ‘ethical and moral dimensions of decision-making’.

Now, I will discuss what all ‘ethical and moral decision making’ are about. The very first question is ‘what is ethics?’ Simply stated, ethics refer to standards of behavior that tell us how human beings ought to act in the many situations in which they find themselves as friends, parents, children, citizens, business people, teachers, professionals, civil servants and so on.

Ethics is not the same as feelings. Feelings provide important information for our ethical choices. Some people have a highly developed habit that makes them feel uncomfortable or uneasy when they do something wrong, but many feel good even though they are doing something wrong. Often our feelings will tell us it is uncomfortable to do the right things if it is hard.

Ethics is not a religion, either. Though many people are not religious, but ethics apply to everyone. Most religions do advocate high ethical standards, but sometimes they do not address all types of problems that we face.

Ethics is not just following the law. A good system of law does incorporate many ethical standards, but law can, sometimes, deviate from what is ethical. Law can become ethically corrupt, as some totalitarian regimes have made it. Law can be a function of power alone and designed to serve the interests of narrow groups. Law may have a difficult time designing or enforcing standards in some important areas and may be slow to address new problems.

Ethics do not mean following culturally accepted norms. Some cultures are quite ethical, but others become corrupt or blind to certain ethical concerns. The saying ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ is not of a satisfactory ethical standard.

Ethics is not just science, as well. Social and natural science can provide important data to help us make better ethical choices. But science alone does not tell us what we ought to do. Science may provide an explanation for what humans are like, but ethics provide reasons for how humans ought to act. Just because something is scientifically or technologically possible, it may not be ethical to do it.

If our ethics are not based on feelings, religion, law, accepted social practice, or science, what are they based on? Many philosophers and ethicists have helped us answer this critical question. They have suggested at least five different sources of ethical standards we should use.

THE UTILITARIAN APPROACH: Some ethicists emphasize that the ethical action is the one that provides the maximum goodness, or does the least harm, or, to put it another way, produces the greatest balance of good over harm. The ethical corporate action, then, is the one that produces the greatest good and does the least harm for all who are affected customers, employees, shareholders, the community and the environment. Ethical warfare balances the good achieved in ending terrorism with the harm done to all parties through death, injuries and destruction. The utilitarian approach deals with consequences, it tries both to increase the good done and to reduce the harm done.

THE RIGHTS APPROACH: Other philosophers and ethicists suggest that the ethical action is the one that protects and respects the moral rights of those affected. This approach starts from the belief that humans have dignity based on their human nature, per se, or on their ability to choose freely what they do with their lives. On the basis of such dignity, they have a right to be treated as ends and not merely as means to other ends. The list of moral rights, including the right to make one’s own choices about what kind of life to lead, to be told the truth, not to be injured, to a degree of privacy and so on, is widely debated. Some now argue that non-humans have rights, too. Also, it is often said that rights imply duties, in particular, the duty to respect others’ rights.

THE FAIRNESS OR JUSTICE APPROACH: Aristotle and other Greek philosophers have contributed to the idea that all equals should be treated equally. Today we use this idea to say that ethical actions treat all human beings equally or if unequally, then fairly based on some standard that is defensible. We pay people more based on their harder work or the greater amount that they contribute to an organization and say that it is fair. However, many ask whether the disparity is based on a defensible standard or whether it is the result of an imbalance of power and hence it is unfair.

THE COMMON GOOD APPROACH: The Greek philosophers have also contributed the notion that life in community is a good in itself and our actions should contribute to that life. This approach suggests that the interlocking relationships of society are the basis of ethical reasoning and that respect and compassion for all others, especially the vulnerable, are requirements of such reasoning. This approach also calls for attention to the common conditions that are important to the welfare of everyone. This may be a system of law, effective police and fire departments, health care, a public education system, or even public recreational areas.

THE VIRTUE APPROACH: A very ancient approach to ethics is that ethical actions ought to be consistent with certain ideal virtues, that provide for the full development of our humanity. These virtues are dispositions and habits that enable us to act according to the highest potential of our character and on behalf of values, like truth and duty. Honesty, courage, compassion, generosity, tolerance, love, fidelity, integrity, fairness, self-control and prudence are all examples of virtue.< /p>

Making good ethical decisions requires a trained sensitivity to ethical issues and a practiced method for exploring the ethical aspects of a decision and weighing the considerations that should impact our choice of a course of action. Having a method for ethical decision making is absolutely essential. When practiced regularly, the method becomes so familiar that we work through it automatically without consulting the specific aspects.

The more novel and difficult the ethical choice we face, the more we need to rely on discussions and dialogue with others about the dilemma. Only by careful exploration of the problem, aided by the insights and different perspectives of others, we can make good ethical choices in such situations.

In my opinion, if the future civil servants are selected by UPSC, using ethical and moral aspects of decision making as a tool, then we can have candidates with positive value systems and commitment to public service, character, integrity, honesty, accountability, ability to resist temptation and a spirit of sacrifice and patriotism. They will also have analytical and synthesizing quality of mind, wisdom and ability to marshal and apply relevant knowledge. The profile of such civil servants should be defined in terms of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values. They should have a ‘can do’ attitude, problem-solving and analytical skills.
About the Author

V.P. GUPTA, Director Rau’s IAS Study Circle has been a friend, philosopher and guide to many successful civil servants. He has a philosophy behind his work: to enjoy the journey of life. And his focus is on learning, education and bringing about a different approach to the business.

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