'Poor Choice of Words, But Suspension No Way Forward': Civil Servants on Row over ex-Karnal SDM

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Former sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) of Karnal, Ayush Sinha, who is at the centre of the controversy. (Image: Screengrab)

IAS officer Ayush Sinha was seen in a viral video clip instructing policemen to hit protesting farmers and break their heads if they breached a security cordon on August 28.

  • News18.com New Delhi
  • Last Updated:September 10, 2021, 12:24 IST
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Despite the Haryana government’s decision to transfer out IAS officer Ayush Sinha earlier this week, protesting farmers continued a sit-in outside the mini secretariat in Karnal on Friday, demanding his suspension.

Sinha, the former sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) of Karnal, was seen in a viral video clip instructing policemen to hit the farmers and break their heads if they breached a security cordon on August 28 when the protesters were blocking a highway with the chief minister and other BJP leaders scheduled to hold a political meeting in the area. Ten people were injured in the police action that day and one person died. The authorities though said the death was caused by a heart attack, but the farmers have rejected this.

Thousands of farmers have been protesting since late last year at the borders of Delhi and in some other parts of the country, seeking the repeal of three agricultural laws brought by the Centre that they fear will eliminate the minimum support price (MSP) system and leave small and marginal cultivators at the mercy of big corporations.

As the calls from the protesting farmers for Sinha’s suspension grew louder, the Haryana government on Wednesday transferred him along with 19 other officers. The state government did not give any reason for the move.

However, a day ahead of the 2018-batch IAS officer’s transfer, Haryana chief secretary Vijai Vardhan had asked for a detailed report on the incident, and Sinha’s explanation for his remarks.

According to reports, the IAS officer has alleged the video was edited and consisted of selected portions of his instructions to the police.

Speaking to News18.com, senior farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal said the protesters will continue to stick to their demand for Sinha’s suspension.

“Transfer is not a punishment. We will continue demanding his suspension,” he said.

But what do the existing rules say about the suspension of civil servants? News18.com spoke to several serving and retired bureaucrats to decipher the rules applicable for civil servants, and understand if they would warrant a suspension or any other action in this case.

‘His choice of words was wrong’

Several retired and serving bureaucrats that News18.com spoke to said while the choice of words used by Sinha was wrong and perhaps even “unbecoming” of a civil servant, he has already been transferred out by the Haryana government. The case being sensitive, they chose to remain anonymous.

As per the All India Services (Discipline and Appeal) Rules, 1969, a state or the central government can order the suspension of a civil servant against whom disciplinary proceedings are contemplated or are pending.

In the case of Sinha, the Haryana government has, so far, not said if it is considering any disciplinary proceedings against the SDM. However, state home minister Anil Vij on Thursday said the administration will investigate “the entire Karnal episode" and also cautioned the farmers, saying action will be taken against them if the probe finds them guilty.

An IAS officer from the neighbouring state of Punjab, who retired recently in the rank of chief secretary, reiterated that under the statutory rules governing the All-India Services, an officer can be placed under suspension by the government only when the articles of charge have been framed and disciplinary proceedings are either contemplated or pending.

“It is also incumbent upon the government to consider the circumstances of the case as well as the nature of the charges before exercising this discretionary power,” the officer told News18.com.

However, another former secretary in the Government of India said suspension is not a punishment either.

“If the state government wants, he can be suspended. In my career, I have seen several officers being suspended first and the inquiry ordered later. That is the call of the political leadership,” the former UP cadre IAS officer said.

He said that the conduct of the SDM was indeed unbecoming of an officer.

“It does embarrass civil servants. Most importantly, the police at times use force to maintain law and order, but the job of a magistrate is to ensure a balance. What he said was unnecessary, but at the same time, he has been transferred. That gives out a message to other civil servants,” the officer said.

The chief development officer (CDO) of Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district, Divyanshu Patel, was this year captured in a video assaulting a journalist and breaking his mobile phone. The state government had sought a report on the incident, and he was later learnt to have made peace with the journalist.

‘Suspension not the answer’

A former secretary of the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) on the condition of anonymity told News18.com that suspensions are usually ordered for “major misdemeanour” on the part of the civil servant.

“Even in a major one, suspension should not be resorted to unless it is felt that the continuation of a government servant in the same position is detrimental to public interest,” the former IAS officer said.

The officer added that in all cases of suspension a charge sheet has to follow. He said a review of the suspension has to take place within 60 days and the suspension cannot be continued indefinitely.

“In this case, the choice of words used by the officer was inappropriate, but he was not addressing the public. Such an instance will not qualify for action against the All India Service (Conduct) Rules, 1968.

One provision of these rules that are applicable for Indian Administrative Service, Indian Police Service and Indian Forest Service officers says members of the service will not do anything which is “unbecoming” of a member of them. Most other services are governed by the Central Civil Service (Conduct) Rules, 1964.

While the Centre and states in the past have taken action against civil servants citing conduct rules, the ambiguity of the provision leaves it to the interpretation of the higher bureaucracy or the political leadership. Two IAS officers posted with the Delhi government were suspended last year for alleged lapses in their Covid-19 duties but were reinstated after five months.

“If the officer goes to court, the government will have to defend its action. The government should also not be sending a message to its officers that it acted under pressure,” the former DoPT secretary said.

A senior bureaucrat said that the decision of suspending a civil servant rests with the political establishment. “For instance, former UP chief minister Mayawati was known to suspend several senior bureaucrats for reasons such as poor upkeep of the Ambedkar Park. Other states have done it too. It’s not a punishment but is always stigmatised,” the officer said.

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