Book review: Anil Swarup, Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant

Date01 September 2020
Published date01 September 2020
Subject MatterBook Reviews
422 Book Reviews
Anil Swarup, Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant. New Delhi: Unique
Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2000, 264 pp., `239.00 (Paperback). ISBN:
DOI: 10.1177/0019556120953688
What is ethics? How important is ethics in the context of governance? What are
the challenges that hinder an officer’s pursuit of ethical conduct? Does it pay to
rema in et hical while the unethical officers, seemingly, rule the roost? These q uestions
refrain the thought process of every civil servant: new and seasoned and cloud their
judgement affecting their productivity. For some unlucky few, these questions may
even br ing forth a lifetim e of torment. Even more unfortunate are those whose conscience
never raises these questions.
What makes matters worse is the absence of any well-defined, legally tenable
and universally acceptable model code of conduct for o fficer s tha t def ines ethic s.
Coup led wi th po litica l vend etta, this spells a perfect recipe for disaster to them.
Ethical Dilemmas of a Civil Servant is an attempt to highlight some of the
dilemmas that civil servants face during their career. Almost all youngsters who
aspire to become civil servants, are blessed with a lot of energy, purpose and
enthusiasm. This is also true of youngsters who get into the service. However,
for some officers who put in a couple of decades or more in the service, this
enthusiasm seems to wane, bordering on cynicism in some cases. They feel that
only those officers climb the ladder who have learnt the tricks of the trade. While
recognising the ground reality, this book also attempts to dispel these misappre-
hensions. Yes, there are movers and shakers, but there are an equal, if not more,
number of officers that have made the civil service proud.
The book is divided into five parts. The first one centres around the rationale
for being ethical. After 38 years of his career as a civil servant, the author contends
that it is beneficial for a civil servant to be ethical. It pays to be ethical. An honest
and efficient bureaucrat can be put to inconvenience, but the dishonest one is more
likely to suffer in the long run. However, the bottom line is not merely an honest
existence. A bureaucrat has to deliver. He is the prime instrument available with the
state to deliver. This gets demonstrated in the second and the third part of the book
where some personal experiences have been narrated to drive home this point.
There are indeed a number of choices that have to be made during the career.
The fourth part of the book focusses on improving governance. There is
an attempt to look at some aspects that are impacting governance. The book
presents the observations of author not as an expert but as a practitioner who
experienced various challenges in improving in an environment inhibiting change.
Post-retirement ‘rewards’, disconnect with the ground realities, intellectual dis-
honesty and obeisance to extra-constitutional authorities—are some of the issues
that have been discussed in the book.
The concluding part of the book is about the possible way forward. The most
critical aspect of governance is that it is difficult to judge whether the performers
and those with integrity are seen as ‘victors’ or those who shamelessly display
their ‘allegiance’. This segment also looks at the number of incidents wherein the
officers are caught in the political cross-fire. Can the civil servant act in a manner

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