Rules to regulate babus' conduct on new media?

Updated: Jun 04, 2019, 08:18 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

BMC's junior bureaucrat Nidhi Chaudhari transferred after strong reaction on her alleged anti-Mahatma Gandhi tweet

Dy Municipal Commissioner (special) Nidhi Chaudhari was transferred to the water supply and sanitation department
Dy Municipal Commissioner (special) Nidhi Chaudhari was transferred to the water supply and sanitation department

The controversy surrounding Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Deputy Municipal Commissioner (special) Nidhi Chaudhari, who was transferred on Monday as punishment for allegedly tweeting an anti-Mahatma Gandhi statement, has given rise to speculation that some specific rules might be framed at the all-India level, to regulate the social media behaviour of officers.

Chaudhari has been accused of flouting the All India Civil Services (Conduct) Rules - 1968 that deal with public media. The old legal framework does not have specific provisions to regulate public servants’ behaviour on the digital form of new media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs (personal), WhatsApp, etc.

"We will have to think about this (new media) very soon and make relevant changes (at the all-India level. As of now, we’re fairly happy with the officers and departments which use new media for sheer public good. A case like this (Chaudhari) is an aberration but its repeat cannot be ruled out," a senior IAS officer told mid-day. The officer is one of the seniors who are handling Chaudhari's case.

Chaudhari has been asked to explain her statement under Section 6 of the All India Civil Services (Conduct) Rules-1968. The rules talk about seeking prior sanction of the government before going public (in the media).

Sent out as nondescript deputy secretary

Chaudhari was trolled for tweeting on May 17 a 'thank you' note to Gandhi's assassin Nathuram Godse, and commenting that the Mahatma’s statues and images on currency notes should be removed. Chaudhari said the tweet was 'sarcastic' in nature but misinterpreted by readers. She had asked netizens to verify her love for Gandhi by reading her entire timeline.

NCP president Sharad Pawar, his junior in the party Jitendra Awhad, and state Congress president Ashok Chavan demanded strict action against her. Pawar wrote to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, following which the state government on Monday sought an explanation from the IAS officer of 2012 batch, and transferred her to the water supply and sanitation department as deputy secretary. Considered a punishment posting, she will be posted in Mantralaya where a hundred other non-IAS deputy secretaries work.

'Understand pro and cons of social media'

Some senior bureaucrats saw the controversy involving a junior colleague unnecessary, but were of the opinion that officers should understand the pros and cons of social media while making their (personal) opinions public, with or without government sanction.

"Social media behaviour is a critical part of personality assessment. Not only public but the bosses (political and administrative) too judge you based on what you write. And that assessment may not always do justice to what you are," said a senior principal secretary.

"Do we work to seek publicity and court unwarranted controversies? There is nothing personal for a bureaucrat or police officer. We are all public figures, but unlike politicians we need to follow (service) rules. There are official ways of resenting and protesting even while working in the official capacity," he added.

A senior bureaucrat who worked with Chaudhari in the BMC said that she should be more careful, not just in discharging her duties but also while expressing herself in public. "She has a long way to go in service. An incident which appears minor but evokes a reaction of such magnitude is very demoralising for young officers," he said.

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