Ethics in Public Administration

Mains Marks Booster     3rd August 2023        
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Characteristics of Public Administration

  • Non-Political: It is a non-political public bureaucracy operating in a political system and it deals with the sovereign will, the public interests and laws
  • Ex. India’s ambassadors in Nepal supervising the infrastructural projects initiated by the government of India.
  • Policy formulation: It is concerned with policy-making as well as policy execution. 
  • Ex. Recently, 22nd Law Commission of India drafted the UCC code
  • Coverage: It covers all three branches of the government, although it tends to be concentrated in the executive branch. 
  • Ex. Speakers, Governors in Legislation, Judicial Officers in Judiciary, Secretary in Executive
  • Regulatory service: It provides regulatory and service functions to people to attain aquality lifestyle. 
  • Ex. FSSAI monitors the food quality and recommends accordingly
  • Different from Private administration: It differs significantly from private administration, especially in its emphasis on the public with respect to means and ends. 
  • Ex. MNC companies largely draft policy for their companies whereas public administration covers the public at large 

Public & Private Administration

  • Public administration is concerned with government administration whereas private administration is concerned with the administration of private business organisations.
  • Public Administration differsfrom Private Administration on the following principles –


Public Administration

Principle of uniformity

Common and uniform laws and regulations.

Ex. CCS Rules, Emoluments as per fixed pay matrix

Principle of external financial control

Legislative body control government revenues and expenditures. 

Ex. Finance Ministry prepares a budget every year

Principle of ministerial responsibility

Accountable to its political masters and through them to people. 

Ex. Cabinet ministers report to the Prime Minister

Principle of marginal return

The main objective of a business venture is profit; however, the objectives of public administration cannot be measured in monetary terms.

Ex. Central government issued financial assistance to loss-making BSNL to provide network connectivity in remote and strategic regions.

Need for Ethics in public administration

The ethical dimension the Public administration in India isas important as that of political, legal and financial domains, which can be summarised as:

  • Public resource utilisation: Efficient and effective utilisation of resources with the absence of any kind of corruption provides benefits to citizens. 
    • Ex.Ethical practice in the allotment of tender can have avoided the collapse of the bridge on the Ganga river in Bhagalpur
  • Social Justice: Ethical public administration is important to achieve the goal of social justice. It ensures equality and equity for vulnerable sections of the society.
    • Ex. 50% reservation in jobs for Women in states like Bihar. SC/STs Act for Marginalised sections of society Monthly financial support through the ‘Ladli Bahna Scheme’
  • Resolve dilemma: Ethics ensures priority-based distribution of public goods whichcould resolve conflicts and dilemmas.
    • Ex.Priority to senior citizens and front-line workers for Covid vaccine accessibility 
  • Decision making: Public administrators take key decisions and when those decisions are based on objectivity, fairness, justice and above the personal interest, they yield the required results for the society.
    • Ex. Government decision to shoot out rioters in Manipur to curb violence
  • Public trust: Ethical public administration creates confidence and trusts in the people towards the competence, fairness, honesty, impartiality and sincerity of the public services.
    • Ex. Fair exams conducted by UPSC for aspirants, Service provided by DMRC in Delhi
  • Social capital: Ethical public administration ensures credibility in the eyes of the people and ensures civil society cooperation and thus building the social capital of the country.
    • Ex. Presence of the railway minister on the site of the accident in Balasore encouraged all to work hard to open the track for the service before the scheduled date.
  • Sarvodaya/Antyodaya: Ethical public administration brings empathy, and compassion for poor and vulnerable sections of society leading to a better understanding of societal problems and thus finding their solutions.

Ex. Implementation of Bonded Labour Abolition Act by IAS officer S. Shankaran in Tripura

Provisions for Inculcating Ethics in Public Administration

Legislative provisions

Draft Public Service Bill, 2007:It envisagesmoral behaviour from the civil servants and enumerated certain values among public servants:

  • Patriotism and upholding national pride
  • Allegiance to the Constitution and the law of the nation
  • Objectivity, impartiality, honesty, diligence, courtesy and transparency
  • Upheld absolute integrity

Conduct Rules

Central Services Conduct Rules, 1964

It provides for do’s and don’ts for civil servantsSets out the standards of behaviour expected of those working in the public service

All India Service Conduct Rules, 1968

    • Civil servants should maintain high ethical standards, 
Upheld values like integrity and honesty, political neutrality

Ethical Codes

Code of ethics, 1997: It was first initiative to introduce code of ethics for public servants in India aiming for better governance in India. 
  • Conflict of interest rules and procedures Ex. OECD Tools Kit to recognise conflicts of interests.
Receipt of gifts - Ex. Limitation on Gift receipts by the stakeholdersIncome and asset disclosure - Ex.  Annual Self disclosure of Assets
    • Pre and post-employment rules Ex. – Cooling Period 
Anti-Bribery and Anti-Corruption Training


    • Yoga Training
Workshops on lessons of management form epic of the Ramayana, Mahabharata

World Best Practices

  • Pepsi co.’s global code of conduct
  • Microsoft’s Standards of Business Conduct (Trust code)
  • Poland: An e-learning platform offering anticorruption trainings for different target groups
  • OECD Tools Kit specifically targeted at recognising conflicts of interests
  • Austria: Federal Bureau of Anti-Corruption (BAK) develops and holds integrity training and lectures for different target group.

Ethical Issues in Public Administration

  • Misuse of discretionary powers: Public welfare is mainly ignored as discretionary powers are abused for personal benefit and favouritism in the administration.


  • IAS Pooja Singhal used her power for personal benefit and favouritism
  • Food Inspector of Kankerordered emptying a reservoir in search of his phone
  • Undue importance to rules and regulations: Indian administration gives undue importance to rules and regulations, which leads to red-tapism and disregard for justice, fairness etc. For Example -
    • High pendency of cases in courts due to adjournments on various rules & regulations
    • Environment clearance for infrastructural projects such asAarey car shed of the Mumbai Metro 
    • Pensioners to be present in physical for live certificate
  • Poor reward and punishment mechanism: Reward and punishment are determined by favouritism and political nexus instead of merit in the administration.


  • The practice of appointment of Governor from the ruling party
  • Selection of Ministers based on social representation instead of performance
  • Lack of communication: Indian administration is characterised by closed communication and limited public contact. Rigid hierarchy within the organisations further hinders communication.


  • Lack of feedback mechanism from the public to the administration
  • Civil servants cannot approach media on issues of public interests
  • Negligence: A public official either does not perform his professional responsibilities or performs them in a delinquent manner due to a lack of interestand responsibilities.

Example -

  • Medical professionals fail to visit health centres in remote places
  • Cleanliness of coaches in trains are ignored or not monitored appropriately
  • Corruption: Bribery and corruption are seen as rewards for the performance of obligatory work and are considered necessary evilsthat grease the wheels of departments.
    • Example: India has been ranked 85th in Corruption Perception Index, 2022.
  • Evasive tendency: Administrators fail to take initiative when faced with a challenging circumstance, and the issue is avoided by shifting the responsibility from one department to another.
    • Ex. Railway and Electricity Supplier Company have been transferring the issues at each other regarding the recent incidence of electrocution of a traveller at the Delhi Railway station.
  • Patronage: Political patronage plays an important role in the appointment of administrators, especially at the higher levels.
    • Example: Post-retirement assignments to senior officials to Regulatory bodies like NGT, CIC/IC, Membership for Rajya Sabha
  • Excessive Security: Article 311 of the Constitution provides excessive security to public servants and this reduces the enforcement of accountability.
  • Ill-conceived goals: When incentives are given for the achievement of any goal but they promote a negative behaviour.
    • Example: The Bank Manager of Utkala Grameen Bank in Odisha insisted on the physical verification of a 100-year-old lady for withdrawal of money from Jan Dhan Account.
  • Nepotism- The practice of nepotism may lead to the downgrading of the quality of public service.


  • Political posts in Regional parties in India
  • Allotment of a contract to family members
  • Lack of compassion: Indifference towards the feelings or the inconvenience of an individual. Example -
    • Debarring families to get Ration in the absence of proper documents
    • Cancellation of exam post-paper leak leads to the inconvenience of students financially as well as mentally
  • Overvaluing outcomes: It is about giving more importance to the end result and not to the process.
    • Ex. Certifying a drug developed by a drug company, even if it has used unethical means. 
  • Lobbying: Pressure groups raise issues and advocate for their causes. Even though these requests may not always be in the best interests of the government or administration in the long run. 

For Example:

  • Ordinance to abandon Farm Bill 
  • Various political parties have given in the demands of loan waivers

Problems of Ethics in Indian Administration

Problems of Ethics in Indian Administration

  • Lack of ethical literacy: It refers to making decisions solely on the basis of rule books and being unable to comprehend the ethical dilemmas present in any given circumstance.
  • Ex. Sarus crane saved by a man in Uttar Pradesh and formed a bond with it, later officials took it to the wildlife sanctuary
  • Secrecy: It leads to opaqueness in the working of public administration.
  • Ex. Official Secret Act prohibit the disclosure of information 
  • Societal pressures: Irrational and unreasonable demands are made upon the officers by families, relatives, peers and other close ones. 
  • Ex. Undue advantages in government policies, Engage in corruption
  • Political superiority: Bureaucrats are accountable to their political masters and they have to abide by their decisions.
  • Ex. Showing constraint while dealing with mob violence, arson etc.
  • Lack of grievance redressal mechanism: There should be an organisation which takes up the issuesof grievance redressal against officials.
  • Ex. Nordic countries use - External involvement in the investigation of complaints against the police
  • Information leaks: Sometimes officials are not able to hold on to sensitive issuesand the information is leaked into the public domain.


  • Government policy for giving rebates to apparel sectors, which use to have an impact on share price
  • Recommendation of Committee
  • Cost-cutting of staff etc. 
  • Lack of whistleblower protection: Whistle Blowers are victimized despite the existence of the Whistle Blower Protection Act, 2014, and there is no punishment for any public employee who abuses the complainant.
  • Ex. Satyendra Dubey, Manjunath were killed for flagging corruption in their respective departments.
  • Lack of knowledge of rights: There is also a lack of knowledge of rights among the public, mainly due to the complexity of administration and also due to the insular attitude of officials.

Ethical Dilemma in Government and Private Institutions

Ethical Dilemma in Government and Private Institutions

Ethical dilemmas faced by Public Servants are -

  • Conflict of interest: It is a situation involvingconflict between private interest and public interest when an individual is in a position of power and trust.

Example -

  • Judge hearing the case of his own son (CJI SH Kapadia in Vodafone case)
  • As a district collector, deciding the circle rate of properties where my ancestral property also lies.
  • Conflict between National interests vs Interests of Human
  • Example: India’s practice of abiding with Vasudhaivakutumbakam, on the other hand, there are Security threats, demographic bulge (more than 1 crore refugees)
  • Conflict between personal values and values of public administration - 


  • A public servant may be against encounter but go ahead to save lives of others.
  • Against the use of Aadhar because of privacy issues but accept to facilitate DBT
  • Conflict between professional ethics and Seniors’ order
      • Example: Bankersare against hair cut of resolution plans but accept the decisions of insolvency professionals.
  • Code of conduct versus Gift offered by clients
      • Example: A Public servant might be of the opinion that small gifts act as a motivation to perform his/her duty but that is against the code of conduct.
  • Professional commitment versus public welfare
    • Example: Taking a strict stand on issues related to corruption could result in delays in projects, tender allocation etc.

Resolving Ethical Dilemma in Government

Resolving Ethical Dilemma in Government

Ethical dilemmas can be solved by adhering following processes- 

  • Prioritising public interest: Officials should put the public interest ahead of their own while taking action. 


  • Cancel personal trip to manage law and order during Ganpati Utsava in Mumbai
  • Bomb squad team save the lives of many by risking their own lives
  • Comprehensive evaluation: An ethical dilemma should be resolved by considering all the options and taking a decision that gives ‘maximum welfare to maximum people’.

For Example

  • Compulsory retirement in MTNL & BSNL staff to reduce the cost of the company and provide cheaper services to consumers.
  • Merging of government schools to improve efficiency and synergy of resources
  • Disinvestment of PSUs like Shipping Corporation and BPCL to get funds for the development works

Value neutrality: Public employees should avoid biased views and make choices based on Neutrality.

  • Ex.The speaker of the house should provide opportunities to all members based on the values of Neutrality
  • Fusion: fusion of individual, organisational and social goals mitigate ethical dilemmas as a suitable option leads to all goals.
    • Ex. Green routes were provided to all ambulances from Balasore Rail accidents to Hospital at Katak, by halting normal traffic

Rule of law:The rule of law is fundamental to politics and society in general. Law provides the minimum standard for ethics.

  • Ex.Traffic rules and regulations bring order to city road traffic.

Ethical Issues in Private Institutions

Ethical Issues in Private Institutions

Business ethics are relevant to the behaviour of both individuals and the entire organization and apply to all facets of business conduct. 

Example: An honest salesman might have to sell a defective medical product which could affect the patient’s health.

Ethical Issues: 

Conflict of interest:

  • A situation in which an entity or individual becomes unreliable because of clash between personal interests and professional duties.


  • UK new policy on Child care will benefit Koru Kids in which Akshata Murty (wife of UK PM Rishi Sunak) has invested. 
  • Insider trading and manipulation of share prices: People are frequently compelled to engage in immoral behaviour by excessive market rivalry. Some employees are poached by companies seeking insider information.
    • Ex. SEBI held Rakesh Agarwal for insider trading and charged fine
  • Nepotism and favoritism: Nepotism and favoritism are generally seen in employment and appointments in an organisation where caste, clan or other identities overtake merit. This is also seen in the positions of the board of directors.
    • Ex. Chanda Kochar provided undue benefits to NuPower Renewables Private Limited a company owned by her husband, Deepak Kochhar.
  • Integrity of audit process: Companies occasionally manipulate their financial statements in order to appear financially stable and maintain high credit ratings.
    • Example: Hindenburg reports for the Adani enterprises flag audit reports of small firmshired by the group
  • Monopolistic tendencies: Companies often indulge in monopolistic tendencies in order to kill the competition in the market.
    • Example: Deep discounts by Online platforms and new tech companies 
  • Lobbying: Lobbying in some countries is ethical in which companies get benefits by lobbying the governments. Lobbying in a regulated manner is often recommended by experts. 
    • Example: Radia tape issues
  • Cartelisation and manipulation of the market: Private business enterprises usually involve in cartelisation in order to displace new entrants in the market or to earn higher profits.


  • OPEC countries to manipulate the price of Petroleum
  • Manipulation of prices by Arhartiyas in APMCs

Laws, Rules, Regulations and Conscience as a Source of Ethical Guidance


  • Society cannot be made strong by strong laws. For that people with good character is needed.  -  Swami Vivekananda
  • Laws are usually based on an ethical framework and aim to bring social order while controlling the immoral and unethical behaviour of individuals in society.


  • These are elaborated framework that is usually framed with an aim to bring simplification, facilitation, convenience etc. in order to guide the behaviour of individual or organisations.
    • Example: Information Technology Act, 2000 is a law and Information Technology Intermediary Guidelines Rules 2021 are framed to give effect to the law.


  • It is an attempt of authority to modify the behaviour of an individual and businesses.
    • Ex. Biometric Attendance system to avoid late arrival of employees

Difference between Laws and Rules:





Rules usually focus on individual good. Ex.

  • Rules of Pub regarding entry
  • Rules framed by schools for activities

Law seeks to increase public good and serve public interests. 


  •  Law to allow compulsory licensing of Patents helped pharmaceutical companies to develop generic cheap drugs for Cancers


Rules can be set by individuals, or by organisations. 


  •  Rules of Temple authority
  • Gym timing fix by the gym centre
  • Rules of IT companies to carry Digital device

Laws are enacted only by those in the exercise of sovereignty or government. Ex.

  •  Central government or State government
  • Ancient time, Kings were authorised to enact laws

Flexibility and violation

Rules are more flexible and have lighter consequences when broken. 


  •   Not following the Dress code to get entry into temple
  • Carrying Plastic bags in a society where plastic is ban
  • Use Photography in prohibited areas 

Laws are inflexible and carry stiff penalties including imprisonment and, in some cases, death. 


  •  Carrying prohibited arms in the public places
  • Use Old Diesel engine cars in Delhi


Rules are based on narrow technicalities 

  • Ex. Rules for games like Chess, Cricket

Based on broad principles. 

  • Protection of children from Child labour, Women safety at work place, taxation on Goods and Services etc.

Laws, Rules and Regulations are a Source of ethical guidance -

  • Regulate discretionary powers: Public servants have discretionary powers for governance, and that can be used for personal benefit. Laws, rules and regulations regulate this power by laying specific ‘dos and don’ts. 


  • Mandatory audit regulates bank officers to adhere to procedures while sanctioning loan 
  • Right to appeal to higher courts to regulate the power of Tribunals
  • Parliamentary procedures like Questions, Motions, and Parliamentary committees like JPC also limit the discretionary power of executives
  • Regulate actions: Laws, rules and regulations act as positive and negative enablers and encourage or prohibit action.
    • Example: The Prevention of Corruption Act prevents corruption and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act enables social audit.
  • Foster social justice: Social justice is fostered by the laws, rules and regulations by ensuring equality, Freedom of Expression etc.


  • Maternity benefits to women like paid leaves of 24 weeks
  • Horizontal reservation for specially abled persons (Divyang)
  • Prevention of Civil Rights Act 1955 prohibit untouchability
  • Human rights protection: Laws, rules and regulations encourage empathy towards the needy and thus promote human rights protection.


  • Minority Rights provided under the Constitution
  • Freeing of Bonded labour, providing technical skills to prisoners for their livelihood post convictions

Limitations of Laws, Rules and Regulations as a Source of ethical guidance

  • Lack of enforcement of laws: Laws, rules and regulations demand official machinery for their enforcement, lack of which might lead to unethical behaviour by individuals or organisations.
    • Example: There are laws for the protection of IPRs, but violations of copyrights, Patents are difficult to enforce
  • Evasive tendency: Enactment of laws, rules and regulations may not translate into ethical behaviour from individuals or organisations because of the tendency of non-compliance.


  • Child marriage in Rajasthan, child labour in line hotels, brick klins, tea gardens, diamond industry have been continued by evading Children Protection laws
  • People avoid fines under Motor Vehicle Amendment Act by carrying their vehicle by hand.
  • Finding loopholes: Laws, rules and regulations might not be able to envisage every possible scenario and therefore people might find loopholes in them.


  • Wilful defaulters like Vijay Mallya, Neerav Modi, Mehul Choksi etc. by tactically used provisions to escape loan payment 
  • Tax evasion by companies by finding loopholes in Income Tax Act.
  • Loopholes were used to deposit notes of Rs. 2000 and 500 during “Notebandi”
  • Negative perception: Some laws, rules and regulations might have negative perceptions among those who are obliged to perform under them.


  • Sedition law is seen from the frame of harassment and political vendetta.
  • Corporate Social Responsibility is perceived as an additional tax by some corporate. 
  • Lack of social maturity: Laws, rules and regulations might have good intentions but society might not be mature enough to accept them.


  • A portion of Muslim society opposes the Triple Talaq law, and some sections of Hindu society disagrees with the Supreme Court's decision in the Sabarimala case.
  • Cultural evils: Laws, rules and regulations cannot always provide protection against social evils.


    • Misuse of the Dowry Act and Domestic Violence provisions to harass family members of in-laws.
    • Sexual harassment of women at workplace despite having POSH Act.
    • The act to prohibit Female infanticide was enacted in the 1870s, however, it has been continued till now.
    • Maternity benefit provision also failed to provide facilities like Crèche and layoffs during pregnancies 
  • In spite of legal provisions for the protection of women but still rape/dowry cases are witnessed in literate societies like Kerala.


  • Hence, laws, rules and regulations are external sources of ethics. However, an ethical society can be made by ethical conscience.

Conscience as a Source of ethical guidance


  • Conscience without intelligence is blunt and Intelligence without conscience is numb - Bhagwat Gita
  • In a law a man is guilty when he violates the rights of others, in Ethics he is guilty even if he only thinks of doing so. - Immanuel Kant


  • Conscience: It is the inner sense of right or wrong that helps a person make correct decisions.
    • It also refers to a person's subjective awareness of their moral sense of right and wrong, which serves as a behavioural guide.


  • Vibhishana listened to his conscience and chose the path of righteousness, refusing to support his brother in his war against Ram. He was well aware that his brother Ravana had erred by abducting a married woman.

Difference between Law and Conscience:



Law applies principles of morality outside human beings.

  • Ex. Prohibition of Child Infanticide Act

Conscience acts within human beings and checks the morality of human actions.

  • Ex. A child feels uncomfortable watching his friend speak disrespectfully to her mother, and raise his voice against this

Law states a general rule. 

  • Ex.  Child Adoption Rule, Marriage Registration Rule

Conscience provides practical rules for specific actions and applies laws and rules to those specific actions.

  • Ex. To help injured people in an accident

Conscience is applicable even when the law is silent about our ethical course of action.

Ex. To supply fo