New Delhi: Two months after he resigned from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in protest against the central government’s actions in Jammu & Kashmir, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has proposed a departmental inquiry against Kannan Gopinathan.
According to an MHA memorandum dated 24 October, which was shared by Gopinathan on Twitter Wednesday, an inquiry has been proposed against him under Rule 8 of the All India Services (Discipline & Appeal) Rules 1969, on grounds of “misconduct” and “misbehaviour”.
Rule 8(2) of the All India Service (Discipline and Appeal) Rules 1969 says, “Whenever the disciplinary authority is of the opinion that there are grounds for inquiring into the truth of any imputation of misconduct or misbehaviour against a member of the service, it may appoint under this rule or under the provisions of the Public Servants (Inquiries) Act 1850, as the case may be, an authority to inquire into the truth thereof.”
Gopinathan, who has been directed to acknowledge the receipt of the memorandum within 15 days, has been accused of several acts “unbecoming of a government servant”, insubordination and dereliction of duty, among other things.
In a series of tweets, Gopinathan referred to the communication as a “chargesheet”, but it is only a showcause notice.
Gopinathan is a 2012-batch IAS officer of the AGMUT (Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Union Territories) cadre, who rose to prominence for his relief efforts during the devastating Kerala floods last year.
He resigned from the IAS about 20 days after the Modi government scrapped Article 370 of the Constitution, which gave special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir. Sources in the IAS Association had told ThePrint at the time that Gopinathan had been “very disturbed” by the restrictions that followed in Kashmir, including a complete internet and phone connectivity lockdown.
‘Didn’t attend office’
The MHA has accused Gopinathan of not reporting to work since 26 August even though he had been directed to continue attending his assigned duties until a decision was taken on his resignation by the competent authority.
Memo for departmental inquiry given after 2 months of submitting resignation. First page 😂 pic.twitter.com/XhVjQg4QW4
— Kannan Gopinathan (@naukarshah) November 6, 2019
“The aforesaid act of unauthorised absence and staying away from the headquarter without prior approval from the competent authority shows grave misconduct on part of Shri Kannan Gopinathan, IAS (AGMUT 2012) as the officer has failed to maintain absolute integrity, devotion to duty and acted in a manner unbecoming of a government servant, thereby violated Rule 3 of the All India Service (Conduct) Rules (1968),” the communication by MHA states.
Rule 3 of the ambiguously-worded conduct rules states, “Every member of the service shall at all times maintain absolute integrity and devotion to duty and shall do nothing which is unbecoming of a member of the service.”
Gopinathan has also been accused of “unauthorisedly communicating with print, electronic and social media on the issues of government policies and such criticism of government policies on his part is capable of embarrassing the relations of the central government with other organisations including foreign state”.
This act, too, is in violation of conduct rules, the MHA communication states.
According to Rule 7 of the conduct rules, “No member of the service shall, in any radio broadcast or communication over any public media or in any document published anonymously, pseudonymously or in his own name or in the name of any other person or in any communication to the press or in any public utterance, make any statement of fact or opinion, which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy or action of the central government or a state government; is capable of embarrassing the relations between the central government and any state government; or is capable of embarrassing the relations between the central government and the government of any foreign state.”
Other allegations against Gopinathan include not processing policy matters in time, delaying a certain assignment, and not submitting files relating to nominations for the Prime Minister’s Award for states/UTs for innovation in public administration.
Ambiguous conduct rules
The memorandum issued against Gopinathan has once again brought the dreaded conduct rules into the limelight, which many civil servants believe are often used arbitrarily by the government to target certain officers.
Last year, the government had similarly initiated a departmental inquiry against former IAS officer Shah Faesal of the J&K cadre, over a tweet about the prevalence of rape in South Asia. According to the notice sent to Faesal, his comments were “prima facie in contravention of all India service rules”.
Responding to the notice, Faesal, who is now a politician, said the inquiry against him was “an opportunity to reopen the debate around primitive service rules for government employees”.
Facing disciplinary proceedings under the provisions of the Central Civil Service Rules, Ashish Joshi, a 1992-batch officer of the Indian Post and Telecommunication Accounts and Finance Service, had also called the directives “highly subjective.”
“According to the conduct rules, action can be taken against any conduct which is seen as ‘unbecoming’. Now, this is highly subjective… The law should define what exactly constitutes ‘unbecoming’ conduct, otherwise the misuse is inevitable,” he had said earlier this year.
Joshi was suspended by the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) earlier this year for “misusing” his official letterhead to file a complaint against Delhi MLA Kapil Mishra for uploading an incendiary video online.