How drained would we feel after a wedding reception in our family? Would such events be usually bereft of tension and tantrums from some quarter? Would we grudge a few 'heat of the moment' outbursts by the hosts and those in the thick of arrangements? If that's the case for a sort of one-off gathering of about a thousand known people, imagine having to manage over a crore ardent devotees over a month and a half, with over two lakh queuing up every day for a darshan of Athi Varadar in Kanchipuram? The viral video clip of the Collector vociferously reprimanding an inspector of police for what he considered a lapse must not be viewed in isolation but in the context of unprecedented crowd management.
For starters, the collector was seen manning the VIP queue himself on a few days. Letting off steam under pressure is a normal human response. But smooth seas do not make good sailors. The litmus test of leadership is keeping your cool under trying circumstances. In my opinion, the collector ought not to have screamed at an officer in uniform in full public glare in that manner. By threatening to suspend the officer and calling for the Inspector General of Police, the collector was out of line. At best, he could have made a complaint to the Superintendent of Police of the concerned district and steered clear of a Queen Victoria sort of proclamation on the spot! It would then be up to the Superintendent of Police or higher officials to deal with the allegedly errant official under the Tamil Nadu Police Subordinate Service (discipline and appeal) Rules, after following the principles of natural justice by giving him a fair hearing.
The inspector of police is not the direct subordinate of the collector. And an Inspector General of Police in the IPS is the equivalent of Secretary to the government in the IAS. Protocol does not allow a collector to direct his subordinates to get a superior ranking officer on the phone line.
Under Clause 3(iii) of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, officials must "do nothing which is unbecoming of a Government servant." Sub clause (viii) requires them to "promote the principles of merit, fairness and impartiality in the discharge of duties." Further, as per clause 3A (a), "no government servant shall in the performance of his official duties, act in a discourteous manner." No matter what, yelling at another public servant is neither a solution to the problem on hand, nor is it sanctioned by the conduct rules.
What magnified the act was the video recording. Imagine what that shelling would have done to the morale of the cop who is incharge of a police station in a neighbouring district and had been deployed to help the local authorities. Despite his oral apology, the hollering persisted.
Courts have taken a balanced view in such matters. The Uttaranchal high court in Praveen Pradhan Vs State of Uttaranchal held that "under the pretext of administrative control and discipline, a superior officer cannot be left to enjoy an extreme liberty to make the intense humiliation and scolding inhumanly in front of all the subordinate staff members for a little lapse. He may be free to take any administrative disciplinary action, as per rules, but cannot be permitted to enjoy the liberty, full of ego, to humiliate a subordinate..." Although this decision was overturned by the Supreme Court, the observations are pertinent.
However, in the face of extreme responses to such situations, the Supreme Court did not bat for hypersensitive subordinates. In Madan Mohan Singh Vs State of Gujarat, the apex court, struck a note of caution that if pulling up subordinates leads to prosecution, "it will be difficult for every superior officer even to work." A distinction needs to be made between giving a piece of one's mind and instigation to take undesireable steps. The Supreme Court in Chitresh Kumar Chopra Vs State (Government of NCT of Delhi) clarified that "Instigation is to goad, urge forward, provoke, incite or encourage to do 'an act'. A word uttered in a fit of anger or emotion without intending the consequences to actually follow, cannot be said to be instigation."
It is heartening to see a motivational message from the Director General of Police J.K. Tripathy to his force and a mature statement from the IPS Officers Association president DGP Prateep Philip. This is not an IAS Vs IPS tug of war but a momentary loss of composure of an officer under extreme pressure. Let's cut him some slack. That said, the carefully vetted statement of the collector, after media exposure, came across as damage control rather, than an expression of contrition. In his place, I would invite the Inspector over for a meal or a cup of tea, shake hands and post a selfie. The only thing that needs to be suspended and even dismissed, is rancour.
(The writer is an advocate at the Madras high court, columnist & author)...