VOLUNTARY CODE OF CONDUCT
What’s in news?
A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is examining the need of “voluntary model code of conduct” to the legislatures at centre and state level.
- A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court is hearing arguments on whether Cabinet Ministers at both the Central and State levels should have a “voluntary model code of conduct” which addresses their private and public activities.
- The five-judge Bench is examining if “greater restrictions” should be imposed on the right of free speech and expression of high public functionaries to protect the citizen’s fundamental right to lead a dignified life.
- The court had to consider this issue post the filing of two separate petitions against the statements of Cabinet ministers.
Need for the code:
- Considering the special position of public office that one holds, such persons holding public offices can be thus subjected to better and meaningful public scrutiny. The code of conduct should reflect constitutional morality and values of good governance.
- The cabinet minister’s personal views are also bound to find larger traction in public life as compared to any other individual. Hence, there is a need to regulate.
- The Union Ministry of Home Affairs already has a code of conduct for Ministers, which is essentially concerned with financial discipline.
- At present, the code of conduct for ministers at the Centre and states includes the declaration of assets and liabilities. Ministers also can’t be part of any office of profit or associate with the conduct and management of any business, among others.
- This code is too narrow and inadequate and does not address the private and public activities of the ministers in general. Hence, there is a need for a separate code of conduct.
- The SC has taken a consistent stand in the past against the invocation of any further restrictions on the free speech of citizens, and public men should be no exception.
What can be done?
- The earlier guidelines were silent on many aspects of governance. Therefore, there was a need to revisit the existing guidelines, such as the use of official vehicles, giving media interviews, etc.
- Aspects such as a minister’s conduct on social media, rules to be followed while making a recommendation, travel sanctions and restrictions on using official bungalow for party work, receiving gifts from foreign dignitaries in India and abroad, and attending private events need to be considered in the code of conduct.
- The government should frame the code of conduct for Cabinet Ministers, with the Cabinet head ensuring a collective responsibility for the activities of the individual ministers.
- UK’s ministerial code framed in 2015 can serve as a template for the new code of conduct.
Links to note: