Case Study 15

As a senior officer in the Ministry, you have access to important policy decisions and upcoming big announcements such as road construction projects before they are notified in the public domain. The Ministry is about to announce a mega road project for which the drawings are already in place. Sufficient care was taken by the planners to make use of the government land with the minimum land acquisition from private parties. The compensation rate for private parties was also finalized as per government rules. Care was also taken to minimize deforestation.

Once the project is announced, it is expected that there will be a huge spurt in real estate prices in and around that area.

Meanwhile, the Minister concerned insists that you realign the road in such a way that it comes closer to his 20 acres of the farmhouse. He also suggests that he would facilitate the purchase of a big plot of land in your wife’s name at the prevailing rate, which is very nominal, in and around the proposed mega-road project. He also tries to convince you by saying that there is no harm in it as he is buying the land legally. He even promises to supplement your savings in case you do not have sufficient funds to buy the land. However, by the act of realignment, a lot of agricultural lands has to be acquired, thereby causing a considerable financial burden on the government, and also the displacement of the farmers.

As if this is not enough, it will involve cutting down a large number of trees denuding the area of its green cover.

Faced with this situation, what will you do? Critically examine various conflicts of interest and explain what your responsibilities are as a public servant.


This is a case of political corruption and a test of my integrity and uprightness as a senior bureaucrat. The situation challenges my morality and professional ethics.

In this situation I have to fulfil my duty and responsibility as a senior bureaucrat –

  1. I have to work with integrity, honesty & truthfulness and diligence. I will make my intention clear for not being party to any form of corruption. 
  2. I must give free and fair advice to political executives without any fear to usher in good and ethical governance.
  3. I must also guide my minister against ills of corruption for him and society.  
  4. I must act in the interest of farmers, the poor, the environment and society as a whole.
  5. I must protect myself and my wife from any potential loss of reputation and dignity on account of charges of corruption.
  6. The realignment will lead to loss to the public exchequer in the form of a larger financial burden for land acquisition. As a custodian of limited public finances, it is my duty to take measures so that public money is spent most rationally.
  7. To fulfill my above duties, I must muster courage and determination. I must protect myself from any internal hedonistic tendency and temptation through yoga, meditation and drawing motivation from literature and the life of great leaders and civil servants. 

I will use Gandhiji’s Talisman to take the final decision. I will work in the interest of the weak and vulnerable, farmers, and the environment and efficiently use public money to complete the project.

There are various conflicts of interest in the case –

  1. The professional interest of the concerned minister is in the efficient execution of the road project. This will create social capital and increase the trust and credibility of the government. However, his personal interest is an alteration of the project and an increase in the price of his farmhouse.
  2. For me as a bureaucrat, it is in my professional interest to have cordial relations with my minister. But professional values, accountability and responsibility to the nation are more important.
  3. For my wife there is an opportunity to buy new assets, however not at the cost of my integrity, dignity and reputation.

The following are my responsibilities as a public servant –

  1. Safeguarding mine and my organizational values. I have to protect the probity of my office, the work culture of the organisation and the reputation of my ministry.
  2. I am responsible to guide my minister and persuade him against any act of corruption that will be subsequently known after an audit or whistle-blowing.
  3. I am responsible to fulfill the fiduciary responsibility of the government to complete the project cost-effectively.
  4. In the spirit of ethical governance, I must ensure minimum land acquisition, farmer suffering and deforestation and harm to the environment.
  5. Trust reposed by people in government must not be breached.    

First Cabinet Secretary of independent India N.R. Pillai said, “The public servant of the day, and still more of tomorrow, should be one rich in human sympathy and with a fully awakened social conscience.” I will try to live up to his expectation.

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