Discipline and Disciplinary Action

Discipline and Disciplinary Action:

Like the power to appoint and promote, the power to punish is also vested in the Head of the Department. In some countries, this power is in the hands of an independent body like a public service commission or some other tribunal. Punishment of an erring employee is essential both as a correctional exercise as well as a means to prevent him and others from repeating the error.

The Tomblin Commission of Britain strongly rejected the proposal to create a central board for hearing appeals against disciplinary orders and affirmed that this power must remain in the hands of the departmental authorities. Departmental Authorities are better equipped to judge the gravity of each case of indiscipline and take suitable remedial action against the erring employees as well as for preventing further violations of the conduct rules.

However, against this logic, Stahle argues, “No organization is so perfect, no executive so ingenious, no personnel system so infallible that any of them can continuously avoid some measures of punishment for wrongful behavior or poor performance of employees.”

In the context of public administration, disciplinary action means the administrative action taken to correct the misbehavior of an employee in relation to the performance of his job. Disciplinary action is initiated to prevent the deterioration of individual inefficiency and to ensure that it should not spread to other employees.

Conceptualizing discipline, Spriegel writes “Discipline is the force that prompts an individual or a group to observe the rules, regulations, and procedures which are deemed to be necessary to the attainment of an objective; it is a force or fear of force which restrains an individual or a group from doing things which are deemed to be destructive of group objectives. It is also the exercise of restraint or the enforcement of penalties for the violations of group regulations.”

In simple words, we can say that disciplinary action means punishment to government employees for a lapse of duty or violation of the rules of conduct.

Prof. L.. D. White has enumerated, as under, the circumstances where disciplinary action against public servants can be taken:

  • Inattention to duty expressing itself as tardiness, laziness, carelessness, breakage, loss of property, etc.
  • Inefficiency.
  • In-subordination i.e. refusal to obey orders or violations of laws or rules or disloyalty towards the organization.
  • Immorality.
  • Lack of integrity i.e., indulgence in bribery, corruption, etc.
  • Violation of the recognized code of ethics example- failure to pay debts, appearing in public in an intoxicated condition, failure to show proper deference to official supervisors and due courtesy to colleagues and members of the public, and being guilty of conduct unbecoming of an officer generally.

We can generalize the following causes for disciplinary proceedings against the employees:

  • Embezzlement.
  • Falsification of accounts.
  • Fraudulent claims (for example- wrong TA/DA or medical claims).
  • Forgery of documents.
  • Theft of government property.
  • Defrauding the government.
  • Bribery.
  • Corruption.

Other types of conduct amounting to a misdemeanor are:

  • Disobedience of orders.
  • Insubordination.
  • Misbehaviour with superior officers or with colleagues or with subordinates or with members of the public.
  • Misconduct.

Types of Disciplinary Action:

Disciplinary action may be informal or formal. Informal disciplinary action may mean assignment to a less desirable work, closer supervision, denial or withholding of privileges, refraining from holding consultation in relevant matters, rejection of proposals or recommendations made by the defaulter, etc. The formal disciplinary action follows where the offense is serious and can be legally established. In such cases, the penalties which can be imposed on the members are in the form of minor or major penalties.

(1) Minor Penalties include:

  • Censure.
  • Withholding of promotion.
  • Recovery from the pay of the whole or part of any loss caused to the government.
  • Withholding of increments of pay.

(2) Major Penalties include:

  • Reduction to a lower stage in the time scale of pay for a specified period.
  • Reduction to a lower time scale of pay, grade, or post.
  • Compulsory retirement or dismissal from service.
  • Initiation of criminal proceedings in the court of law against the erring personnel.

Procedure for Taking Disciplinary Action:

In government service, both superior officers and their subordinates are the servants of the public. An official superior cannot, therefore, punish or dismiss his subordinates in a summary fashion as can be done in the case of private administration.

In the case of public servants, the established procedure has to be followed in all disciplinary cases, particularly those likely to result in removal or dismissal. As part of the established procedure which has to be followed, the following successive steps have to be taken:

  • Calling for an explanation from the employee against whom disciplinary action is proposed to be taken.
  • If the explanation is not forthcoming or is unsatisfactory, framing of charges has to be undertaken.
  • Suspension of the employee if his continuance in his position is likely to prejudice the coming forth of evidence against him.
  • Hearing of the charges and giving a reasonable opportunity to the accused to defend himself.
  • Arriving at the findings and preparing a report. 
  • Issuing the punishment order or exoneration decision as the case may be.
  • The employee can file an appeal against the findings to an appropriate authority. Whenever a subordinate authority is empowered to impose a penalty, a provision always exists for at least one appeal to a higher authority.

The authority deciding a disciplinary case can withhold an appeal if:

  • It is not permissible under the rules.
  • It is not delivered in proper form and not preferred through the proper channel.
  • It is preferred six months after the date of the communication of the order appealed against.
  • It is a repetition of a previous appeal to the same authority.
  • It is not addressed to an authority to which the appeal lies under the rules.

No appeal lies against the withholding of an appeal by a competent authority.

Thus, in connection with appeals in India, no outside authority can intervene at any stage. The Constitution no doubt provides for consultation with the Union or the State Public Service Commission as the case may be “on all disciplinary matters affecting a person serving the Government of India or of a State in civil capacity” but such consultations are limited only to those cases where the disciplinary orders are to be passed by the President of India or by the Governor of the concerned state.

In fact, in each system of public administration, there exists a code of conduct that the civil servants are bound to observe, failing which they become liable to disciplinary action according to the set procedure.

The code of conduct and discipline should be used to promote self-discipline. It should be used more as a preventive and less as a punitive device. Penalties are to be applied only after the failure of the preventive measures. In this connection, Paul Pigors and Charles A. Myers make several suggestions for securing true discipline.

  • True discipline begins with an effort to foster mutual understanding and an organization-centered view among the employees.
  • True discipline is fair.
  • It is consistent with sound principles of human relations.
  • It is in accord with a policy statement on discipline which is clear and well-known to all.
  • It is based on the implementation of those ideas which have been worked out by conferring with the representatives of those who are subject to discipline.
  • True discipline takes account of any extenuating features in each situation where someone feels that discipline is called for.

But the Rules of Conduct for public employees are not as stern as they appear to be, for there is laxity in their enforcement in the face of frequent and numerous lapses. The Rules of Discipline likewise are rarely invoked. Inefficiency and corruption are commonly found evils in the administration. It is not rules that make a good civil servant but his own standard of conduct imposed by his own conscience. True discipline has to be from within. No amount of imposition and imposed discipline can be successful in preventing employees from indulging in corrupt practices. They have to be taught the virtue of true discipline as discipline from within through proper education and training. Use of disciplinary action should be made only when it becomes essential and in all such cases, it should be taken objectively and systematically.

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