Value Added Article: Do We Need a Neutral Bureaucracy | Category – Civil Service | Source – EPW

Relevance : GS Paper 2 & 4 ( Civil Service & Ethics)



Theme of the Article

Neutrality helps enlightened public officials escape the honeycomb-like structure of a partisan government.

Why has this issue cropped up?

Recently, an open letter was written by more than 80 retired bureaucrats to the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP).

Significance of such a letter

  • First, it is written keeping in view the normative principles of the Indian Constitution as the reference point. It is committed to receive the command from the Constitution. It shows that public officials are not slaves to either the politicians or any other authority other than the moral authority of the Constitution.
  • Second, it shows that the principle of neutrality implies a measure of independence both from the partisan interests of the government of the day and the exogenous agenda that prompts certain social groups to cow others down to humiliating vulnerability..
  • Third, the letter also suggests that failure of the government makes the discussion on post-bureaucratic society ­irrelevant. In India, we do require constitutionally committed bureaucracy. Do we not? Bureaucracy is neutral in terms of ideology and politics.
  • Finally, and most importantly, it also suggests that even in the post-retirement period, public officials could make significant interventions for more noble purposes underlying the good society even without joining a particular brand of formal politics.

Commitment to Constitutional Principles

  • For a genuine public official, commitment to constitutional principles is not only a lifelong project, but, more importantly, it can be carried out without any political or ideological mediation. It does not have to relate itself, for example, to the constitutional principle of justice, politics or ideology.
  • The Constitution serves as the standard by which one can measure the capacity of a bureaucracy to remain committed to peace, harmony and justice.
  • They are supposed to give an account of how much their in-service performance favoured the constitutional ideal. This account-giving becomes important in a context where some of our public ­officials have not been able to keep their caste/patriarchy and the acute consciousness of hatred outside the office premises.

Moral functions of Bureaucrats

Public officials have two interrelated moral functions.

  • First, to protect the very state of which it is a part from being ­disrupted or being undermined by the disquieting elements from civil society.
  • Second, to prevent the disruptive efforts of a society that is ridden with caste and patriarchal consciousness.
  • On the one hand, the formative conditions to perform these twin tasks involve public officials’ moral capacity to resist anti-constitutional interests that the government of the day may try to push.
  • And, on the other, they, through their active intervention, need to translate these constitutional principles to understand everyday forms of people’s problematic social practice.


Bureaucracy serves as the third and neutral term that can be socially effective without the aid of politics or ideology. The neutrality principle  has a moral function to prevent public officials from becoming slaves to the government of the day.