Oral Directions to Civil Servants

Oral Directions to Civil ServantsWhere the fear of APAR is there, does a junior officer ever get a chance to record that superior officer has given the directions? Even if superior officer gives oral directions, it is actually imbibed by junior officer as his own noting. Both All India Civil Service Rules and Central Civil Service Rules covering most of the Government civil service contains the provision in Section3 from time immortal:

The direction of the official superior shall ordinarily be in writing. Oral direction to subordinates shall be avoided, as far as possible. Where the issue of oral direction becomes unavoidable, the official superior shall confirm it in writing immediately thereafter;

A Government servant who has received oral direction from his official superior shall seek confirmation of the same in writing as early as possible, whereupon it shall be the duty of the official superior to confirm the direction in writing.

Supreme Court Decision: “We, therefore, direct all the State Governments and Union Territories to issue directions like Rule 3(3) of the All India Services (Conduct) Rules, 1968, in their respective States and Union Territories which will be carried out within three months from today.

Oral Directions to Civil Servants

It is not understood why this is a big news for the media, except for creating expectation of unexpected. On the first reaction from most of the officers, it is found that without reading the judgement of supreme court, they have unanimously concluded that from now on all decisions shall be in writing. That superior officer shall give most of the directions in writing. However, with the decision of Hon’ble Supreme Court, nothing changes. Only that SC has emphasised that like AIS rule 3(3) applicable to All India Service Officers, the directions shall be issued by all state Government to be implemented for other officers too. What is means that now the method applied by IAS in the state Government shall need to be followed by other service personnel too like State Services / Provincial Services. There is no change in the way Rule 3 (3) is to be interpreted.

Rule 3 (3) in IAS and also in Central Civil Service has always been there from 1964 or so.

It is true that the civil servants cannot function on the basis of verbal or oral instructions, orders, suggestions, proposals, etc. and they must also be protected against wrongful and arbitrary pressure exerted by the administrative superiors, political executive, business and other vested interests. Further, civil servants shall also not have any vested interests. Resultantly, there must be some records to demonstrate how the civil servant has acted, if the decision is not his, but if he is acting on the oral directions, instructions, he should record such directions in the file. If the civil servant is acting on oral directions or dictation of anybody, he will be taking a risk, because he cannot later take up the stand, the decision was in fact not his own. Recording of instructions, directions is, therefore, necessary for fixing responsibility and ensure accountability in the functioning of civil servants and to uphold institutional integrity.

But does it really change anything in the system? The problem is not who records it, the problem is if it is ever recorded! Where the fear of APAR is there, does a junior officer ever get a chance to record that superior officer has given the directions? Even if superior officer gives oral directions, it is actually imbibed by junior officer as his own noting. And yes indeed he cannot later take up the stand, the decision was in fact not his own. Therefore, implementing the Supreme Court Decision in other Departments and ministries of state Government shall not make much difference in so far as AIS 3 (3) is concerned.

One of the discussion thread on Oral Directions in reference to RTI is available here

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  2. There is nothing new in this – as far as the Officers of the Central Government is concerned.
    The Central Secretariat Manual of Office Procedure deals adequately with “oral instructions”. Please read the Manual here: http://www.rtiindia.org/forum/7394-manual-office-procedure.html
    Extracts reproduced below:
    36. Oral discussions –

    (1) All points emerging from discussions (including telephonic discussions)
    between two or more officers of the same department or from discussions
    between officers of different departments, and the conclusions reached will be
    recorded on the relevant file by the officer authorising action.

    (2) All discussions/instructions/decisions which the officer recording them
    considers to be important enough for the purpose, should be got confirmed by all
    those who have participated in or are responsible for them. This is particularly
    desirable in cases where the policy of the government is not clear or where some
    important deviation from the prescribed policy is involved or where two or more
    level differ on significant issues or the decision itself, though agreed up to by all
    concerned, is an important one.

    37. Oral instructions by higher officers –

    (1) Where an officer is giving direction (including telephonic direction) for
    taking action in any case in respect of matters on which he or his subordinate has
    powers to decide, he shall ordinarily do so in writing. If, however, the
    circumstances of the case are such that there is no time for giving the instructions
    in writing, he should follow it up by a written confirmation at his earliest.

    (2) An officer shall, in the performance of his official duties, or in the exercise
    of the powers conferred on him, act in his best judgement except when he is
    acting under instructions of an official superior. In the latter case, he shall obtain
    the directions in writing wherever practicable before carrying out the instructions,
    and where it is not possible to do so, he shall obtain written confirmation of the
    directions as soon thereafter as possible. If the Officer giving the instructions is
    not his immediate superior but one higher to the latter in the hierarchy, he shall
    bring such instructions to the notice of his immediate superior at the earliest.

    38. Oral orders on behalf of or from Minister .-

    (1) Whenever a member of the personal staff of a Minister communicates to
    any officer an oral order on behalf of the Minister, it shall be confirmed by him in
    writing immediately thereafter.

    (2) If any officer receives oral instructions from the Minister or from his
    personal staff and the orders are in accordance with the norms, rules, regulations
    or procedures they should be brought to the notice of the Secretary (or the head of
    the department where the officer concerned is working in or under a non secretariat

    (3) If any Officer receives oral instructions from the Minister or from his
    personal staff and the orders are not in accordance with the norms, rules,
    regulations or procedures, he should seek further clear orders from the Secretary
    (or the head of the department in case he is working in or under a non-secretariat
    organisation) about the line of action to be taken, stating clearly that the oral
    instructions are not in accordance with the rules, regulations, norms or

    (4) In rare and urgent cases when the Minister is on tour/ is sick and his
    approval has to be taken on telephone the decision of the Minister can be
    conveyed by his Private Secretary. In such cases, confirmation will be obtained
    on file when the Minister returns to Headquarter/ rejoins.

    39. Confirmation of oral instructions .-

    (1) If an officer seeks confirmation of oral instructions given by his superior,
    the latter should confirm it in writing whenever such confirmation is sought.

    (2) Receipt of communications from junior Officers seeking confirmation of
    oral instructions should be acknowledged by the senior officers or their personal
    staff, or the personal staff of the Minister, as the case may be.