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Ethics case study

6 Solved Questions with Answers
  • 2018

    7. Rakesh is a responsible district level officer, who enjoys the trust of his higher officials. Knowing his honesty, the government entrusted him with the responsibility of identifying the beneficiaries under a health care scheme meant for senior citizens.

    The criteria to be a beneficiary are the following:

    (a) 60 years of age or above.

    (b) Belonging to a reserved community.

    (c) Family income of less than 1 Lakh rupees per annum.

    (d) Post-treatment prognosis is likely to be high to make a positive difference to the quality of life of the beneficiary.

    One day, an old couple visited Rakesh’s office with their application. They have been the residents of a village in his district since their birth. The old man is diagnosed with a rare condition that causes obstruction in the large intestine. As a consequence, he has severe abdominal pain frequently that prevents him from doing any physical labour. The couple has no children to support them. The expert surgeon whom they contacted is willing to do the surgery without charging any fee. However, the couple will have to bear the cost of incidental charges, such as medicines, hospitalization, etc., to the tune of rupees one lakh. The couple fulfils all the criteria except criterion ‘b’. However, any financial aid would certainly make a significant difference in their quality of life.

    How should Rakesh respond to the situation? (2018)

    As a district level officer, Rakesh is entrusted with responsibility of identifying the beneficiaries under health care scheme for senior citizens. During the process, he came across a form submitted by old couple seeking inclusion as beneficiaries in the scheme, but unfortunately they do not belong to reserved community which is one of the criteria for inclusion in scheme.

    The stakeholders in the case are old aged couple who are from economically weaker section but do not belong to any reserved community. On other hand, there is competing rights of the old age people from reserved community.

    As a district level officer, duty of Rakesh is to follow the rules and norms of the work but as a human and civil servant, he has responsibility towards citizens in general and old age people in particular.

    On receiving the application, his immediate course of action should be to hold meeting with the surgeon who is willing to do the surgery free of cost. The prime focus during the discussion should be to know the details of condition of the applicant, his health, and kind of care required post surgery.

    After the said meeting with doctor, Rakesh should hold meetings with NGOs working in health sector for old age people and public spirited citizens. The course of action should be to crowd source funds to meet the incidental charges and providing post surgery care.

    Rakesh should also forward an application to his superiors in the district with the details of the case requesting them, if possible, from DM welfare fund for financial support for this specific case.

    These immediate steps are to ensure support to the couple in consideration. As midterm solution, Rakesh should try to organise awareness among citizens of district regarding Integrated Programme for Older Persons (IPOP). Secondly, he should hold meeting with NGOs, public institutions and public spirited citizens to organise outreach programme. He should make proposal and effort for proving space and creating awareness about PM Jan Aushadhi Kendra at District, Block and Village level.

    This case cannot be taken in isolation as there would be many more poor people in need. Taking this case as base, Rakesh may propose his seniors to consider insertion of sub category for economically weaker section. Sub categorization can be considered as inclusive of landless poor, old people without children and people without any permanent source of income.

  • 2018

    8. 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. 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 farmhouse. He also suggests that he would facilitate the purchase of a big plot of land in your wife 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 of 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. (2018)

    As a senior officer in the Ministry I have certain authorities and with authority there are responsibilities towards society.

    In the above case, there are certain conflicts of interest:

    My economic interest vs. interest of farmers: The offer of the Minister will strengthen me economically, but it will also result in great loss to the farmers as large displacement of farmers will take place. Moreover, my ethical values do not allow me to favour the Minister and thus I will stand with the original project.

    Minister’s interest vs. professional interest: If I do not consider the Minister’s proposal, it may cost me. Disregarding his wish will irritate him and I may have to pay a cost – maybe in the form of an unfavourable transfer. On considering his proposal, I will get benefitted in future with higher posts. But I will prepare myself for the impending situation and I will take the decision in favour of the society not the Minister.

    My economic interest and that of minister vs. environment: Our combined interest is very harmful for environment as it may result in cutting down of a large number of trees denuding the area of its green cover. As a responsible public servant, I shall keep aside the vested interests and shall consider the original project.

    Minister’s interest vs. financial burden on the Government: Minister’s proposal will cause financial burden on government as more money and labour will be needed for realigning the road. Instead, this money can be used for other welfare programmes.

    Moral Conflict: Till now, I have done my services on moral values and with honesty and accepting the offer will rob me of my mental peace. It will also degrade my values which are my pillars of strength. For fulfilling my economic needs, the salary provided to me from the Government is enough.

    Given the above situation, I will ask the Ministry to announce the project with all nitty-gritties in public domain as soon as possible to minimize any kind of corruption. I will inform my seniors about the Minister’s intention. If they help me then it’s good, otherwise I will take help of NGOs and media houses to uncover the case. This will make moral and public pressure on the Minister to take back the proposal.

  • 2018

    9. It is a State where prohibition is in force. You are recently appointed as the Super-intendent of Police of a district notorious for illicit distillation of liquor. The illicit liquor leads to many death, reported and unreported, and causes a major problem for the district authorities.

    The approach till now had been to view it as a law and order problem and tackle it accordingly. Raids, arrest, police cases, and criminal trials – all these had only limited impact. The problem remains as serious as ever.

    Your inspections show that the parts of the district where the distillation flourishes are economically, industrially and educationally backward. Agriculture is badly affected by poor irrigation facilities. Frequent clashes among communities gave boost to illicit distillation. No major initiatives had taken place in the past either from the government’s side or from social organizations to improve the lot of the people.

    Which new approach will you adopt to bring the problem under control? (2018)

    As evident, the issue of illicit distillation is not limited to law and order but expands to life and economy of the place. The problem of illicit liquor is directly linked with lack of social cohesion, poor economic opportunities and low awareness among people. Thus, in spite of all prohibition and ill effects, it is still in demand by the locals.

    Besides taking more stringent steps of legal nature which will work as last resort, there is need to initiate actions based on bringing attitudinal change; social persuasion; followed by ground level action by civil society and people themselves.

    I will take following steps as Superintendent of district police:

    My first focus will be to eradicate the socio-economic disadvantages of the region. Looking from humanistic angle, it is generally found that psychological aspects are also involved in the given ill practice, where people in hardship find refuge in intoxication.

    I will promote the agricultural, small scale, and cottage industries. Promoting more participation of people in agricultural activities will act as motivation for more positive engagement and investment at right places.

    I will promote SHGs to cooperate with government and police department.

    I will deploy police personnel (without uniform) and volunteer groups at grass root level.

    An app will be launched to report any illicit distillation, places of imminent dangers, violence, etc. The App is to be monitored by police for swift action.

    Use of persuasion

    I will also organise education campaigns at local level to instill awareness among people incentivise opening of small works of handicrafts, agricultural credits, etc. Besides, awareness campaigns in schools will also be organised, where parents will be invited and educative lectures and dramas on ill effects of liquor, and its impact on social-economic lives will be shown.

    Street plays will be organized and community will be mobilized in support of liquor ban. By participating in street play, and listening to it, the consciousness of a person will be shaken and he can be reformed.

    I will encourage women to persuade their male family members against intoxication.

    The prime motive is of total prohibition on illicit distillation but given the situation on ground, it is prudent to first pursue with socio-economic, psychological, and ethical considerations. Going by this, it will curb the demand of liquor by locals and would help in proper enforcement by taking legal recourse at last.

  • 2018

    10. A big corporate house is engaged in manufacturing industrial chemicals on a large scale. It proposes to set up an additional unit. Many states rejected its proposal due to the detrimental effect on the environment. But one state government acceded to the request and permitted the unit close to a city, brushing aside all opposition.

    The unit was set up 10 years ago and was in full swing till recently. The pollution caused by the industrial effluents was affecting the land, water and crops in the area. It was also causing serious health problems to human beings and animals. This gave rise to a series of agitations demanding the closure of the plant. In a recent agitation thousands of people took part, creating a law and order problem necessitating stern police action. Following the public outcry, the State government ordered the closure of the factory.

    The closure of the factory resulted in the unemployment of not only those workers who were engaged in the factory but also those who were working in the ancillary units. It also very badly affected those industry which depended on the chemicals manufactured by it.

    As a senior officer entrusted with the responsibility of handling this issues, how are you going to address it? (2018)

    As a senior officer, it is my responsibility that the given issue should be addressed in such manner that the problem related to environment and health of thousands of citizens must be taken care of along with the issue of unemployment and industrial growth of state due to closing down of factory.

    Since the situation in state is volatile due to series of agitations, one of the quick solutions would be to close down the factory permanently. This will only solve the immediate existing problem of law and order by pacifying the public.

    However, doing so will adversely affect the employment and economic development of state. Also, since it is a big corporate, it can shift its plant to other state, leading to the same problems but at some other place.

    It would be morally and ethically wrong for me to shift the problem to some other place and consequently putting the health of people there at risk rather than providing a sustainable solution for the existing problem.

    Therefore, as a responsible officer, I would like to suggest the following steps:

    Firstly, an immediate scientific assessment of damage done to surrounding environment should be done. The company, guided by local community, should take immediate steps to de-contaminate the site and surrounding environment.

    As it is a large corporate, investment will not be an issue. It should set up state-of-the-art infrastructure facilities for effluent treatment. This will help bring down effluent discharge to permissible level recommended by Pollution Control Boards, which will not affect health and ecology adversely.

    Secondly, the company along with government should be asked to provide a monetary compensation for those affected, including those who were unemployed during closure of factory, in order to address their health problems and economic losses.

    Thirdly, the company should be allowed to show the above expenditure in its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) contribution, to provide reasonable relief to the company as well.

    Fourthly, an investigation should be done to find out whether environmental rules were flouted while giving permission to set up factory ten years back or were there lacunae in the state’s Environmental Impact Assessment norms which were used by company. At the same time the inspection should be done to find out that other companies are not flouting norms and polluting the environment.

    Fifthly, a training programme should be institutionalized for state police to train them to handle large people’s movement sensitively as the concerns of people protesting were genuine.

    As per my understanding, this would be the best approach to deal with this issue as it creates a win-win situation for all the stakeholders - the company, the state government, the employees and most importantly the common people.

  • 2018

    11. Dr X is a leading medical practitioner in a city. He has set up a charitable trust through which he plans to establish a super-speciality hospital in the city to cater to the medical needs of all sections of the society. Incidentally, that part of the State had been neglected over the years. The proposed hospital would be a boon for the region.

    You are heading the tax investigation agency of that region. During an inspection of the doctor’s clinic, your officers have found out some major irregularities. A few of them are substantial which had resulted in considerable withholding of tax that should be paid by him now. The doctor is cooperative. He undertakes to pay the tax immediately.

    However, there are certain other deficiencies in his tax compliance which are purely technical in nature. If these technical defaults are pursued by the agency, considerable time and energy of the doctor will be diverted to issues which are not so serious, urgent or even helpful to the tax collection process. Further, in all probability, it will hamper the prospects of the hospital coming up.

    There are two options before you:

    (1) Taking a broader view, ensure substantial tax compliance and ignore defaults that are merely technical in nature.

    (2) Pursue the matter strictly and proceed on all fronts, whether substantial or merely technical.

    As the head of the tax agency, which course of action will you opt and why? (2018)

    In the present case Dr. X, a leading medical practitioner through his charitable trust is planning to establish a super specialty hospital in backward region of the state.

    Any irregularity or non compliance of tax at the end of assesses or tax department is illegal and a crime against the law of the land. Being the head of the tax investigation agency, my duty towards the department is to ensure that assesses comply with tax norms and pay taxes according to the law. As per my work ethics, I must abide by the rules and regulations of the department.

    It has been found that there has been cases of irregularity in the clinic. Some irregularities are of substantial nature and of them, few are technical in nature that has led to withholding of tax. Dr. X undertakes to pay the tax immediately.

    Super Specialty Hospital in backward region will cater to health needs of people of neglected area. Duty to the humanity is a greater service, and my duty is also towards my fellow citizens. My immediate focus will be on getting substantial irregularity fixed and get the pending tax amount paid. For technical irregularity, a dedicated team will be formed to get it solved in time bound manner.

    As a medium term solution to the problem, as mentioned in the case, a team of officers and CAs will be formed to create awareness and educate the tax payers in compliance process.

    In long term, a white paper will be tabled to the concerned ministry proposing ease in tax compliance process by use of technology, reducing paper work and making the process online and user friendly.

    This will enable the department to handle any such case in near future and also make the tax payer less burdened with complex paper works.

  • 2018

    12. Edward Snowden, a computer expert and former CIA administrator, released confidential Government documents to the press about the existence of Government surveillance programmes. According to many legal experts and the US Government, his action violated the Espionage act of 1971, which identified the leak of State secret as an act of treason. Yet, despite the fact that he broke the law, Snowden argued that he had a moral obligation to act. He gave a justification for his “whistle blowing” by stating that he had a duty “to inform the public as to that which is done in there name and that which is done against them.”

    According to Snowden, the Government’s violation of privacy had to be exposed regardless of legality since more substantive issues of social action and public morality were involved here. Many agreed with Snowden. Few argued that he broke the law and compromised national security, for which he should be held accountable.

    Do you agree that Snowden’s actions were ethically justified even if legally prohibited? Why or why not? Make an argument by weighing the competing values in this case. (2018)

    Individual freedom and rights at one hand and larger interest of society or the nation on the other are perennial source of conflict. The given situation also highlights the very same fact. There are times when two competing values create dilemma. Here the competing values are (1) morality and legality and (2) individual liberty (privacy) and national security.

    Morality vs Legality

    These both values are closely related as both seek to regulate human behavior and actions. But actions which may be legally correct may not be morally correct or vice-versa. It is an eternal dilemma which will occur in the future as well. Law is necessary to maintain order and minimum co-ordination in the society. Morality is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper. Both seek justice in different ways and help attaining stability in the society. Establishing precedence of one over other would not be a wise option. In this case, Edward Snowden has legally violated the Espionage Act, 1917, but his act must be looked with his intentions to serve the larger public good.

    Individual Liberty vs National Security

    Individual liberty (privacy) seeks to provide individual space to humans. This value respects the intricate relations of a person, personal feelings of people etc., which are essential because we are humans. National security seeks protection of society from all kinds of threats and it is the duty of the state to protect its citizens, boundaries, economy etc. No nation becomes great by dwarfing its own individual. The surveillance programme was a gross violation of its own mandate. Snowden’s act in this case should not be considered as threat to national security.

    In the above mentioned conditions, it should be understood that all these values cannot propagate mutually exclusive to each other. There must be certain limitations or domain under which national security and individual liberty should operate. Legality and morality come to one’s conscience. Conscience can be a compass in difficult demanding conditions. In the mentioned case, Snowden was in a dilemma and surveillance was a gross violation in the name of national security, so he was right in exposing the government.

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