Western Railway, a zone of the Indian Railways that covers Maharashtra and Gujarat, has asked its employees not to criticise the government or any of its recent policy decisions and actions on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and even Whatsapp.
According to a report published in The Telegraph, an order signed by Maitreyee Brahmo, the chief personnel officer of Western Railway, said, "It has come to notice that railway servants are indulging in messages/chats on various social media including their closed user groups which tantamounts (sic) to criticism of the government."
Western Railway is considered one of the busiest among the 17 zones of the Indian Railways and has thus become the first unit of the central government to ask its employees to not criticise the government on social media.
Government officials have always been barred from criticising government policy or making statements that embarrass the Centre's relations with a state government or a foreign country, according to the All India Service (Conduct) Rules of 1968.
But the provision only spoke about criticism made in a radio broadcast, public media (such as television) or documents. Social media did not exist back then and was not mentioned in the 1968 code of conduct. The new order seeks to bring social media under the purview of restrictions since many government officials are tech savvy and regularly use social media to interact with the public.
The All India Service (Conduct) Rules was amended in July 2016 to bar government officials from making any statement critical of the government on social media platforms shortly after an IAS officer, Ajay Gangwar 'liked' a Facebook post criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A railway official told The Telegraph, "When the original rules were drafted, there was no social media. So it's only a matter of time before this clause is included in the rules. If Western Railway has taken the initiative, it must have had reason to do so."
While this may seem antithetical in a democracy where the prime minister, after a month in office, said, "Our democracy will not sustain if we can't guarantee freedom of speech and expression", such restrictions are not unique to India.
Back in 2011, a British civil servant, Mark Upton was sacked after he mocked ministers in tweets from an account under the pseudonym 'The Naked Civil Servant'.
In the US, Gary Stein, a marine sergeant was sacked after he was openly critical of President Barack Obama and his policies on Facebook.
Also on HuffPost India.