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Day 58 – Q 2.What is rule of law? How does it help in addressing ethical dilemmas in government? Examine.

2. What is rule of law? How does it help in addressing ethical dilemmas in government? Examine.

कानून का शासन क्या है? इससे सरकार में नैतिक दुविधाओं को दूर करने में कैसे मदद मिलती है? जांच करें ।


Rule of law is a legal principle that law should govern a nation, as opposed to being governed by arbitrary decisions of individual government officials. It primarily refers to the influence and authority of law within society, particularly as a constraint upon behavior, including behavior of government officials.


The doctrine of rule of law has its origin in England and is given by A.V. Dicey which has 3 fundamental principles: 

  • Absence of arbitrary power, that is, no man is punished except for a breach of law
  • Equality before the law: equal subjection of all citizens (rich or poor, high or low, official or non-official) to the ordinary law of the land administered by the ordinary law courts
  • The primacy of the rights of individual, that is, the constitution is the result of the rights of the individual as defined and enforced by courts of law, rather than constitution being the source of the individual rights

Rule of law addressing ethical dilemmas:

Ethical dilemma refers to making choice between competing principles, both being right in their own way. Rule of law helps to make decisions in such situations like

  • Rule of law gives a definitive path to follow irrespective of the situations and provide certainty of actions to be followed by the government. E.g. Demolition of a slum/ road side vendors create a dilemma, but is necessary.
  • Superior’s directive versus Public good: Irrespective of the superior’s directive, the official can always follow rule of law which will be later justified in the court/inquiries. 
  • Political neutrality: being democratically elected, public representatives often give orders to officials which creates ethical dilemmas whether to follow the representative or the public interest. Following rule of law will help in overcoming the same and help civil servants to function without fear or favor.
  • Secrecy vs Transparency: For instance, denial of information under RTI. Following rule of law will help the government in proactive disclosure of information vital for the public, but at the same time withholding the information vital for national security.
  • Preferential treatment vs Non-discrimination: Equality, though a basic virtue to be followed, equity is necessary. Even the constitution under article 14 provides for differential treatment and upholding it will help in overcoming the sense of discrimination created by differential treatment.
  • Overcoming public sentiment and maintaining civil service neutrality: In some situations, it might seem ethically right to circumvent rule of law. E.g. Encountering a child rapist or terrorist and so on. But, Rule of law help in overcoming emotional ambiguities. E.g. Even the terrorist Kasab was prosecuted as per Rule of law.
  • Personal allegiance vs public good: For instance, a family member committing crime – the allegiance to family creates an ethical dilemma. However, Rule of law overcomes the biased treatment. E.g. A Sub-inspector in Delhi arresting his own son in drug racket case. The same applies when there is a conflict with cast, race, religion and so on.

Following rule of law is a win-win situation which addresses the situational ambiguities of public servant upholding public interest.

However, in certain situations due to archaic laws and rules, emergency situations etc., – following rule of law will create more issues both ethically and in terms of efficiency. E.g. Denial of ration due to technical error of aadhar led to the death of a tribal girl in chattisgarh due to hunger. Other instances like, following documents thoroughly during disaster relief, emergency treatment, organ donation and so on.

In such situations, there is a need to change the laws rules and regulations matching the changing society and needs progressive towards development to reduce the ethical dilemmas.


Supreme court in its ruling observed that the public officials are answerable to law and law alone. Objectivity, Impartiality, Transparency and so on which are the foundational values of civil services hinges on the implementation of Rule of Law. Thus, Rule of law helps as a directing light to the government and civil servants in fulfilling their duty. But, at the same time, amending laws, rules and regulations as per the changing demands and needs is a sine qua non.

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