The Madras High Court has termed the usage of mobile phones and taking videos inside government offices as "a grave misconduct," and directed the Tamil Nadu government to issue appropriate instructions regulating their use during office hours.

Justice SM Subramaniam also directed that strict action be initiated against violation of the circular/instructions in this connection.

The court's directions came while hearing into the plea by a state government official challenging her suspension for filming her colleagues during work hours that allegedly led to a dispute, leaving one person injured.

However, the Court cannot conduct an enquiry in respect of such allegations, which all are to be gone into by the Disciplinary Authority at the time of enquiry. Since there were allegations and counter-allegations, the competent authority has to conduct a detailed probe based on the documents and evidences available as the charges are serious in nature, the court said.

"This Court is of the considered opinion that using mobile phones by the public servants during office hours has become nowadays a normal scenario. Using mobile phones and taking videos inside the office is grave misconduct. The officials working in the Government Departments should never be allowed to use mobile phones inside the office for their personal use," the judge noted.

If any emergency call has to be attended, proper permission must be obtained from superiors to go out from the office and use mobile phones.

"In all circumstances, the mobile phones must be either switched off or kept in vibration/silent mode, without causing any disturbance or nuisance to public, who all are attending the office as well as the other officials working in the office. This must be the minimum discipline to be followed in the Government Offices. Such allegations of using mobile cameras inside the office very frequently is causing disturbance and no doubt, this will disrupt the functioning of the public offices in the departments," he added.

The Government should take serious note of this and the first respondent--Secretary to Government, Health, Medical and Family Welfare Department--has to issue appropriate circular/instructions to all the government offices to ensure the mobile phones are either kept in a common cloakroom at the time of entering into the office and for emergency calls, the official numbers kept in the office are to be utilised.

"In the event of allowing the employees to use mobile phones, without any restriction inside the office or allowing them to use mobile cameras inside the office, the same will result in serious consequences, even amongst the employees and the public, who all are attending the office," the court said.

On being informed that many public servants were using mobile phones and cameras in the government offices, the judge expressed surprise over the same, wondering "whether the employees are using mobile phones during office hours or performing their duties and responsibilities as allotted to them."

"If such indiscipline and misconduct are allowed to be continued, no doubt, they are committing the greatest sin to the public by getting taxpayers' money as huge salary," he said.

In its orders, the court refused any relief to the petitioner.

It also directed the respondents to issue appropriate circular/instructions to all the subordinate officers/officials across Tamil Nadu regulating the usage of mobile phones and mobile cameras inside the office premises during office hours.

"In the event of any violation of the Guidelines / Instructions to be formulated, strict actions are to be initiated under the relevant Tamil Nadu Government Servants' Conduct Rules, 1973," the court said.

Exceptions are to be carved out for usage of official mobile phones and telephones by the Field Officers and those authorised for such purpose, the judge added.

"The above exercise is directed to be done by the respondents 1 to 3, within a period of four weeks from the date of receipt of a copy of this order," the judge said and disposed of the petition.

The Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine and The Director, Tamil Nadu State Health Transport Department were the second and third respondents, respectively.

Click here to read-download Order

With PTI inputs