UPSC IAS Mains 2020: Important Ethics Case Study for Practice (GS IV)

UPSC: In UPSC IAS Mains GS IV the Case Study questions carry 125 marks out of the total 250 marks allotted to the paper. In this article, we have provided important case studies that have been previously asked in the GS IV papers. 

Created On: Dec 9, 2020 12:46 IST
UPSC IAS Mains 2020: Important Ethics Case Study for Practice (GS IV)
UPSC IAS Mains 2020: Important Ethics Case Study for Practice (GS IV)

UPSC: GS Paper IV (Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude) of the UPSC Mains exam is divided into two sections. Section A covers direct concept related questions which test the candidate’s understanding of ethical issues and concepts related to integrity and aptitude. Section B includes case studies that test the candidate’s application of those concepts to situations involving the candidate and other stakeholders such as politicians, pressure groups, the public, and other people. The Case Study section carries 125 marks.

Also Read: Tips to Answer Ethics Case Studies (GS Paper IV)

Check below some important case studies asked in the previous years’ papers that can be solved for practice. 


Ques 1 An apparel manufacturing company having a large number of women employees was losing sales due to various factors. The company hired a reputed marketing executive, who increased the volume of sales within a short span of time. However, some unconfirmed reports came up regarding his indulgence in sexual harassment at the workplace. After some time a woman employee launched a formal complaint to the management against the marketing executive for sexually harassing her. Faced with the companies’ indifference, in not taking cognizance of her grievances, she lodged an FIR with the police. Realizing the sensitivity and gravity of the situation, the company called the woman employee to negotiate. In that, she was offered a hefty sum of money to withdraw the complaint and the FIR and also give in writing that the marketing executive is not involved in the case.

  1. Identify the ethical issues involved in this case.
  2. What options are available to the woman employee?

Ques 2 You are heading the rescue operations in an area affected by severe natural calamity. Thousands of people are rendered homeless and deprived of food, drinking water and other basic amenities. Rescue work has been disrupted by heavy rainfall and damage to supply routes. The local people are seething with anger against the delayed limited rescue operations. When your team reaches the affected area, the people there heckle and even assault some of the team members . One of your team members is even severely injured. Faced with this crisis, some team members plead with you to call off the operations fearing threats to their life. In such trying circumstances, what will be your response? Examine the qualities of a public servant which will be required to manage the situation.

Ques 3 Honesty and uprightness are the hallmarks of a civil servant. Civil servants possessing these qualities are considered as the backbone of any strong organization. In the line of duty, they take various decisions, at times some become bonafide mistakes. As long as such decisions are not taken intentionally and do not benefit personally, the officer cannot be said to be guilty. Though such decisions may, at times, lead to unforeseen adverse consequences in the long-term. In the recent past, a few instances have surfaced wherein civil servants have been implicated for bonafide mistakes. They have often been prosecuted and even imprisoned. The instances have greatly rattled the moral fibre of the civil servants. How does this trend affect the functioning of the civil services? What measures can be taken to ensure the honest civil servants are not implicated for the bonafide mistakes on their part? Justify your answer.

Ques 4 In a modern democratic polity, there is a concept of the political executive and permanent executive. Elected people’s representatives form the political executive and bureaucracy forms the permanent executive. Ministers frame policy decisions and bureaucrats execute these. In the initial decades after independence, the relationship between the permanent executive and the political executive was characterized by mutual understanding, respect and cooperation, without encroaching upon each other’s domain. However, in subsequent decades, the situation has changed. There are instances of the political executive insisting upon the permanent executive to follow its agenda. Respect for an appreciation of upright bureaucrats has declined. There is an increasing tendency among the political executive to get involved in routine administrative matters such as transfers, posting etc. Under this scenario, there is a definite trend towards the ‘politicization of bureaucracy’. The rising materialism and acquisitiveness in social life have also adversely impacted upon the ethical values of both the permanent executive and the political executive. What are the consequences of this ‘politicization of bureaucracy’? Discuss.

Ques 5 In one of the districts of a frontier state, narcotics menace has been rampant. This has resulted in money laundering, mushrooming of poppy farming, arms smuggling, and near stalling of education. The system is on the verge of collapse. The situation has been further worsened by unconfirmed reports that local politicians as well as some senior police officers are providing surreptitious patronage to the drug mafia. At that point in time a woman police officer, known for her skills in handling such situations is appointed as superintendent of police to bring the situation to normalcy. If you are the same police officer, identify the various dimensions of the crisis. Based on your understanding, suggest measures to deal with the crisis.


Ques 1 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. The 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’s 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 a large number of trees denuding the area of its green cover.

  1. Faced with this situation, what will you do?
  2. Critically examine various conflicts of interest and explain what your responsibilities are as a public servant.

Ques 2 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 their 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.

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

Ques 3 A big corporate house is engaged in manufacturing industrial chemicals on a large scale. It proposes to set upon the 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 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 industries which depended on the chemicals manufactured by it. As a senior officer entrusted with the responsibility of handling this issue, how are you going to address it?

Ques 4 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?


Ques 1 You are aspiring to become an IAS officer and you have cleared various stages and now you have been selected for the personal interview. On the day of the interview, on the way to the venue, you saw an accident where a mother and child who happen to be your relatives were badly injured. They needed immediate help. What would you have done in such a situation? Justify your action.

You are the manager of a spare parts company A and you have to negotiate a deal with the manager of a large manufacturing company B. The deal is highly competitive and sealing the deal is critical for your company. The deal is being worked out over dinner. After dinner, the manager of manufacturing company B offered to drop you to the hotel in his car. On the way to the hotel, he happens to hit a motorcycle injuring the motorcyclist badly. You know the manager was driving fast and thus lost control. The law enforcement officer comes to investigate the issue and you are the sole eyewitness to it. Knowing the strict laws pertaining to road accidents you are aware that your honest account of the incident would lead to the prosecution of the manager and as a consequence the deal is likely to be jeopardised, which is of immense importance to your company.

  1. What are the dilemmas you face?
  2. What will be your response to the situation?

Ques 2 You are the head of the Human Resources department of an organisation. One day one of the workers died on duty. His family was demanding compensation. However, the company denied compensation because it was revealed in investigation that he was drunk at the time of the accident. The workers of the company went to strike demanding compensation for the family of the deceased. The Chairman of the management board has asked for your recommendation.

What recommendation would you provide the management?

Discuss the merits and demerits of each of the recommendations. 


Ques 1 A fresh engineering graduate gets a job in the prestigious chemical industry. She likes the work. The salary is also good. However, after a few months, she accidentally discovers that highly toxic waste is being secretly discharged into a river nearby. This is causing health problems to the villagers downstream who depend on the river for their water needs. She is perturbed and mentions her concern to her colleagues who have been with the company for longer periods. They advise her to keep quiet as anyone who mentions the topic is summarily dismissed. She cannot risk losing her job as she is the sole bread-winner for her family and has to support her ailing parents and siblings. At first, she thinks that if her seniors are keeping quiet, why should she stick out her neck. But her conscience pricks her to do something to save the river and the people who depend upon it. At heart, she feels that the advice of silence given by her friends is not correct though she cannot give reasons for it. She thinks you are a wise person and seeks your advice.

  1. What arguments can you advance to show her that keeping quiet is not morally right?
  2. What course of action would you advise her to adopt and why?

Ques 2 You are a young, aspiring and sincere employee in a Government office working as an assistant to the director of your department. Since you have joined recently, you need to learn and progress. Luckily your superior is very kind and ready to train you for your job. He is a very intelligent and well-informed person having knowledge of various departments. In short, you respect your boss and are looking forward to learning a lot from him. Since you have good tuning with the boss, he started depending on you. One day due to ill health he invited you to his place for finishing some urgent work. You reached his house and before you could ring the bell you heard shouting noises. You waited for a while. After entering the house the boss greeted you and explained the work. But you were constantly disturbed by the crying of a woman. At last, you inquired with the boss but his answer did not satisfy you. The next day, you were compelled to inquire further in the office and found out that his behavior is very bad at home with his wife. He also beats up his wife. His wife is not well educated and is a simple woman in comparison to her husband. you see that though your boss is a nice person in the office, he is engaged in domestic violence at home. In such a situation, you are left with the following options. Analyse each option with its consequences.

  1. Just ignore thinking about it because it is their personal matter.
  2. Report the case to the appropriate authority.

Ques 3 ABC Ltd. is a large transnational company having diversified business activities with a huge shareholder base. The company is continuously expanding generating employment. The company, in its expansion and diversification program, decides to establish a new plant at Vikaspuri, an area that is underdeveloped. The new plant is designed to use energy-efficient technology that will help the company to save production costs by 20%. The company’s decision goes well with the Government policy of attracting investment to develop such underdeveloped regions. The government has also announced a tax holiday for five years for the companies that invest in underdeveloped areas. However, the new plant may bring chaos for the inhabitants of Vikaspuri region, which is otherwise tranquil. The new plant may result in an increased cost of living, aliens migrating to the region, disturbing the social and economic order. The company sensing the possible protest tried to educate the people of Vikaspuri region and the public in general that its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy would help overcome the likely difficulties of the residents of Vikaspuri region. In spite of this, the protests began and some of the residents decided to approach the judiciary as their plea before the Government did not yield any result.

  1. Identify the issues involved in the case.
  2. What can be suggested to satisfy the company’s goal and to address the residents’ concerns?

Ques 4 Suppose you are an officer-in-charge of implementing a social service scheme to provide support to old and destitute women. An old and illiterate woman comes to you to avail the benefits of the scheme. However, she has no documents to show that she fulfills the eligibility criteria. But after meeting her and listening to her you feel that she certainly needs support. Your enquirers also show that she is really destitute and living in a pitiable condition. You are in a dilemma as to what to do. Putting her under the scheme without necessary documents would clearly be a violation of rules. But denying her the support would be cruel and inhuman.

  1. Can you think of a rational way to resolve this dilemma?
  2. Give your reasons for it.

Ques 5 Saraswati was a successful IT professional in the USA. Moved by the patriotic sense of doing something for the country she returned to India. Together with some other like-minded friends, she formed an NGO to build a school for a poor rural community. The objective of the school was to provide the best quality modern education at a nominal cost. She soon discovered that she has to seek permission from a number of Government agencies. The rules and procedures were quite confusing and cumbersome. What frustrated her most was delays, callous attitude of officials and constant demand for bribes. Her experience and the experience of many others like her have deterred people from taking up social service projects. A measure of Government control over voluntary social work is necessary. But it should not be exercised in a coercive and corrupt manner. What measures can you suggest to ensure that due control is exercised but well meaning, honest NGO efforts are not thwarted?


Ques 1 One of the scientists working in the R&D laboratory of a major pharmaceutical company discovers that one of the company’s best selling veterinary drugs has the potential to cure a currently incurable liver disease which is prevalent in tribal areas. However, developing a variant of the drug suitable for human beings entailed a lot of research and development having a huge expenditure to the extent of Rs. 50 crores. It was unlikely that the company would recover the cost as the disease was rampant only in poverty-stricken areas having very little market otherwise. If you were the CEO, then

  1. Identify the various actions that you could take
  2. Evaluate the pros and cons of each of your actions

Ques 2 You are recently posted as a district development officer of a district. Shortly thereafter you found that there is considerable tension in the rural areas of your district on the issue of sending girls to schools. The elders of the village feel that many problems have come up because girls are being educated and they are stepping out of the safe environment of the household. They are the view that the girls should be quickly married off with minimum education. The girls are also competing for jobs after education, which have traditionally remained in boys’ exclusive domain, adding to unemployment amongst the male population. The younger generation feels that in the present era, girls should have equal opportunities for education and employment, and other means of livelihood. The entire locality is divided between sexes into both generations. You come to know that in Panchayat or in other local bodies or even in busy crosswords, the issue is being acrimoniously debated. One day you are informed that an unpleasant incident has taken place. Some girls were molested, when they were en route to schools. The incident led to clashes between several groups and a law and order problem has arisen. The elders after heated discussion have taken a joint decision not to allow girls to go to school and to socially boycott all such families, which do not follow their dictates. 

  • What steps would you take to ensure girls’ safety without disrupting their education?
  • How would you manage and mould the patriarchal attitude of the village elders to ensure harmony in intergenerational relations?

Ques 3 You are heading a district administration in a particular department. Your senior officer calls you from the State Headquarters and tells you that a plot in Rampur village is to have a building constructed on it for a school. A visit is scheduled during which he will visit the site along with the chief engineer and the senior architect. He wants you to check out all the papers relating to it and ensure that the visit is properly arranged. You examine the file which relates to the period before you joined the department. The land was acquired for the local panchayat at a nominal cost and the papers showed that clearance certificates are available for the two of the three authorities who have to certify the site’s suitability. There is no certification by the architect available on file. You decide to visit Rampur to ensure that all is in the order as stated on file. When you visit Rampur, you find that the plot under reference is a part of Thakurgarh fort and that the walls, ramparts, etc., are running across it. The fort is well away from the main village, therefore a school here will be a serious inconvenience for the children. However, the area near the village has the potential to expand into a larger residential area. The development charges on the existing plot, at the fort, will be very high and the question of heritage sites has not been addressed. Moreover, the Sarpanch, at the time of acquisition of the land, was a relative of your predecessor. The whole transaction appears to have been done with some vested interest.

  1. List the likely vested interest of the concerned parties.
  2. Some of the options for action available to you are listed below. Discuss the merits and demerits of each of the options:

(i) You can await the visit of the superior officer and let him take a decision.

(ii) You can seek his advice in writing or on phone.

(iii) You can consult your predecessor/ colleagues, etc, and then decide what to do.

(iv) You can find out if any alternate plot can be got in exchange and then send a comprehensive written report.

Can you suggest any other option with proper justification?

The ethics case study can be a tricky section to solve as there is no right answer. The right strategy and balanced approach will help you score well in the GS Paper IV. 

Also Check: Preparation Strategy for Mains GS Paper IV (Ethics)


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