Pension gag

New rules seek to hem in retired intelligence and security officers. Centre’s bid to control ideas only makes it look weak.

As gag orders go, this one is blatant. The Centre’s new pension rules bar officers who retire from intelligence and security organisations from writing/publishing anything related to their work or career — even an oped on a matter of public importance, let alone a book — without a clearance from the current head of the organisation. The failure to do so might put their pension benefits at risk — a harsh threat to dangle over a citizen for the exercise of her freedom of expression and speech. The law will apply to officers who retire from the Intelligence Bureau, R&AW, CBI, ED, Narcotics Control Bureau, DRDO and all central armed police forces such as the CRPF and BSF, among others. Worse, this bar will apply in perpetuity. The government could well have, but chose not to, set a cooling-off period from the date of an officer’s retirement — whether two or five years — in which she would be forbidden from writing about her work experience. While it is understandable for the state to have concerns about matters of national security, this is too blanket and vaguely worded a restriction. As a former R&AW chief told this newspaper, “The way the rule has been worded, even if I have to say that first R&AW chief RN Kao was a great man, I will have to take permission from the current R&AW chief.”

The Centre’s move reeks of an all-too-familiar need to control and micro-manage ideas, facts and narratives — in the name of national interest — in ways that only end up making it look insecure. The same mistrust of ideas was evident in orders such as the one that sought to bar virtual “international conferences and seminars” on matters of India’s security, the Northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir in universities — a circular so undemocratic in its spirit that it had to be withdrawn after an outcry. The current gag order, in effect, forces officers who have spent decades in the trenches of officialdom, shaping and determining national policy at crucial moments of Indian history, outside the pale of public discourse. Their experience and knowledge do not need to be barb-wired by oaths of secrecy, but must be judiciously brought into the public realm — to enrich history writing, institutional memory, and academia. Moreover, does this ban also apply to retired officers joining think-tanks and speaking at seminars? How much control is adequate control?

For a knowledge society, discussions and deliberations are key to moving forward. The Centre’s move is one more example of how it may be getting these basics wrong. It must withdraw this order.

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