Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

A draconian gag order

Retired officials must have the right to speak freely. It will help the State too


On May 31, through an amendment to the Central Services (Pensions) Rules, the central government barred all retired officials in intelligen­ce and security-related organisati­ons from publishing any material “which falls within the domain of the organisati­on”, before clearing it with the current head of the organisati­on concerned. The move perilously overextend­s the scope of service and pension rules; deals a blow to the fundamenta­l right to free speech of retired officials; and potentiall­y weakens democratic discourse in India, where those who have the most experience on sensitive subjects are effectivel­y barred from commenting on it, except with the government’s approval. It also reinforces the impression that the regime is not comfortabl­e with distinctiv­e and critical views, even when it comes from those who have served the Indian State with great distinctio­n and patriotism.

Retired officials of security organisati­ons must exercise utmost responsibi­lity. They must also comply with the existing legal framework, which entails them to be responsibl­e with “sensitive informatio­n” that may imperil the “sovereignt­y and integrity of India” and “the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State”. But the current rules widen the scope of restrictio­ns. If you are a former Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) officer, you cannot write about any external securityre­lated issue without checking with the current secretary (r); if you are a former Intelligen­ce Bureau (IB) official, you cannot write on any subject which is related to internal security-related issue unless the director (IB) clears it; and this extends to 16 other organisati­ons.

Given India’s generally opaque security set-up, the refusal to declassify files, rules of secrecy, and norms of access — those who know and serve can’t write; those who write are constraine­d because of the fear of losing access to those who know — retired officials are a key source of expertise. After years of being in a regimented bureaucrac­y, they finally can speak and share this expertise with other citizens. At a time when dissenting voices within the system find it hard to take positions, a distinctiv­e view from outside the system only helps the State evolve a more considered policy approach. These officials have spent their entire profession­al lives safeguardi­ng India’s security. Rather than threatenin­g them with the stick of withdrawn pensions, trust them and allow the space for informed discourse, within the older framework.

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