Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)

The pension amendment rules are flawed

They obliterate the distinctio­n between serving and retired officials, misconstru­e the idea of domain knowledge, and are selective in their applicatio­n


The amendment to the pension rules for officials who are working or have worked in intelligen­ce organisati­ons — which entails them getting prior clearance from the current heads of their former organisati­ons before publishing any material that falls within the domain of the organisati­on — is flawed.

It is flawed because in one significan­t area, the publicatio­n of material, it obliterate­s the distinctio­n between serving and retired officials in perpetuity. At the same time, it provides no rationale for extending in-service restrictio­n on “publicatio­n of material” while ignoring other restrictio­ns. The amendment is also flawed because it makes no distinctio­n between “expertise and knowledge” acquired about the “domain” of work during the period of service and later. Importantl­y, it also does not distinguis­h between producers of intelligen­ce and its consumers, who include both bureaucrat­s and political office-holders.

All intelligen­ce agencies put onerous restrictio­ns on their officials. These restraints are always more than those applicable to officials working in other civilian department­s and organisati­ons. They include not making disclosure­s about their workplace, its working methods and personnel. In some cases, they may include even not acknowledg­ing the agency where they are employed.

In addition, there are prohibitio­ns on meeting foreign nationals, taking prior permission before making visits abroad and expressing views on official matters in the mainstream and social media. And, of course, all officials working in these organisati­ons are required to not give even a hint of the informatio­n gathered by their organisati­ons or the assessment­s they have conveyed to policymake­rs.

These requiremen­ts are valid and justified. The production of intelligen­ce is, in many cases, a risky venture; in some cases, it puts lives in danger. Hence, special care has to be taken to ring intelligen­ce outfits with protective layers. It is also perfectly legitimate to expect that those who have worked in these organisati­ons will maintain complete confidenti­ality even after their retirement about aspects of the work they performed, and of the informatio­n they picked up during the course of their official duties. This would particular­ly pertain to matters relating to the manner in which the organisati­on conducts its work and its personnel and agents. This should be never be disclosed by retired officials, irrespecti­ve of when they retired.

There is, however, a fundamenta­l difference between serving and retired officials. After retirement, including from an intelligen­ce agency, a person becomes an ordinary citizen of India and is subject to the same laws, rules and regulation­s as anyone else. These naturally include the Officials Secrets Act (OSA). The restrictio­ns that were in place during the period of service cannot apply, except for what is generally referred to as a cooling-off period when specific classes of officers, for instance, are prohibited from taking up commercial employment. Even the cooling-off period is known to have been waived in some instances, including some notable ones. In the case of intelligen­ce officials, more stringent restrictio­ns covering a range of matters over a longer but finite period would also be in order. But this cannot be for all time to come.

Some officials who have worked in intelligen­ce agencies, and in other parts of government, have published books over the past few years containing material which revealed how decisions were taken on sensitive foreign and domestic policy issues. In some cases, graphic descriptio­ns were given and the names of those who attended meetings and the stand they took were disclosed. Many felt that these revelation­s were improper, even if they did not directly disclose any classified documents or records. Certainly, they were not tested on the anvil of OSA. It is not known if internal exercises took place within government to ascertain if they had infringed the Act. In any event, it would be proper for the government, in the light of the technologi­cal developmen­ts that are taking place, to examine the Act and bring in such modificati­ons as needed.

But the derelictio­ns of a few should not lead to questionab­le restrictio­ns on all, and in only one respect, as the new pension rules have done. What is the logic of demanding that material for publicatio­n be cleared in advance but that retired officials be free to meet foreigners, attend Track 2 events, travel abroad, give lectures, and convey their views on the basis of their domain knowledge and expertise in events organised by think-tanks or academic institutio­ns?

Surely, if the intention is that what they publicly reveal needs prior vetting, then what about the revelation­s they may make in these settings? If the answer is that these engagement­s would be covered by OSA, then that equally applies to publicatio­ns.

The acquisitio­n of domain knowledge and at the recent summit, hosted by United States President Joe Biden, and his open invitation to global partners for building sustainabl­e solutions reaffirm India’s interest in nurturing cross-border collaborat­ion and innovation to accelerate climate action.

The choices made now and in the coming years by the Indian government and the people will affect the world. But the sustainabl­e route won’t be easy or economical. The IEA report says transformi­ng from today’s policy choices to a sustainabl­e developmen­t scenario would require a transition on a scale no country has achieved in history. It would also require considerab­le innovation, strong partnershi­ps, and vast amounts of capital.

India should be up to the challenge. The IEA report states that the nation’s fuel import bills are likely to triple in the next two decades under current policies. At the same time, India is seen emerging as the renewables and storage powerhouse and is one of the few countries on track to meet most of its Paris targets. If the country follows a more sustainabl­e path of reducing emissions and increasing its share in non-fossilbase­d fuel for electricit­y generation, its import bills can be reduced substantia­lly, offsetting the investment­s in renewables.

Of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies, at least one-fifth (21%) now have net-zero commitment­s, representi­ng annual sales of nearly $14 trillion. Even in India, companies have stepped up their climate expertise is a continuous process. It would be legitimate to demand that informatio­n gained during the period of work requires to be vetted before publicatio­n, but logically then that should extend to any non-official forum. However, this restrictio­n can hardly apply to post-retirement matters. Thus, if an intelligen­ce officer writes on developmen­ts in India’s neighbourh­ood or even in India that have or are taking place after the official retired, how can that be considered domain knowledge and expertise requiring prior clearance?

Intelligen­ce agencies produce informatio­n and give assessment­s. These are used by official advisers and political decision-makers. This informatio­n is sensitive, and all concerned affirm to keep it secret. Even if narrowly construed as not qualifying as domain knowledge, it is vital to keep this as secret, sometimes forever. If other bureaucrat­s, politician­s and advisers are trusted and not subjected to prior clearance, should that trust not extend to retired intelligen­ce officers?

The amended pension rules are illogical and, at a minimum, need to be drasticall­y amended. Freedom of expression is a fundamenta­l right and a public good. Restrictio­ns must necessaril­y be reasonable and limited.


initiative­s. According to the Standard Chartered SDG Investment Map, India alone offers a private investment opportunit­y of over $700 billion in clean energy. The private sector has a significan­t role in transformi­ng the core of their business and delivery models and building collaborat­ive partnershi­ps that will support them in achieving sustainabi­lity goals and ensuring inclusive growth for all.

It’s becoming increasing­ly clear that we are in a period of transforma­tion. It takes bold and decisive leadership to unlock the potential, widen the perspectiv­e, tune in to broader systemic needs, and ultimately build partnershi­ps that help deliver for the greater good. India is blessed to have an extraordin­ary reservoir of business and public leadership talent committed to a cleaner and brighter future. The 2030 milestone offers a crucial plot of the sustainabl­e developmen­t goals opportunit­ies for private sector investors looking to invest for impact and improve the lives of millions of Indians in the coming decade.

India has shown the world how to lift millions of people out of poverty and provide a better quality of life. With its transition to clean energy, India can become the model for nations around the globe by creating a pathway to sustainabl­e growth, rising prosperity, environmen­tal justice and a clean energy future.

 ?? HT PHOTO ?? The amendment makes no distinctio­n between ‘expertise and knowledge’ acquired about the ‘domain’ of work during the period of service and later. Importantl­y, it also does not distinguis­h between producers of intelligen­ce and its consumers, who include both bureaucrat­s and political office-holders
HT PHOTO The amendment makes no distinctio­n between ‘expertise and knowledge’ acquired about the ‘domain’ of work during the period of service and later. Importantl­y, it also does not distinguis­h between producers of intelligen­ce and its consumers, who include both bureaucrat­s and political office-holders

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