Pension rules: ‘Government order will be used to gag vocal critics of government’

May 31 notification warns ex-intelligence officials on publishing any information.

Updated - June 03, 2021 11:09 am IST

Published - June 02, 2021 12:20 pm IST - New Delhi

North Block of the Secretariat complex

North Block of the Secretariat complex

The new pension rules notified on May 31 warning retired intelligence officials of forfeiture of pension benefits if they publish any information related to the organisation they served without government clearance are not applicable to their counterparts in the IAS, the IFS, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), former Union Ministers or the armed forces.

Retired officials pointed out that such restrictions already exist and the notification was vague and will be used to gag the vocal critics of the government. Former Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) chief A.S. Dulat said the notification will discourage many from writing and hoped that the rule is uniformly applied.

The department of personnel and training (DoPT) notified the Central Civil Services (Pension) Amendment Rules 2020 on May 31. The said rules first drafted in 1972 have been amended 47 times.

In 2008, Rule 8 pertaining to “pension subject to future good conduct” was first amended by inserting the condition that retired intelligence and security officials will not publish any material that affects the “sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, or relation with a foreign State or which would lead to incitement of an offence”.

The May 31 amendment expands the scope to include any information related to “domain of the organisation, any reference or information about any personnel and his designation, and expertise or knowledge gained by virtue of working in that organisation.”

It also requires the retired officials to sign an undertaking — Form 26 — and declare that without the prior approval of the competent authority they will not publish any information related to the “domain of the organisation and obtained by virtue of my working in the said organisation”.

The rules would cover retired officials of the Intelligence Bureau, R&AW, National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO), Indian Revenue Service (IRS), Customs officials and all other organisations exempted under the Right to Information Act (RTI) such as the National Security Council Secretariat, Defence Research and Development Organisation, Border Road Organisation among others.

The DoPT officials refused to comment and the immediate trigger for the fresh amendment was not clear.

A government source said the rules were brought to bring clarity and the intention is always to safeguard national interest.

“By no means do these rules deny any such former official from expressing his/her views. In fact, it makes it easier for them to do so, given that they can now contact the head of their former employer organisation and seek clarification on whether the proposed material is sensitive or non-sensitive,” said the source

However, officials pointed out that the amendment has been under preparation for some time but it cannot be applied retrospectively

The recent events when several retired officials wrote an open letter to the government criticising its policies highlighting the “steady erosion of the Cabinet system of governance and the worsening of federal relationships with the States” could have necessitated the notification.

Mr. Dulat, who headed the R&AW in 1999-2000 authored “Kashmir — The Vajpayee Years” in 2015 and co-authored “Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace” with former ISI Director-General (1990-91) Asad Durrani and journalist Aditya Sinha..

Asked if he believed that the pension rules were a fallout of his books, Mr. Dulat said, “It has been six years that the book was published. How can it be an impact of that book? If it offended somebody at that time, it is a separate matter. I do not think it is my book. Several books have been written after that.”

He added, “If government decides something it is final, they have a right to issue orders and without such notifications also they could stop pension. In a sense it discourages all of us from writing. If it applies uniformly to everybody it is fine.”

Another retired intelligence official said on condition of anonymity, “there are hundred ways to evade this rule, I could write under a pseudonym...but that is not the point. I am ready to sign an undertaking but not ready to send my articles to the agency for prior-vetting. They want to bulldoze us. They are rattled with different petitions of constitutional conduct group. Mr. Hardeep Puri [Union Minister] has also started abusing us calling us educated fools.”

Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi said on Twitter that “intelligence personnel are already bound for life by their declaration under Official Secrets Act, when they join”.

“So what is new is the threat of withholding pension since govt. was unable to use the OSA, given its near non-existent prosecution skills. This threat-tactic politics now define Modi govt. Threaten one, threaten some, deter all. Intelligence professionals are the easiest to pick on, given that they largely live a life of invisibility during and after service,” Mr. Owaisi said.

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