New Delhi: In an attempt to stop retired security and intelligence officials from commenting critically on issues relating to current policy, the Narendra Modi government has notified an amendment to the Central Civil Services (Pension) Rules 1972 prohibiting them from communicating to the media or publishing any letter or book or other document on subjects that fall within the “domain” of the organisations they served without prior clearance.
The amendment has been introduced in Rule 8, dealing with ‘Pension subject to future good conduct’, which means any violation of the new guideline would jeopardise a retired officer’s pension.
While a 2008 amendment to the pension rules had merely made explicit existing restrictions under the Official Secrets Act and ordinary criminal law by barring retired officials from writing about “sensitive information” which would “prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State… or lead to incitement of an offence,” the new notification widens the ambit of the gag order considerably.
The May 31, 2021 gazette notification issued by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions – which is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – says that “no Government servant, who, having worked in any Intelligence or Security-related organisation included in the Second Schedule of the Right to Information Act, 2005 (22 of 2005), shall, without prior clearance from the Head of the Organisation, make any publication after retirement, of any material relating to and including [the]:
“domain of the organisation, including any reference or information about any personnel and his designation, and expertise or knowledge gained by virtue of working in that organisation;”
The new prohibition placed on any writing that touches upon the “domain of the organisation… and expertise or knowledge gained by virtue of working in that organisation” is so broad and vague that some retired officials from the security and intelligence establishment who comment on public affairs see this as an attempt to browbeat critics of the government into silence.
“The government at present is on aggression to control the overall narrative,” one former official told The Wire on condition of anonymity. “My hunch is that they would also go against retired bureaucrats who are questioning government policies,” he said, adding that the letters being written on different subjects by the Constitutional Conduct Group, which includes former security and intelligence officials, had probably weighed on the mind of government ministers. With many senior serving officers in these organisations upset at the manner in which the pursuit of a partisan political agenda is undermining the rule of law, the government is not keen to see the ranks of its critics swelled by fresh retirees eager to speak out.
The rules already define the expression “publication” to include “communication to the press or electronic media or … publication of any book, letter, pamphlet, poster or other document, in any form.”
The 18 organisations covered by the new rule are the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing of the Cabinet Secretariat, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, the Enforcement Directorate, Narcotics Control Bureau, Aviation Research Centre, Special Frontier Force, Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Central Industrial Security Force, National Security Guards, Assam Rifles, Special Service Bureau, Special Branch (CID) of the Andaman and Nicobar islands, Crime Branch-C.I.D.-CB of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and the Special Branch, Lakshadweep Police.
In effect, the new rule means former R&AW officials can no longer write articles in the media on any foreign or security related subject such as Pakistan, Afghanistan or China without prior clearance as the organisation’s ‘domain’ covers them. A former Intelligence Bureau official will be barred from writing on communal violence or the mishandling of internal security issues or even domestic politics since the IB’s domain includes those. Retired officials from the CRPF, BSF etc will also find it difficult to comment on a wide range of issues on which they have expertise unless they get government permission first.
The amended pension rules include a new form that employees of these organisations will henceforth have to sign, undertaking that they “shall not publish in any manner, while in service or after retirement, any information or material or knowledge which is related to the domain of the organisation and obtained by virtue of my working in the said organisation”. (emphasis added)
The 2008 version of this form confined the undertaking to the publication of material that would undermine the security and sovereignty of the state.
As with the 2008 form, the new undertaking also requires current and future employees of these organisations to sign away their pension rights in case the government ever takes an adverse decision about them on violations that are now defined much more broadly:
“I am aware that the pension which may be granted to me after retirement, in terms of the relevant pension rules, can be withheld or withdrawn, in full or part, for any failure of this undertaking given.”
Since Rule 8 says “Future good conduct shall be an implied condition of every grant of pension and its continuance under these rules,” the new gag order would also presumably apply to officials who have already long retired from these organisations, even though they may not have signed the new undertaking.
This may make the attachment or reduction of their pension more difficult, but would certainly make it easier for a government eager to tamp down criticism from informed quarters to tie former officials down with litigation.