OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER – AMENDMENT TO CENTRAL CIVIL SERVICES PENSION RULES CURTAILS FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION OF RETIRED OFFICIALS

17 July 2021

Dear Prime Minister,

            We are former officers of the All India and Central Services who have worked with the Central and State Governments in the course of our careers. We have no political affiliation but have come together as the Constitutional Conduct Group because we believe in impartiality and neutrality and in safeguarding the values of the Indian Constitution.

            We were surprised, and deeply disturbed, by the recent amendment to the Central Pension Rules notified by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions on 31 May 2021. By this amendment, retired government servants who have worked in any intelligence or security related organisation included in the Second Schedule of the Right to Information Act 2005 have to take the clearance of the head of the organisation if they wish to make any publication after retirement, if such publication relates to and includes:

(i) 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;

(ii) sensitive information, the disclosure of which would prejudicially affect 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 (publication here would, presumably, be an inclusive term encompassing verbal communication, though that is not very clear).

            We are unable to understand why there is a need for such an amendment to the Central Pension Rules, when there already exists an Official Secrets Act 1923 and the State can, under it, prosecute officials and former officials who reveal information prejudicial to the State.

            Pension is a right that accrues to every government servant for the service put in while in the government. It is subject only to future good conduct and cannot be taken away except for conviction for serious crime or grave misconduct. If writing about certain matters amounts to grave misconduct, the government can certainly take action, as per law, to deprive the former official of his or her pension.

            The practice of retired bureaucrats writing their memoirs or articles on different aspects of the work done by them during their working years or commenting on current affairs using their ‘domain’ knowledge is universal and is appreciated the world over. Only those who have been involved in security related matters, internal or external, can speak with authority and credibility. Other domain experts, scholars and even interested members of the public look forward to such words of wisdom based on personal experience. It helps current practitioners to perform better.

            It is true of India, as of any other country, that the government version of events, either current or past, is seen as the point of view of the party in power and is not, necessarily, reflective of the whole truth. It is because of this that the views and memoirs of past practitioners, unencumbered by the constraints of office, have value.

            The recent amendment to the Pension Rules attempts to impose a silence that will seriously affect scholarship and be a permanent impediment to an understanding of the imperatives of our security concerns. Officers who have spent a lifetime in security related matters are unlikely to be irresponsible and reveal sensitive secrets. The laudable objective of ensuring that retirees do not divulge any sensitive material to the detriment of the nation’s security is best achieved by reiteration of the Official Secrets Act and stern action thereunder in case of infraction. And if the government is anxious to protect national security in keeping with the times and the Constitution of India, they should also carry out wide ranging consultations with political and civil society as well as the legal fraternity to find a replacement for the Official Secrets Act, which is itself in conflict with Article 19 of the Constitution.  

            We believe the framers of the new rules have not thought through the consequences of the order. It would mean that before publishing any article or speaking at any seminar or interview, the retired officers concerned would have to obtain prior permission. The reported assurance from the establishment that the order, in fact, makes it easier for the officers to contact their former employer to seek clarifications before they speak, is too fatuous to even merit comment. If strictly enforced, it could also mean, in effect, that no retiree from the specified services can participate in seminars or discussions, let alone engage in Track II dialogues, even if this is, possibly, not the intention.

            In 2008, the UPA government tried to introduce such an order for officers who had served in the IB and RAW. The order was widely criticized and eventually withdrawn. The well-known lawyer AG Noorani had pointed out at that time that ‘the fundamental right to freedom of speech, which includes the right to know, is not absolute. But the state can impose only “reasonable restrictions” on the right, on grounds specified in Article 19 and only by ‘law’ and not by an executive fiat’

            With the current order, the government has gone beyond the 2008 order of the UPA government. With this order, India also acquires the dubious distinction of being, possibly, the only major democratic country in the world today which effectively bars its employees from expressing their views after retirement.  Curiously, this is being made to apply to all officers who have retired, even those who have retired decades ago This is not merely a restraint on free speech, which it is, but an effort to entomb all relevant information and knowledge in the coffin of untrammelled state power 

            In 2008, the UPA government, perhaps persuaded of the wrongness of the order, did not finally bring the amendment into being. We hope that the present government would display similar sagacity. 

SATYAMEVA JAYATE

Yours sincerely,

Constitutional Conduct Group

(109 signatories, at pages 3-6 below)

 Anita AgnihotriIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Department of Social Justice Empowerment, GoI
 S.P. AmbroseIAS (Retd.)Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Shipping & Transport, GoI
 Anand ArniRAS (Retd.)Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
 G. BalachandhranIAS (Retd.)Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
 Vappala BalachandranIPS (Retd.)Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
 Gopalan BalagopalIAS (Retd.)Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
 Chandrashekhar BalakrishnanIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Coal, GoI
 Sushant BaligaEngineering Services (Retd.)Former Additional Director General, Central PWD, GoI
 Rana BanerjiRAS (Retd.)Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
 Sharad BeharIAS (Retd.)Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
 Aurobindo BeheraIAS (Retd.)Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Odisha
 Madhu BhaduriIFS (Retd.)Former Ambassador to Portugal
 K.V. BhagirathIFS (Retd.)Former Secretary General, Indian Ocean Rim Association, Mauritius
 Pradip BhattacharyaIAS (Retd.)Former Additional Chief Secretary, Development & Planning and Administrative Training Institute, Govt. of West Bengal
 Meeran C BorwankarIPS (Retd.)Former DGP, Bureau of Police Research and Development, GoI
 Ravi BudhirajaIAS (Retd.)Former Chairman, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, GoI
 Sundar BurraIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
 R. ChandramohanIAS (Retd.)Former Principal Secretary, Transport and Urban Development, Govt. of NCT of Delhi
 Gurjit Singh CheemaIAS (Retd.)Former Financial Commissioner (Revenue), Govt. of Punjab
 F.T.R. ColasoIPS (Retd.)Former Director General of Police, Govt. of  Karnataka & former Director General of Police, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir
 Anna DaniIAS (Retd.)Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
 Vibha Puri DasIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI
 P.R. DasguptaIAS (Retd.)Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI
 Pradeep K. DebIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Deptt. Of Sports, GoI
 Nitin Desai Former Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance, GoI
 Keshav DesirajuIAS (Retd.)Former Health Secretary, GoI
 M.G. DevasahayamIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana
 A.S. DulatIPS (Retd.)Former OSD on Kashmir, Prime Minister’s Office, GoI
 K.P. FabianIFS (Retd.)Former Ambassador to Italy
 Prabhu GhateIAS (Retd.)Former Addl. Director General, Department of Tourism, GoI
 Arif GhauriIRS (Retd.)Former Governance Adviser, DFID, Govt. of the United Kingdom (on deputation)
 Gourisankar GhoshIAS (Retd.)Former Mission Director, National Drinking Water Mission, GoI
 Suresh K. GoelIFS (Retd.)Former Director General, Indian Council of Cultural Relations, GoI
 H.S. GujralIFoS (Retd.)Former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Govt. of Punjab
 Meena GuptaIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI
 Ravi Vira GuptaIAS (Retd.)Former Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India
 Siraj HussainIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Department of Agriculture, GoI
 Kamal JaswalIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
 Najeeb JungIAS (Retd.)Former Lieutenant Governor, Delhi
 Arun KumarIAS (Retd.)Former Chairman, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, GoI
 Brijesh KumarIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
 Ish KumarIPS (Retd.)Former DGP (Vigilance & Enforcement), Govt. of Telangana and former Special Rapporteur, National Human Rights Commission
 Sudhir KumarIAS (Retd.)Former Member, Central Administrative Tribunal
 P.K. LahiriIAS (Retd.)Former ED, Asian Development Bank & Former Revenue Secretary, GoI
 Subodh LalIPoS (Resigned)Former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Communications, GoI
 B.B. MahajanIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Deptt. of Food, GoI
 P.M.S. MalikIFS (Retd.)Former Ambassador to Myanmar & Special Secretary, MEA, GoI
 Harsh ManderIAS (Retd.)Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
 Amitabh MathurIPS (Retd.)Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
 L.L. MehrotraIFS (Retd.)Former Special Envoy to the Prime Minister and former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, GoI
 Aditi MehtaIAS (Retd.)Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
 Shivshankar MenonIFS (Retd.)Former Foreign Secretary and Former National Security Adviser
 Sonalini MirchandaniIFS (Resigned)GoI
 Malay MishraIFS (Retd.)Former Ambassador to Hungary
 Sunil MitraIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI
 Avinash MohananeyIPS (Retd.)Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Sikkim
 Deb MukharjiIFS (Retd.)Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and former Ambassador to Nepal
 Shiv Shankar MukherjeeIFS (Retd.)Former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom
 Gautam MukhopadhayaIFS (Retd.)Former Ambassador to Myanmar
 T.K.A. NairIAS (Retd.)Former Adviser to Prime Minister of India
 Sobha NambisanIAS (Retd.)Former Principal Secretary (Planning), Govt. of Karnataka
 P.A. NazarethIFS (Retd.)Former Ambassador to Egypt and Mexico
 P. Joy OommenIAS (Retd.)Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Chhattisgarh
 Amitabha PandeIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI
 Niranjan PantIA&AS (Retd.)Former Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General, GoI
 P. R. ParthasarathyIPS (Retd.)Former Director, Anti-Corruption Bureau, Govt. of Maharashtra
 Maxwell PereiraIPS (Retd.)Former Joint Commissioner of Police, Delhi
 Alok PertiIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Ministry of Coal, GoI
 G.K. PillaiIAS (Retd.)Former Home Secretary, GoI
 R. PoornalingamIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Ministry of Textiles, GoI
 Rajesh PrasadIFS (Retd.)Former Ambassador to the Netherlands
 N.K. RaghupathyIAS (Retd.)Former Chairman, Staff Selection Commission, GoI
 V.P. RajaIAS (Retd.)Former Chairman, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission
 C. Babu RajeevIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, GoI
 M.Y. RaoIAS (Retd.) 
 Vijaya Latha ReddyIFS (Retd.)Former Deputy National Security Adviser, GoI
 Julio RibeiroIPS (Retd.)Former Adviser to Governor of Punjab & former Ambassador to Romania
 Manabendra N. RoyIAS (Retd.)Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
 A.K. SamantaIPS (Retd.)Former Director General of Police (Intelligence), Govt. of West Bengal
 Deepak SananIAS (Retd.)Former Principal Adviser (AR) to Chief Minister, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh
 G. SankaranIC&CES (Retd.)Former President, Customs, Excise and Gold (Control) Appellate Tribunal 
 Shyam SaranIFS (Retd.)Former Foreign Secretary and Former Chairman, National Security Advisory Board
 S. SatyabhamaIAS (Retd.)Former Chairperson, National Seeds Corporation, GoI
 N.C. SaxenaIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI
 A. SelvarajIRS (Retd.)Former Chief Commissioner, Income Tax, Chennai, GoI
 Ardhendu SenIAS (Retd.)Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
 Abhijit SenguptaIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI
 Aftab SethIFS (Retd.)Former Ambassador to Japan
 Ashok Kumar SharmaIFoS (Retd.)Former MD, State Forest Development Corporation, Govt. of Gujarat
 Ashok Kumar SharmaIFS (Retd.)Former Ambassador to Finland and Estonia
 Navrekha SharmaIFS (Retd.)Former Ambassador to Indonesia
 Pravesh SharmaIAS (Retd.)Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
 Raju SharmaIAS (Retd.)Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
 Rashmi Shukla SharmaIAS (Retd.)Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
 K.S. SidhuIAS (Retd.)Former Principal Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
 Ajai Vikram SinghIAS (Retd.)Former Defence Secretary, GoI
 Padamvir SinghIAS (Retd.)Former Director, LBSNAA, Mussoorie, GoI
 Tara Ajai SinghIAS (Retd.)Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Karnataka
 Tirlochan SinghIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, National Commission for Minorities, GoI
 Jawhar Sircar  IAS (Retd.)  Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, & former CEO, Prasar Bharati
 Narendra SisodiaIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI
 A.K. SrivastavaIAS (Retd.)Former Administrative Member, Madhya Pradesh Administrative Tribunal
 Parveen TalhaIRS (Retd.)Former Member, Union Public Service Commission
 Anup ThakurIAS (Retd.)Former Member, National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission
 Thanksy ThekkekeraIAS (Retd.)Former Additional Chief Secretary, Minorities Development, Govt. of Maharashtra
 P.S.S. ThomasIAS (Retd.)Former Secretary General, National Human Rights Commission
 Hindal TyabjiIAS (Retd.)Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir
 Ramani VenkatesanIAS (Retd.)Former Director General, YASHADA, Govt. of Maharashtra
 Rudi WarjriIFS (Retd.)Former Ambassador to Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica

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