The new pension rules notified on May 31, which prohibit retired officials in intelligence or security-related organisations from writing books and articles without clearance from the competent authority, can be used to gag vocal critics of the government, many have said.
Former Research and Analysis Wing chief AS Dulat told The Hindu that the notification will discourage many officials from writing. “If it applies uniformly to everybody it is fine,” he said. Dulat wrote Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years in 2015 with journalist Aditya Sinha.
Former Indian Army chief VP Malik, who headed the force during the Kargil War, flagged similar concerns. “The basic problem is not pension rules but that it will inhibit people from writing,” he said, according to The Indian Express. “Pension is only a threat, the major issue is should one be able to write about one’s experience or not. My worry is that if you are not permitting people who retire from services to share their experience, how will anybody be able to pass expert comments and analyse a particular event and learn from those events…the country will be the loser.”
According to the new rules, the retired officials will have to sign an undertaking that they will not publish any information without clearance. Their pension could be withheld or withdrawn, fully or partially, if they do not comply with the government order.
Former Border Security Force head Prakash Singh told The Indian Express that while some restrictions were understandable in matters related to national security, the new rules seems to be “overarching”. “If so necessary, a time frame of two-five years upon retirement could have been introduced,” Singh suggested. “This is like a blanket ban.”
An unidentified officer from the Intelligence Bureau said the amended rules give an opportunity to the Modi government to punish anyone with differing views. “If you see there is no procedure mentioned in the rules as to how the government would go about revoking pension in case of violation,” he said. “So I say something in a seminar or conference and you freeze my pension. The government can harass you endlessly. Like officials, ministers, too, are privy to secret files. What about them?”
Hyderabad MP and President of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen Asaduddin Owaisi also criticised the government’s order. “Intelligence personnel are already bound for life by their declaration under Official Secrets Act, when they join,” he tweeted. “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.”
Owaisi said “threat-tactic politics” defines the Bharatiya Janata Party government. “Threaten one, threaten some, deter all,” he wrote. “Intelligence professionals are the easiest to pick on, given that they largely live a life of invisibility during and after service. Does government have guts to ban the most prolific post-retirement writers, civil servants, armed forces and judiciary, all of whom access national secrets and secret docs [documents] during their work?”