Sir — It is a relief that the vice-president of the United States of America, Kamala Harris, called the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, to tell him that the US would share some of its Covid-19 vaccine stock with India. Given that the Indian government has made a royal mess of the vaccination drive in the country, it is high time we received some help from outside for the health and safety of the vast swathes of the population who are yet to receive even their first doses. The occasion, however, calls for reflection upon the fact that the Indian government, which loves to boast about its achievement, cannot even vaccinate the people of the country on its own.
Sir — In a shocking move, through an amendment to the Central Civil Services (Pension) Rules, 1972, the Central government barred all retired officials in intelligence and security-related organizations from publishing any material “which falls within the domain of the organization” before clearing it with the current head of the organization concerned (“Pension ‘gag’ on security officials”, June 3). The move perilously overextends the scope of service and pension rules, deals a blow to retired officials’ fundamental right to free speech and potentially weakens democratic discourse in India, as those who have the most experience on sensitive subjects are effectively barred from commenting on it, except with the government’s approval. It also reinforces the impression that the regime is not comfortable with dissent and criticism, even when it comes from those who have served the Indian State with great distinction and patriotism.
Retired officials of security organizations must, of course, exercise the utmost responsibility given that they have had access to “sensitive information” that may imperil the “sovereignty and integrity of India”. But the revised rules widen the scope of restrictions and will create a sense of fear among them. Given India’s generally opaque security set-up, the refusal to declassify files, rules of secrecy and stringent norms of access, retired officials are a key source of information and insight. After years of being in a regimented bureaucracy, they can finally share this expertise with other citizens. At a time when dissenting voices within the system find it hard to take positions, a distinctive view from outside would only help the State evolve a more considered policy approach. These officials have spent their entire professional lives safeguarding India’s security. Rather than threatening them with docked pensions, they should be trusted and given the space to express their views.
Sir — The recent amendment to the pension rules is yet another blow to the integrity of a healthy public discourse in the country. If Central intelligence or security organization officers fail to follow the new guidelines, their pensions can be withdrawn or withheld.
Pensions are given for the services rendered by government servants to the country. Linking them to post-retirement conduct is immoral. It is also against the fundamental right to free speech enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution. At a time when dissenting voices are being curbed, and ordinary citizens have to go to court to be heard, the expertise of former espionage officers will only enrich the public discourse.
Many government officials currently in service get to write books and newspaper articles. The same right cannot be denied to retired officials. The latter have devoted their lives to protecting India. In Western democracies, books and articles by former intelligence officials are welcomed. For a society to move forward, debates, discussions and free speech are necessary preconditions that must be encouraged.
Vijay Singh Adhikari,