It is with great remorse (else, what’s a death without it!) one writes this obit (how paradoxical!) on retirement, who gladly (sic) was put to sleep early last evening, albeit with much fanfare, song and dance, hype and hoopla. Strange as it may sound, unlike other demises this was indeed a strange death when the mourners (that’s what they are on such occasions) rejoiced, danced, and turned revelers and regaled other mourners present in the real and in the virtual world.
Unlike other deaths, natural or unnatural, this death was not pronounced (naturally) by any doctor, competent or incompetent, but by the high priest of Indian bureaucracy that answers to the name of Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT) and lords over the fate of Indian civil servants. DOPT (poor dear) had been inundated with requests the past few decades to raise the retirement age of its stakeholders, or, failing that to provide post-retirement sinecures to all the retirees, particularly the ones in the higher rarefied echelon, on the ample logic that the power, pelf, and perks granted them while in service must continue seamlessly – at least till their respective corporal deaths in this life and they are granted an appropriate state funeral with varying numbers of gun-salute as per their official pecking order.
To be fair to DOPT, they have, in the past, increased the retirement age from 58 to 60, and have always kept up their unrelenting machinations to further raise the retirement age to whatever comes about through the Central Sixth Pay Commission or through the PMO or the Cabinet Secretariat. Their expectation that the increase could be done inchmeal, almost surreptitiously and unobtrusively, from 60 to 62 to 65 to 67/70 to 75 to 80 to 85 to 90 (for those survivors in the long-distance sojourn), by convincing the political masters particularly the PMO, which itself so gloriously examples ageless service, has been belied. They haven’t met with any degree of success the last 12 years after the first goal scored in 1998, which is such a huge pity.
DOPT’s action has been hailed as ingenious and sui generis prompting some smart-alecs to go bananas over it and claiming that the august department has solved all problems for all times for all civil servants with one fell swoop of an order. Never in the solar plexus has any single body or a group of bodies acting individually, jointly and severally has had acted with such great prescience to alleviate such recurring and nagging problems that have bedevilled humankind since the dawn of civilization when Adam and Eve did the unmentionable and brought curse upon the homo sapiens.
A reading of the operative part of DOPT’s order would make their contention clear. To wit: “After careful examination, and only after taking into consideration the various mutations of representations received from various quarters of government employees and their myriad associations that run into bazillion pages, the Department after due diligence, rumination, mulling and titration (not to confuse with titillation) has decided to abolish retirement for all classes of government employees for all times to come. This is considered very democratic and equitable as it puts the civil servants at par with other public servants, namely politicians for one, who, by dint of the nature of their work and their sense of total commitment and complete involvement to uplift the suffering humanity and the wretched of the earth, have always found it hard to keep off selfless and ageless public service right till their very end.
“A cost-benefit study of this problem was carried out and it was reported by the Committee of Cost-Benefit Analysis – headed by Shri Bharat Singh Ujala, former Secretary, DOPT and 999 other members – appointed to examine the issue that it will be prudent to make service retirement-less, in line, as our venerable constitution enjoins, with a casteless society that Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our Great Nation, fought and died for. The Committee appointed six years ago has come to this irrefutable conclusion after visiting 168 countries – big and small, developed and developing, emerging and hidden, racially-profiled black and white, brown and yellow, complexion- and pulchritude-profiled blondes and brunettes and auburns – spread across all the continents (except Antarctica) consuming 786 days of overseas stay and entailing enormous hardship to each one of them.
“This is also deemed to be economical in times of world-wide recession in a globalized economy, and it was felt that as one of the acclaimed leaders of emerging economies, India ought to think out-of-the-box – and this is precisely what is aimed to be achieved. There will be enormous savings in the terminal benefits and pension, not to say that the order is also hugely eco-friendly since no more papers in writing countless representations will be used.
“It has been estimated by the Sub-Committee on Ecological Aspect appointed as a part of the Committee of Cost-Benefit Analysis under the chairmanship of Shri U.C. Mashkaram, retired Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forest (and with a representative sample of 367 members drawn from various walks of public and private service) to Sub-examine and Sub-recommend that 12569741983240007 tons of paper will be saved that translates to saving of (roughly) 23965287394 trees and improving forest cover of our country by 0.2135%. In effect, all employees will continue to be potent workers contributing their mite to the building of a strong India till the time they decide to bid farewell to this world.
“It has further been decided to do one better than the only super-power in the world today – the USA – where judges of their Supreme Court are sadly and disingenuously retired on grounds of dementia, when – and only when – the need to lean on the state is acute and which cannot be overstated, by abolishing this reprehensible and hideous provision in our perennial welfare state. Yes, we can – in our country. And yes, we have!
“As would naturally follow from the foregoing, voluntary retirements (VR) too have been abolished. If for any strange, bizarre, inexplicable, and personal reason, any civil servant wishes to opt for the erstwhile VR, he will henceforth only have to intimate his desire to abstain from work. He will nonetheless continue to draw his full salary and all perks available to him at the time of such casualty (no proposal for refusal or diminution of salary/perks shall be entertained) though he will stand to lose his purchasing wherewithal in the form of power, pelf and clout. That act will solely be of his/her own choice and making and the State cannot, repeat cannot, be held responsible for the hardship that such an act will entail.
“Similar fate will also attend upon those officials compulsorily sent home on grounds of indiscipline as part of provisions of Rule 11 for major penalty enshrined in the CCS (CCA) Rules, 1965. It is again reiterated that given our steadfast and relentless resolve to attain global noble welfare statehood for its civil servants, such officials will not be deemed to have retired from service. To soften the brutality of such acts on their part, it has been decided that they will continue to enjoy all travel perks they were used to all life, e.g. official visits to attend friend’s/relative’s weddings and divorces, births and funerals, mundaans and thread ceremonies etc. Also they will continue to earn annual increments and promotions till such time they reach the pinnacle of the pay granted to the highest paid civil servant. Needless to say they shall continue to enjoy Leave Travel Concessions as before granted while in active service.”
What though was left unsaid (it resonates though) and if carried out could lead to enormous savings was the fact that there would be no need to create countless post-retirement sinecures imaginatively hammered out from time to time to accommodate the strident demand of the ever-growing smart retirees who with progress of medical research in the form of genome mapping, embryonic stem cell, and over-the-counter-available statin and Erecgra-SR are on their rapid march to immortality and threatening to defy death, space and the noble Creator.
Plus, austerity being the battle-cry of DOPT, supernumerary posts created the past few decades in the form of Chairmanship and membership of old and newly-formed commissions (including Commissions of Inquiry and posts of Interlocutors that go on interminably) and sub-commissions, post of advisors to various Ministries/Ministers and advisors to Advisors, Chairman and membership of various extra-terrestrial Municipal, State and Central Bodies, would have to be given a decent and dignified burial simply because there will be no necessity (even takers) after the august personages, now occupying the posts, accidentally decide to kick the bucket.
The order is also said to usher in greater openness in public service when transparency is the buzzword by removing once and for all the oft-repeated complaint of civil servants’ pliability and accusation of nepotism toward select corporate houses during their last few years of service as quid pro quo – entailing huge loss of government dues/receipts for eternity – when they furiously and hungrily, even insanely, looked around for post-retirement employ. It is also rumored that the Ministry of Home Affairs already battle-scarred with terrorist and Maoist problems have informally granted their concurrence for retirement-free public service so that the pressure on them to appoint retired asinine and headless civil servants (with powerful brothers-sisters-fathers-mothers-in-law connect) as Governors is alleviated, and politicians, ailing from terminal illness or pastured after losing in the hustings, could climb onto the gubernatorial gaddis.
DOPT in its sagacity has also empirically established through simulation packages employed by another Sub-Committee consisting of 589 members on Body-Mind Asynchronized Continuum – headed by Shri M.S. Dhanushkodi, former Secretary of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India and members drawn from all conceivable and unconceivable ministries and departments of Government of India and other clever participating State and UT governments – appointed to examine the aspect of savings in the form of better work-life balance that retirement-free service would necessarily entail.
It was thought (and quite rightly) that the retirement of retirement clause would grant sound, even good, sleep, and thereby, sound health to the civil servants since the Damocles sword hanging about them like an albatross in their mind (even body) would be removed, and the same has no scope to revisit the honorable civil servants even in their dreams and/or subconscious, unconscious and/or comatose stages. It indeed would grant good health to all and sundry. And that sure will show up in the reduced medical claims preferred by (the present-day) about-to-retire personnel burdened with the onerous responsibility of running the nation’s administration as well as the retirees. It would also unobtrusively help to right-size or re-size or down-size the moribund Central Government Health Scheme, with its rampant corruption and tendency to supply sub-standard/under-potented drugs to patients, before making a pitch in the not-too-distant future to abolish the same organization summarily.
There is a flip side to this historic order though. With service now made co-terminus with life, given the addictive aroma of selfless public service, there is bound to be much jostling and reluctance to bid adieu to this – the splendid world. Who, in his mind, will like to travel into an unknown, uncharted world where uncertainties bristle and are bound to confront him, and with no guarantee of such continued sinecure as gratuitously granted here in India on Mother Earth?
“The 235-member Sub-Committee on Likely Extended Life-Span (SCLELS), headed by Shri Z.A. Shaman, former Secretary, Ministry of Social Welfare, carried out an in-depth analysis of the problem and went into the issue at great length in their 333 sittings spread across 129 countries. They have come to the unlikely conclusion that given human nature, ennui and boredom is bound to set in, and this coupled with the pugnacious putrescence unleashed by fellow civil servants in their day-to-day discourse will negate the doomsday that neo-Malthusians are apt to stir up. In other words, most of them (if not all) will one day (though light years away) decide to call it a life! Thereby the equilibrium will be made (or at least seen) to be restored on Father India.
“Not to forget that deaths caused by natural calamities (earthquake, volcano, flood, avalanche, sun-stroke et al) and unnatural calamities (air-crashes – particularly of the venerable national carrier; gas leakages – like the Bhopal kind; train accidents; Maoist and terrorist attacks particularly in the 5-Star Hotels) will be the periodic, why almost daily, icing on the cake and, at this point in time, considered safely sufficient to take care of the likely and impending problem of growing unemployment.”
For all the catholicity of this salutary order, to be frank, this doubtless is fraught with certain difficulties, though not (mercifully) insurmountable. Of course pension will be a thing of the past, yet family pension will have to be paid along with leave encashment and death-cum-retirement gratuity to the widow(er) as the case would be. And no civil servant, given his years of selfless public service would be inclined to leave his/her spouse poorer by availing a day’s earned leave to pass away from this sacred world and thereby reducing one day from the total of 5000 days of encashable earned leave. Leave s/he must avail to die in the arms of his/her respective loving spouse (transfer and/or stealing of affection of others’ spouses not encouraged!). In effect, for all deaths either casual leave (CL) or restricted holiday (RH) will be availed. Given their transparent honesty, spotless integrity, and blotless probity, the purpose of leave will clearly state something like this: To die peaceably in home comfort in the arms of my dear spouse without affecting the quantum/amount of leave encashment. That would indeed be very chic and so darlingesque!
As would be apparent by now, there were no pall-bearers or hearse for poor, dear, bereft Retirement – always the abominable outcast in life, and so too in death – as evidenced yesterday. Only the cacophony and joie de vivre was loud and thunderous, the raptures of glee and bonhomie of revelers reverberating across the official corridors and drifting adroitly over time and Indian spaces, celebrating the final, irrevocable transfer of retirement compulsion to the hoary pension establishment – to naught and moss there for perpetuity!