Cover Story

Compulsory retirement: a scary scenario

by K Subramaniam

img-oct15-7SERVICES under the State, under Article 16, 309, 310 and 311 of the Constitution, are much sought after in our country. Apart from civil services, central government and state governments, the government also employees people in the local bodies, semi-government institutions and panchayati raj institutions. The advantage of service under the State is the protection of service under Article 311 of the Constitution and that arbitrary or mala fide removal from service is impossible.

As a welfare state post-independence, the country had a sufficiently well-oiled machinery of employees to run the affairs of the State. Yet, the salaries most employees drew were meagre—more in the “hand-to-mouth” category—and, in the case of bureaucracy, not commensurate with the immense powers it exercised.

As the demands of democracy grew and the states and centre felt the crunch of funds to run popular programmes, the employees became the first victims of downsizing. The period immediately after liberalisation in 1991 saw the government grossly reducing recruitment, only to realise later that the way economy grew it needed more people to work.

On the other hand, while outsourcing work became a norm, the pay bills did not reduce. This raised questions on the labour policies of the government where the principle of ‘equal work, equal pay’ was not adhered to. In this outsourcing regime, the government became an exploiter of the youth by grossly underpaying the wages and leaving the young, skilled unemployed people to the vagaries of uncertainty of jobs and to be exploited by manpower supply companies. Even the recruitment to civil services was reduced in the wave of liberalised economy-driven governments—53 IAS in the late 1990s for a few batches, only to increase to 180 in 2013.

As an employer, the private sector proved to be an exploiter with even BTech graduates failing to get salaries commensurate to their skills. No wonder, hundreds of BTech seats remain vacant today. In addition, education became expensive post-liberalisation and was out of the reach of a common man.

Each and every recruitment to the government has to be done after providing an equal opportunity to those seeking that post or the job. The private sector seldom does this. After the recruitment, service conditions in the government are regulated by rules. For example, the Central Service Rules regulate and control the government employees on issues like probation, discipline, appeal against disciplinary actions, conduct, leave, promotion, pay, performance appraisal, suspension from service, dismissal and even personal foreign travel. From a peon to the level of a secretary, every aspect of a government servant’s life is controlled by service rules. Invariably, government servants bear this stranglehold for only one aspect of the service: the security of service and the guaranteed length of the service.

The period immediately after liberalisation in 1991 saw the government grossly reducing recruitment, only to realise later that the way the economy was growing it needed more people to work

WHILE transfers in the central government are after a fixed tenure (which, of late, are changing to Haryana-style daily transfers), the state governments are known to transfer officials at the drop of a hat, thereby disturbing their family life and the educational prospects of their children. To stave off this threat of transfer disturbing the education of their children, increasingly government officials are opting to settle their family in a town and live separately at their place of employment, in service of the nation. The service conditions of employees regulate even their writing articles, accepting gifts, using their airline mileage points (earned on official visits) and every imaginable aspect of life. The conduct rules are so drafted that any civil servant can be hauled up and disciplinary action can be initiated.

Employees can be charge sheeted on flimsy grounds. If authorities at the helm of affairs decide to punish an employee, no one can save him or her as all the powers vest with the punishing authority

The Central Civil Services Conduct rules impose this condition that every government servant shall at all times maintain absolute integrity, maintain devotion to duty and do nothing which is unbecoming of a government servant. Also, no government servant shall, in the performance of his official duties, act in a discourteous manner; in his official dealings with the public, or otherwise, adopt dilatory tactics or wilfully cause delays in disposal of the work assigned to him. Every government servant shall, at all times, act in accordance with the government’s policies regarding age of marriage, preservation of environment, protection of wildlife and cultural heritage. Every government servant shall observe the government’s policies regarding prevention of crime against women.

No doubt, these aspects of integrity are important. But, they also become an easy tool to harass or exploit, since it is very difficult to define the limits of such behaviour so as to initiate disciplinary action, punish and remove them from service. More often, employees from the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities become victims of these rules as the social bias of caste system pervades all rungs of administration. Employees can be charge sheeted on flimsy grounds. If authorities at the helm of affairs decide to punish an employee, no one can save him or her as all the powers vest with the punishing authority.

In such a scenario, compulsorily retiring employees at 50-year review or a 55-year review, or even in between, becomes scary. To find mistakes in employees with such vague rules is very easy. In a 50/55-year review, a charge sheet or impending charge sheet or a previous punishment is sufficient to compulsorily retire a person “in public interest”. Going to court is also not so helpful in view of the time taken by them to decide a case.

All this while, the security of service is likely to take a hit by the posturing of the government. The biases of language, region, caste and religion are again going to play a role in who is going to be compulsorily retired first. And for that, even a small violation of conduct rules is sufficient!

THERE is yet another way to remove people from service without getting into the rigmarole of Article 311—by simply amending rules on the length of the service. As the idea already making rounds, it is to restrict length of service to 33 years or attaining 60 years, whichever is earlier. While the service conditions are protected by the Constitution of India, Rules come under a subordinate legislation and can be amended easily. For this, there is no need for any government to go through Parliament.

This move will remove the top echelon across ministries and provide the government a fresh set of people at the helm of affairs, pacing up promotions. It is also being discussed in the corridors of power that by the 33/60 Rule, employees who have entered service at a young age are likely to be affected. It may be that in some cases SC and ST employees, who sometimes enter the service at a late age due to age concession, may survive the Rule. However, the tenure for them too will be 33 years.

The Article 309 says: “Recruitment and conditions of service of persons serving the Union or a State —Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, Acts of the appropriate Legislature may regulate the recruitment, and conditions of service of persons appointed, to public services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of any State: Provided that it shall be competent for the President or such person as he may direct in the case of services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union, and for the Governor of a State or such person as he may direct in the case of services and posts in connection with the affairs of the State, to make rules regulating the recruitment, and the conditions of service of persons appointed, to such services and posts until provision in that behalf is made by or under an Act of the appropriate Legislature under this article, and any rules so made shall have effect subject to the provisions of any such Act”. Article 310 deals with Tenure of office of persons serving the Union or a State.

If a government thinks it fit to reduce the length of service or retirement age or compulsorily retire its employees at 50/55, no one can stop it from doing so.

VOL. 9, ISSUE 7 | OCT, 2015

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