Friday, January 8, 2010

Retirement blues by Sudhansu Mohanty

An Op-Ed by Sudhansu Mohanty in on 25 December 2009:

James Boren once wrote tongue-firmly-in-his-cheek, thus: “When in doubt, mumble; when in charge, delegate; when in difficulty, ponder. A job of a good bureaucrat is to cut the red-tape — length-wise!” And more: “Every bureaucrat has a constitutional right to fuzzify, profundify… it’s a part of our freedom of speech...”

We know this is a funny take on bureaucrats saddled with responsibility of running the nation and who are supposed to be unfunny in their activities. But that is not the issue. What is intriguing is their resolute aversion and reluctance to stop serving the nation which they proclaim is the raison d’etre of their existence — well past their shelf lives. In simple uncomplicated words, their implacable opposition to retire; and since they can’t help it, their resurrection in one form or the other through post-retirement sinecures or some employs.

Today a government pension is handsome reward for past services performed — even not-performed. Our democratic system makes no such distinction — unlike performing and non-performing assets in the marketplace — and is equitable to the core. In a way, it paraphrases Laurence J. Peter’s oft-quoted aphorism to ensure that bureaucracy defends (read pays for) the status quo long past the time when the quo (attenuated now) has lost its status.

But that sadly doesn’t satisfy the retiree. There is the urge to serve the nation alluded to earlier. The urge to keep doing the remainder of one’s life what one had been doing all one’s life. Sundowns are unacceptable given the permanence of human lives, so they think. And with health in shipshape duly bolstered with power and pelf, there is no earthly reason that the road yonder cannot be traversed the same way as the road traversed just yet.

This is the time for another sunup to do what one has been best at: writing memoranda both because it shows one as being busy when they were being written and because the memos, once written, immediately example that one was busy!

I refer to sunup advisedly. This sunup is unlike the first — the original sunup. While the first sunup is a period of learning and acclimatizing to the new milieu and hence fraught with some uncertainties, this one mercifully is free from any such vicissitudes. There is no learning curve here; it is just the continuation and perpetuation of past lessons and issue of diktats. Plus, and this is the most important part: the subinfeudation of perquisites and fringe benefits one has so got used to in a lifetime of modus vivendi that one thinks one is being denied by some quirky government order that stops short of granting such largesse way ahead of his actual departure from mother earth. This is the crux of the matter — the reason why no bureaucrat wants to ever retire; the reason why there is so much jostling and lobbying in every bureaucrat’s pre-retirement days so that he can afford to retyre himself. Remember, these are not easy days. Have no such delusions.

Some top honchos crave for the ultimate: governorship of some states and ambassadorship and envoy extraordinary to the growing number of countries. But then these are only a few on offer; realistically it is better to espy such posts as membership of various permanent Commissions of the Union or state governments. Membership of administrative tribunals, both the Central and State, are decent in the sense that they can prolong your expiry till age 65, unlike the earlier 62, which frankly was too little for anyone’s comfort. With Right to Information being bandied about with such fervour, the Information Commissionerships have inevitably been created, both in the Centre and the State governments. And don’t you forget the time-worn chairmanship/membership of Union and State Public Service Commissions.

For all the generosity of the Indian nation-state, there is willy-nilly a limit to post-retirement sinecures: it simply can’t re-employ all retirees; that’s the bottom-line. This is why a vast Centre-Scale Industry has mushroomed lately. This industry is largely Delhi-based and like the small-scale industry, government-aided and driven by individual enterprise. The more enterprising a retiree, the better and smarter his/her Centre is likely to be. Every retiring senior public servant is an expert (or pretends) in the (almost always) last post he held. So after retirement he can jolly well set up a Centre of some relevance to the Ministry he last served so that grants-in-aid from the government can flow out seamlessly, and without anyone raising an eyebrow.

This is what explains the myriad of expert Centres that dot Delhi’s lanescape today; each an expert body to proffer their periodic advice to the government for the grants given them, and also, as and when an invite is forthcoming, have their fifteen minutes of glory under the strobe light in television studios. If you wonder why some names are so common and prefixed and suffixed to the area of expertise, here is the answer. Planning, Management, Public Policy, Social Science, Conflict (in today’s India and World) are safely generic and like putty clay can take any form granted them. Let’s take a ubiquitous term like “Conflict”. This base name can safely give rise to so many of Centres without affronting any. Like-wise Power has a tremendous potential to wield power: Centre for Power Studies; Centre for Air Power Studies; Centre for Ground Power Studies; Centre for Water (Ocean, Bay, Gulf) Power Studies; Centre for Strategic Power Studies.

Not to be outdone, there are always the corporate sinecures and the NGO bandwagon one can jump into. The corporates value a retiree public servant who is irrepressibly social and a good wheeler-dealer and a highly networked individual in the corridors of power and can swing a deal or two for them. The other bandwagon — NGOs — as we all know, are a law unto themselves. Simply register under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) 1976 to receive gorgeous funds from abroad. If you wish visibility, zero in on the tribals — their human rights cause. The power of emerged world will help you to the hilt. And you don’t have to file reports and submit balance sheets for scrutiny, while you trumpet the cause of the poor, the marginalized, and the vulnerable tribals and the Maoists as an intellectual.

Remember, for such self-proclaimed intellectuals no harm can ever come their way for as Eugene McCarthy once said wryly: “The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is inefficiency. An efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty.” How ironic and predictable, and another cause, however small, for gratitude. Look, I’m not being malicious!

About the author:

The author is Principal Controller of Defence Accounts, Bangalore.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 New Year Day Celebrations


Principal Controller of Defence Accounts, Bangalore