Imposing Condition On Sahitya Akademi Award Not Good For Healthy Democracy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke very eloquently in the US about the ‘deep-rooted democratic values ​​of the Indian psyche’. 

Two incidents that happened within a month of his statement show how little understanding Indian politicians have about its implications.

On July 7, the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions headed by the Prime Minister revised the service conditions of retired bureaucrats and changed the rules related to withholding of their pension.

Last week, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture tabled a report which indicated that Sahitya Akademi award winners would have to give an undertaking that they would not return their award in protest against any political incident.

Both of these things indicate that there is an attempt to discourage two groups that play a key role in criticizing public policy and shaping public perception. 

Importantly, both these initiatives have been taken just before the assembly elections to be held later this year.

The change in bureaucrats’ service rules is based on a 2021 rule on pensions of central bureaucrats, according to which retired intelligence and security officers cannot write articles or speak publicly about the departments where they worked without prior permission. Used to do

The change to the ‘linking pension to future conduct’ rule broadens the scope of a 2008 amendment that prohibits the publication of sensitive material under the Official Secrets Act and general criminal laws. 

Now if the relevant guidelines are violated, the pension of the retired security or intelligence officer may come under threat.

The latest amendment seeks to impose similar restrictions on all bureaucrats. For this, the language of the related rule was changed. 

Earlier, the pension of bureaucrats could be stopped at the behest of the state government in case of misconduct or crime. 

Now it has been amended and now the decision to stop pension will be taken either at the behest of the state government or for other reasons. 

It simply means that this can be done by using the influence of the central government.

Although governments have the right to expect from former bureaucrats, but ‘good conduct’ is not defined. 

Breaches such as leaking state secrets or committing crimes can be defined very broadly.

There is also apprehension under the new rules that if the government does not like the criticism of public policy by a critic, then it can also take punitive action against him. 

This thing is clear from the instructions of the parliamentary committee regarding future Sahitya Akademi winners. 

The committee is headed by a non-BJP MP and includes members from all parties.

The recommendation was made because 39 authors including Sahitya Akademi awardee M.M. Kalburgi returned his award in protest against the killing of allegedly by right-wing activists.

But it is not clear how the government can impose such a condition when Sahitya Akademi is an autonomous institution. 

Secondly, these awards are given for excellence in the arts and not for service to the government. 

Definitely both these rules cannot be considered as a good example from the point of view of democratic values.

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