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Fact and fiction in our governance

NARENDRA LUTHER

While for normal jobs the age of superannuation is determined on the basis of old age, it is ironical that for more important jobs, retirement age is either higher or nonexistent

BEFORE RETIREMENT the wife gets half husband and his full salary. After retirement, she gets back the full husband and half his salary. Frankly, not entirely a good bargain for her!

The age of retirement is decided on the basis of factors such as expectancy of life and the state of physical and mental health of the employees. In India it used to be 55 for government employees under the British and remained pegged at that for a number of years after independence.

Then it was argued that our expectancy of life, which was around 33 at the time of independence, had risen to over 60. Also 55 was too early for retirement. While the employee had still many family responsibilities to discharge, his income was suddenly reduced to half. On the other hand, the government lost the benefit of mature experience and advice. So the government extended the age of retirement to 58.

Ingenious suggestion

After some years when the government's financial position was tight, the employees gave an ingenious helpful suggestion. If the age of retirement were extended by another two years, the government would make huge savings by postponing the disbursement of terminal benefits to retiring employees. It would also maintain the same establishment costs instead of adding pension to the salaries of new employees. So, the government again succumbed and extended the age of superannuation to 60.

In the West, the age of retirement is 65 or above. With them the main reason is shortage of manpower. They make up this shortfall through selective immigration. They issue work permits and allow immigration in crucial sectors in which they need people.

The main consideration for sending people home on retirement is their lowered physical and mental capacity. That is why in the annual civil list, retired employees are unfeelingly listed under `wastages.'

While for normal jobs the age of superannuation is determined on the basis of old age, it is ironical that for more important jobs, the age of superannuation is either higher or nonexistent. For example, all our constitutional posts have a higher age limit. The judges of High Courts retire at the age of 62; of the Supreme Court at 65. Ditto for members of the State and Union Public Service Commissions and Central as well as State Administrative Tribunals. Election Commissioners and Information Commissioners go up to 65.

There is no age limit for Governors, legislators and Ministers. All governors are either retired servicemen or politicians. Legislators and Ministers take the most crucial decisions affecting various aspects of our life, well-being and liberty. So is it to be assumed that the normal rule of nature as to the diminution of faculties does not operate in the case of these important high functionaries.

In the case of judges we are told that a higher age for retirement ensures their independence. Can two or five years more than other functionaries negate the lure of commissions after their tenure?

In the case of our legislature, that is our MLAs and MPs, and the political executive, the argument is that they are elected by the people and it is for them to decide whether a particular person is too old to discharge his functions properly. So, we will continue to have Presidents, Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers and Ministers who may suffer from multiple disabilities but who directly or indirectly manage to secure the necessary endorsement.

So we have one fact and three cases of fiction operating in our system. The fact is that beyond a certain age the physical and mental faculties of individuals decline preventing them from giving their best.

The first fiction is that this law of diminishing faculties does not operate in the case of higher jobs. The jobs inject appropriate aphrodisiacs into the system of ageing persons. The second fiction is that the pull of power and pelf declines two to five years after the normal age of superannuation. The third fiction is that the masses know whether a person can continue to perform long after the normal old age.

The moral is that you require fit and healthy persons in the fullness of their faculties for lower level of jobs. For higher jobs that is not important.

(The writer is former Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh)

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