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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Explained: The cooling-off period for retired bureaucrats before joining a new job

Post-retirement commercial employment for the three All India Services (IAS, Indian Police Service, and Indian Forest Service) is covered under the AIS Death-cum-Benefits Rules, and for the Central Civil Services under the CCS (Pension) Rules.

Written by Shyamlal Yadav | New Delhi |
Updated: May 7, 2022 7:38:58 am
Archana Goyal Gulati served in NITI Aayog as Joint Secretary/Adviser. 

Archana Goyal Gulati, an 1989-batch official of the Indian Posts and Telecommunication Accounts and Finance Service (Indian P&TAFS), has joined Google as Chief of Public Policy after taking voluntary retirement from the civil service. Gulati, who served in NITI Aayog as Joint Secretary/Adviser (ICTs and Infrastructure), the Department of Telecommunications and the Competition Commission of India (CCI), told The Indian Express that she had completed the one-year cooling period that is necessary before taking up the post-retirement job.

What is the cooling-off period?

Post-retirement commercial employment for the three All India Services (IAS, Indian Police Service, and Indian Forest Service) is covered under the AIS Death-cum-Benefits Rules, and for the Central Civil Services under the CCS (Pension) Rules.

Rule 9 of the CCS (Pension) Rules states that “if a pensioner who, immediately before his retirement was a member of Central Service Group ‘A’ wishes to accept any commercial employment before the expiry of one year from the date of his retirement, he shall obtain the previous sanction of the Government to such acceptance”.

Rule 26 of the AIS Death-cum-Benefits Rules similarly restricts a pensioner from commercial employment for one year after retirement, except with government sanction.

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The cooling-off period was two years until January 2007, when the government reduced it to one year by an amendment.

Non-compliance with these rules can lead to the government declaring that the employee “shall not be entitled to the whole or such part of the pension and for such period as may be specified”.

What does “post-retirement commercial employment” include?

The expression covers:

  • Employment in any capacity including that of an agent, under a company, co-operative society, firm or individual engaged in trading or business (this does not include “employment under a body corporate, wholly or substantially owned or controlled by the Central Government or a State Government)”; and
  • Setting up practice, either independently or as a partner of a firm, as adviser or consultant in certain matters specified under the rules, including matters that are relatable to the pensioner’s official knowledge or experience.

When does a government allow or turn down such requests from pensioners?

The CCS (Pension) Rules specify several factors for the government to consider while granting or refusing permission, These include:

  • Whether a “no-objection” for the proposed employment has been obtained from the cadre controlling authority and from the office where the officer retired;
  • Whether the officer has been privy to sensitive or strategic information in the last three years of service that is directly related to the work of the organisation he proposes to join;
  • Whether there is conflict of interest between the policies of the office he has held in the last three years and the interests/work of this organisation;
  • Whether this organisation has been in conflict with or prejudicial to India’s foreign relations, national security and domestic harmony; and
  • Whether the organisation he proposes to join is undertaking any activity for intelligence gathering.

According to these rules, “conflict of interest” does not include normal economic competition with the government or its undertakings”.

What about government servants joining politics after retirement?

While in service, the Conduct Rules bar government servants from being associated with any political party or organisation, and from taking part in or assisting any political activity. An amendment on November 27, 2014 added a few clauses to Rule 3(1), one of which read: “Every government employee shall at all times maintain political neutrality and commit himself to and uphold the supremacy of the Constitution and democratic values”.

There is no rule, however, to stop government servants from joining politics after retirement. In 2013, the Election Commission had written to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and Ministry of Law, suggesting a cooling-off period for bureaucrats joining politics after retirement, but it was rejected. The Legislative Department of the Ministry of Law advised that any such a restriction may not stand the test of valid classification under Article 14 of the Constitution, and the DoPT told the EC that its suggestions may not be appropriate and feasible.

Did Gulati take permission to join Google, or need to?

Gulati told The Indian Express that she had taken voluntary retirement in March last year and has joined Google now. “It was after the end of the cooling-off period,” and so, she said, she did not need to take permission for the post-retirement employment.

As reported in The Indian Express, Gulati was posted in the CCI between June 2014 and June 2016. This year, the CCI ordered a probe into Alphabet Inc, Google’s parent company, over allegations of “abuse of dominance in news aggregation” and forcing unfair terms on digital news publishers. In a separate case, the CCI has published initial findings of a case against Google, where it termed the Android owner’s billing system for app developers “unfair and discriminatory”.

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