Saturday, April 1, 2006

A time for exit

A time for exit
By Narendra Luther

I don’t mean to exit from this world but a prelude to it. I mean the time to superannuate, to stop working regularly for a job, or as is commonly put, to retire.

Full man, half pay

Before retirement the wife gets half husband and his full salary. After retirement, she gets back the full husband and half his salary. The age of retirement is decided on the basis of a multiplicity of factors like expectancy of life and the state of health, and the availability of manpower in any society. It varies from country to country and time to time. The key consideration is the level of mental capacity in most jobs. In India it used to be 55 for the employees of government 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 thirty-three at independence had risen to over sixty. 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. Basically, it was the serving employees who wanted to prolong their tenure. So the government extended the age of retirement to 58. 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. Also, India would automatically become closer to the western advanced countries where the age of retirement was well over 60. Of course the old arguments of a further increase in the expectancy of life, better health and maturity of experience of older employees were always there. So, the government again succumbed and extended the age of superannuation to 60.

In the U.S. the age of retirement is 65; in England 68. It is around that figure in most of the advanced countries of the West. With them one of the reasons 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. They can thus pick up the best readymade human capital from all over the world. In a way the under- developed and developing countries extend massive assistance to developed countries through the supply of trained manpower. Considering the overall cost of turning out a physician, an engineer, an architect or the like, it can be safely assumed that for every person going to the developed counties of the West, from India, we are giving them an invisible financial aid of at least 10 million rupees. But that is a digression from our theme. Let me return to it.

The main consideration for sending people home on retirement is their lowered physical and mental capacity. That is why in the civil list retired employees are listed unfeelingly under ‘wastage’. Experience of thirty years, which some old fogies boast about, is nothing but the experience of ten years multiplied three times. According to experts, there is a gradual loss in physical and mental faculties which sets in after 40. It becomes pronounced around sixties when one moves towards old age and senescence.

Never say die

While for normal job 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. Members of the State Public Service Commission retire at 62, of the Union at 65. So is the case of the Election Commission and the Central as well as the State Administrative Tribunals. Recently the Chief Commissioner under the Right to Information Act and the State Commissioners have been appointed. All of them are retired bureaucrats. Retired judges of high or Supreme Court are appointed to head various commissions of inquiries which are set up every now and then.

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 diminutions 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 do that? The lure of commissions after that term should be enough to dilute that. The constitution of the U.S. has sought to ensure independence of the judges of the Supreme Court by giving them a term for life. That provision can certainly ensure independence. Apart from them in most countries Field Marshals of the armed force also don’t retire. But that is by way of honour. Both Judges of the Supreme Court and Field Marshals stop attending office whenever they feel like but continue to get their full salaries and perks.

In the case of our legislature that is our MLA’s and M.P s, 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.

Fact and Myths

So we have one fact and three fictions 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 from our prevalent practice is that you require fit persons with limited wear and tear for lower level of jobs. For higher jobs impaired faculties are prime qualifications.

It may appear to be a bundle of ironies and contradictions. But that is life - a fiction based on further fictions. So, stop grousing and accept the facts and fictions of life - so says saint Kabir.

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