New Delhi: The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) may have warned states against returning to the Old Pension Scheme (OPS), but many have already reverted to it. After Himachal Pradesh became the latest to do so, the scheme has become a poll plank even in Tripura, which is scheduled to hold assembly elections on 16 February.
The Left Front has promised to bring OPS if voted to power, in the northeastern state which has 1.04 lakh government employees and 80,800 pensioners among its 28 lakh voters, making them one of the most important groups.
The OPS was discontinued across India by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and replaced by the New Pension Scheme (NPS) with effect from 2004.
Under OPS, government employees who have worked for at least 20 years get 50 per cent of their last drawn salary as their pension. There are no contributions made through this period, and the pension payments come due at the time of the employees’ retirement.
Under NPS, on the other hand, the government and employees contribute 10 per cent and 14 per cent of the employee’s salary, respectively, towards a pension fund. This pension fund is invested by the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority in diversified portfolios. The idea is that these contributions would grow and so the government can use these funds to pay pensions when it needs to.
The RBI has in multiple reports flagged the fiscal imprudence of a return to OPS as it increases the central government’s liability manifold.
Speaking to ThePrint, the CPI(M)’s Tripura state secretary Jitendra Choudhury said: “OPS is going to be a part of our manifesto. We will have four major things for government employees. Apart from the OPS, there will be no arbitrary retrenchment of government employees, all dearness allowances that are due will be released immediately, and the 10,323 teachers who had lost their jobs (following a 2014 high court order) will have their livelihood restored.”
Of the other states which have brought back the OPS, three — Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — are Congress-ruled, while Punjab is run by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
The only other Left-ruled state in the country — Kerala — still has the NPS for government employees.
Also read: States’ finances improving, but moving back to old pension scheme could pose future risks: RBI
Seventh Pay Commission
In 2018, when the BJP, in coalition with the Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), won a surprising victory in Tripura, its first ever, one of the poll promises had been implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission.
While the party claims it has fulfilled its promise — it announced a revised pay scale for employees and pensioners — government employees claim only a part of the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission were actually implemented in the state.
Anjan Roy Choudhury, general secretary of Tripura Employees Coordination Committee, claimed, “Government employees in Tripura have the second lowest pay, after those in West Bengal. The Seventh Pay Commission was an election promise, but in effect it has not been fully implemented. Only fixation has been done (which means the basic pay is according to the commission’s recommendations but not the perks).”
“Why should it not be on par with all others when the recruitment rules are the same?” he asked, adding: “We also want a return to the OPS because it entitles employees to a pension of 50 per cent of the last basic pay. Another pending demand is the release of the full amount of the 8 per cent dearness allowance announced (by the government last year).” The Tripura government has since announced a further hike of 12 per cent, taking the dearness allowance of state government employees to 20 per cent.
Political parties are, however, stepping gingerly on the pay commission issue.
Senior leaders said in off-the-record conversations that Tripura’s fiscal health is not such that a full implementation of the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations is possible.
Seat-sharing talks on
The Congress and Left Front in Tripura have, meanwhile, started seat-sharing talks.
The Tipraha Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliances, or TIPRA Motha, continues to play hardball with its insistence on a written commitment on ‘Tipraland’ prior to tying up with any party but, according to sources, both the Congress and Left have had discussions with TIPRA Motha chief Pradyot Debbarma over phone.
Debbarma also met Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in Delhi Thursday. Post the meeting, he said: “We have told them about our demand. Greater Tipraland is our struggle. Even the BJP did not know the Ram Mandir (in Ayodhya) was possible, but they pressed on with that (as well as) issues like (abrogation of) Article 370 and abolition of triple talaq that they believed in. This is our commitment.”
The other sides too remain hopeful of making headway with TIPRA Motha. “We expect to have an announcement about seat-sharing in the next 72 hours,” CPI(M)’s Choudhury said.
Following the first round of meetings, Congress leader Sudip Roy Barman said: “We are asking all those parties who want to fight against this fascist government that is killing democratic rights to come together. We have among us today the Left and the Tripura People’s Party, and we also spoke to Pradyot babu over phone. He is currently (visiting) the Election Commission in Delhi.”
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
Also read: ‘Lauta do purani pension’: The steady growth of Old Pension Scheme agitations across India