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Why Congress road map for 2024 doesn’t include govt-funded pension scheme it has resurrected in states

Old pension scheme — discontinued at the Centre in 2003 — was not part of economic resolution passed at All India Congress Committee (AICC) plenary in Raipur.

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New Delhi: Over recent years, the old pension scheme (OPS) — a fully-government-funded endeavour for retirees that was discontinued at the Centre in 2003 — has been resurrected in multiple Congress-led states. 

It has also been a part of the party’s poll promises in different states, including Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh last year.

However, the scheme was not a part of the economic resolution passed at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) plenary in Raipur that ended Sunday. 

The resolution seeks to chart out the party’s economic road map for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, and its absence seemed conspicuous, especially as the OPS’ potential cost to the exchequer has been red-flagged within the Congress before.

While sources in the party said the pension scheme didn’t even come up for discussion in the economic affairs committee at the plenary, Jairam Ramesh, the Congress general secretary in-charge of communications, played down the omission.

During a press conference at the plenary on 24 February, he said that there was a “lot of discussion” about it in the subjects committee, a group of over 120 Congress leaders who discussed and finalised the draft resolutions at the Congress plenary.

Asked why the OPS was not mentioned in the resolution, Ramesh told ThePrint that it was a policy that state units had to incorporate in their manifesto. 

“OPS is what we do. The resolutions are about what we will do. It is something that state units incorporate in their manifesto pledges,” he added. “The resolution gives broad directions and is more philosophical.”

Former Union finance minister P. Chidambaram, chairman of the AICC economic affairs sub-group, refused to comment on the matter, saying, “I only know what’s there in the resolution.”

Meanwhile, Gaurav Vallabh, convenor of the sub-group, reiterated that it is a policy for states to decide on and everybody at the economic affairs committee had agreed to the same.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi had suggested the same during a press conference on the sidelines of the Bharat Jodo Yatra, which ended in January.

“There is no scientific analysis done on this,” he said, when the media asked if the credit for the party’s victory in Himachal should go to the pension scheme promise.

“We don’t say that every state needs to do this. We can give advice from the centre on what will work well and what won’t. But that’s about it. We leave it to the states because different states have to run the governments differently,” he added. 

Speaking to ThePrint, a party leader said OPS will likely not be a major poll plank for the party in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

“It is up to the states what they do,” the leader added. “One can also argue that the Congress is a part of the government in Tamil Nadu and the state has not gone back to OPS. And it won’t.”

The leader, reiterating Rahul Gandhi’s stance, added that it “is unscientific” to say that the Congress won in Himachal because of the OPS.

Also Read: ‘Never retired, will never retire’: Sonia Gandhi quashes speculation on her future in politics

‘Will be implemented where promised’

The OPS, which was discarded by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led BJP government in 2003, was replaced by the New Pension Scheme (NPS). 

Under OPS, which was completely government-funded, retired employees were to get 50 per cent of their last drawn salary after retirement.

The NPS, however, is a contributory pension scheme, under which employees contribute 10 per cent of their salary while the government contributes 14 per cent to a pension fund. 

At the time of retirement, employees are required to purchase an annuity plan from an approved pension provider to avail of a monthly pension with a minimum 40 per cent of the accumulated corpus. The rest can be withdrawn lump sum.

At the Centre, the Congress-led UPA continued the NPS during its tenure from 2004 to 2014. However, in recent years, the governments in states where the Congress is in office — Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh — have reverted to the OPS. 

The Jharkhand government, where the Congress is an alliance partner, has also done the same.

In the past, Praveen Chakravarthy, chairman of the party’s Data & Analysis Wing, considered to be one of the party’s best economic minds and sounding board for all things economics, has cited the OPS’ high cost to the exchequer.

Even when the party made OPS a poll promise during the Gujarat elections in November last year, Chakravarty said it would cost “15% of tax revenues in Gujarat”.

He had, however, later clarified that it would be incorrect to construe his statement as reflective of some “big internal strife” within the party. 

At the plenary, Ramesh said the party was “committed” to “implementing” OPS in states where it had been promised.

Discussions are also being held within the party on including the scheme in the manifesto for the upcoming Karnataka assembly elections. 

“There was a lot of discussion on OPS (in the Congress subjects committee at the plenary). There’s an upcoming election in Karnataka for which the manifesto has to be prepared. But let me make it very clear to you — the Congress party will implement it,” he said. “Where we have promised it already, we’ll make sure we will.”

(Edited by Geethalakshmi Ramanathan)

Also Read: Rahul Gandhi’s ‘I, me, mine’ to Tharoor showing real crisis—3 days of Congress plenary session


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