The Old Pension Scheme (OPS), which was discontinued across India by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led Bharatiya Janata Party government in December 2003 and replaced by the New Pension Scheme (NPS) from 2004, has become an albatross around the BJP’s neck, threatening to ruin the party’s poll prospects in many states. Five states—Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Punjab, and Himachal Pradesh have already informed the Centre about their decision to revert to the OPS.
Now Central Government Employees have been agitating in demand for old pension scheme as against the New Pension Scheme insisted on by the BJP government. The BJP is also facing a strong push to bring back the OPS by its own leaders and allies in states such as Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana. 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. But in NPS, the government and employees contribute 10 per cent and 14 per cent of the salary, respectively, and the fund is invested in diversified portfolios including fluctuating stock market.
It is alleged that many of the retired government employees covered under NPS are receiving as little as Rs 700-800 as monthly pension while the minimum guaranteed amount in the OPS is Rs 9,000.
The central BJP government, however, maintains that OPS is a burden on the economy. On 9 February last, while speaking in the Rajya Sabha, PM Modi had cautioned against ‘‘spending recklessly’’. ‘‘Look at the plight of countries in the neighbourhood. See how reckless borrowing has left those countries reeling under debt burdens. If we follow the same example and spend recklessly, as some states have done, thinking that the burden is going to be borne by the coming generations, then our country is also going to be ruined,’’ he said obviously pointing at, inter alia, the demand for OPS.
The government employees are salaried appointees. So, their right to proper emoluments including appropriate retirement benefits is legitimate and inalienable. But what about the elected representatives in the assemblies and parliament who boast of ‘serving the people and the nation selflessly’? Why, at the outset, would they claim salary, perks, allowances and even pension? Are they not supposed to depend on common people for their necessities? But no. They consider themselves as paid employees and hence crave for more and more benefits. In fact, there have been repeated demands for hike in their salary and parks and the government irrespective of hue obediently obliged them even if that strains the exchequer and toiling millions are deprived of due benefits. In the 15th Lok Sabha, for example, as many as 321 members are stated to be possessing properties worth several crores of rupees while 180 others are millionaires. Yet, they were receiving Rs 16, 000 as salary, Rs 20,000 as constituency allowance, Rs 20,000 as special allowance for maintaining an office and secretary and a daily allowance of Rs 1000 for attending parliament session and parliamentary committee meetings. Moreover, they were enjoying free facilities like unlimited telephone, electricity, travelling, well-furnished flat or bungalow. Still, almost all the members cutting across party lines raised demand for 5 times hike in salary in 2010. Not a single MP cutting across the parties raised voice of protest except Comrade Tarun Mandal, representative of SUCI(C), the genuine revolutionary party of the proletariat, who opposed the proposal. But his lone protest went unheard. Ultimately, the salary of the MPs was increased from Rs 16,000 to Rs 50, 000 per month and constituency allowance was raised from Rs 20, 000 to Rs 45, 000. The overall raise has thus been to the tune of Rs 59,000 per month. Daily allowance for attending parliament sessions and standing committee meetings was doubled to Rs 2000 per day making average gain in this account to be over Rs 1 Lakh per month. In fact, Indian MPs had received 1,250% salary hike over 20 years from 1997 to 2017.
But again in 2017, endorsing a suggestion of 100% pay hike and a 75 percent rise in pensions of legislators by a Yogi Adityanath-led parliamentary panel, there was an uncharacteristic unity seen between the opposition and the ruling party when it came to deciding on a pay hike. Right now, an MP draws a salary of Rs 1,00,000 per month and a constituency allowance of Rs 70,000 per month, besides other allowances. For brevity’s sake, we leave out other details in this regard.
At present, the pension structure of MPs is as follows: A pension of Rs 25,000 per mensem is paid to every person who had served for any period as a member of the Provisional Parliament or House of Parliament. If a person has served as a member of the Provisional Parliament or either House of Parliament for a period exceeding five years, he or she is paid an additional pension of Rs 2000 per mensem for every year served in excess of five years. The pension and additional pension to every person is to be increased after every five years commencing from 1st April, 2023.
On the other hand, there are states where an MLA gets two pensions for two terms, three for three terms and so on. If a former MLA becomes MP, then he would get two pensions separately. If a former MLA becomes MP and then governor, he or she is entitled to get three pensions. Even if one becomes MLA or MP for one day, one is entitled to receive lifetime pension. Will the central or concerned state governments explain if this splurge is justified when employees and workers are denied due pension on the pretext of shortage of fund?