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Retirees demand EPS reform

After the recommendations of the Koshiyari Committee have gone unheard by the government since 2014, such as minimum pension of Rs 3000, Dearness Allowance (DA), an increment in pension every year, and medical facilities to the pensioners, in a wake-up call for all the Employees Pension Scheme (EPS) 1995 members of the private sector and semi-government pensioners, the Nivrut Karmachari Sangh in collaboration with Sarva Shramik Sanghatana will sit on an agitation to revamp the EPS for the benefit of the pensioners.

The purpose for the protest is to fulfill the demands which include — the implementation of Koshiyar Committee recommendations, raise the minimum pension to Rs 9,000, full pension to the spouse, provide medical facilities through ESIS, and make a provision for the pension in the annual finance budget. The agitation by Nivrut Karmachari Sangh and Sarva Shramik Sanghatana against the government to be held on July 5, 2018, at Shaskiya Vishram Grah in Thane to request the Prime Minister to look after the above concerns.

EPS 1995 Coordination Committee National President Prakash Yende stated, “Apart from agitating in front of collectors office in Thane, we will also protest at the Vidhya Bhavan in Nagpur and other parts of Maharashtra as well on the same day. We haven’t received any increment in pension scheme for  last 23 years. Future Fund Organisation says that they have sufficient fund to allot for the  pensioners but the Union Labour Minister Santosh Gangvar claims that they are facing financial issues so it is not possible to pay. Fund estimated should be about Rs 6 lakh crore but it is Rs 3 lakh crore.”

EPS 1995 is one of the social security schemes run by the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO). Initially, the Employees’ Pension Scheme, 1995, was a family pension scheme but, later, it was converted into a regular pension scheme for employees who drew salary less than Rs 6,500 per month. Presently, around 5.5 crore employees are enrolled under the scheme and their contribution is 8.33 per cent. However, the government is contributing only 1.16 per cent. As on date, approximately 36 lakhs retired employees are getting pension under this scheme. Out of them, more than 30 lakhs get less than Rs 1,000 per month and more than 25 lakhs pensioners get less than Rs 500 per month. This is too meager amount particularly when some states are giving pension at higher rates than this to the elderly under their old age pension schemes.

Sudhindra Nanjangud, former chief Manager (F&A), ONGC Mumbai expressed that the EPS pensioners of exempted establishment hope for a positive response and pro-active approach towards all pensioners.

He further stated, “We the pensioners are following up this matter with EPFO and Ministry of Labour and Employment for more than a year. ‘Maximum Governance and Minimum Government’ was one among many slogans used in the election campaign of 2014 Lok Sabha Election. In reality, today, people of India especially EPS pensioners are experiencing ‘Maximum Government and Minimum Governance’ EPFO is not only denying justice to the EPS pensioners but also creating legal hurdles.”

Although the recommendations made by the Koshiyari Committee were after the observations of the functioning of the EPS and the Ministry of Labour and Employment. As a result, the Committee feels that EPS is the only financial assurance to retired workers and their families, especially to low and medium level wage earners and failure to strengthen the scheme has undone the very reason for instituting it. The Committee stresses upon to provide a minimum pension, and then additional amount may be made out of the government funds. The Committee is of view that replacing the existing Employees Pension Scheme 1995 with the Provident Fund-cum-Pension Annuity Scheme with the facility of mandatory annuitisation could be a better option and would provide promising alternatives. The Committee is also of the opinion that a separate grievances redressal mechanism for pensioners is necessary for dealing with problems.

EPS 1995 Coordination Committee Mumbai President Vinayak Godse commented, “Government had written in 1995 that every year they will review the policy. But from 1995 to 2018, they have not made any revision in the pension scheme. The government is not implementing Koshiyari Committee’s recommendations. I get Rs 2,840 pension. There are many people who are retired from three years still their pension is not increasing. I am a 59-year-old retired and I thought a need to take this initiative in April 2016 because there are many people who don’t have money to buy medicines.”

The All India EPS 1995 Pensioners Sangharsh Samiti had said in a statement that the Labour Minister had assured its delegation on December 6, 2017, of meeting its demands. The EPFO’s Addl Central P.F.Commissioner of Pension RM Verma issued a letter to all the Regional Provident Fund Commissioners on June 8 to take necessary actions in accordance with the order passed by the Supreme Court on October 4, 2016.

BJP MP Dilipkumar Gandhi said, “We are positive about the Koshiyari Committee report and the demand of the pensioners. According to me, the pensioner should get relief and their demands must be fulfilled as it is in line with practical demands. As far as the government is concerned, we will explore all possible ways and consider positive facts and figures and we are in support of their demand.”

In a blow to the government employees, the EPFO, in February, decided to lower the interest rate on provident fund deposits. According to the pensioners’ body, this issue has been raised in the Parliament and discussed over a year. While many pensioners face a lot of issues in receiving a petty amount, the government never fails to show their negligence on such crucial issues.

BY Mohit Soman

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