The State government, which recently announced the 7th pay commission for its employees, is staring at another challenge on its salary and pension policy. Employees under the National Pension Scheme (NPS) are planning to turn the tables on political parties by linking their demand for scrapping NPS to the 2023 Assembly polls.
Coming close on the heels of Punjab, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan governments withdrawing from the NPS and reverting to the old pension scheme (OPS), nearly 2.2 lakh government employees along with an estimated similar number in the allied government services in Karnataka coming under the NPS are also demanding the same.
The employees are firing their salvo with each one planning to tweet the number of votes he/she has in their family and friends circle that they can influence. “We will list the number of votes in my family and friends circles with names and make a poster out of it. We will tweet it leaders of political parties challenging the parties to support our cause,” Shantharam, president of Karnataka Government NPS Employees Association, told The Hindu.
According to him, the NPS has already lost its original character as several changes have been made since its launch, and that it should not take the State much to revert to OPS. “There is about ₹16,000 crore in the corpus that could be claimed once Karnataka exits from NPS and the money could be utilised for development,” Mr. Shantharam said.
Since November 22, the employees have launched the “Vote for NPS” movement in which NPS employees and their family members are meeting their local MLAs and stating that their vote will be for those in support of abolishing NPS. Earlier, in October/November, they had launched OPS Sankalpa Yatra across 30 districts, and on December 19, when the State llegislature meets in the winter session at Belagavi, a huge gathering has been planned in Bengaluru.
Currently, the committed expenditure of salary and pension constitutes about ₹65,000 crore of a total ₹1.91 lakh crore revenue expenditure, which amounts to about 35%. The government believes it is only going to put additional burden on the exchequer if the State returns to OPS.
‘Exit not possible’
While the employees demand has been there for more than five years now, the State has repeatedly toed its line not to revert. Officials also point out that since 2018 the NPS has also been reformed to increase government’s contribution to the corpus from 10% to 14% (employee contribution is 10%), introduced family pension, retirement, and death benefits among others after it set up a committee headed by the Additional Chief Secretary.
“The government has officially stated that it is not going to withdraw from NPS. It is also not possible to exit from NPS since Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority that maintains the corpus has clarified on the matter to Rajasthan government already. The corpus accrued will also be not accessible to the governments. The employees can only withdraw a part of the corpus,” a senior government official stated.
“Finally, it is a political decision that has to be made. Decisions of the other Sstates are mostly populist keeping an eye on the elections. It could become chaotic if one government reverts it and another government wants to return to NPS again.”
While the NPS was launched by the then NDA government headed by the late Atal Behari Vajapayee, the governments that have gone out of NPS are ruled by Opposition States. It is also unlikely that the BJP government in Karnataka is going to head out of NPS, sources indicated.