“Give us old pension scheme or STOP your own!”
This was the rallying cry of the hundreds of state government employees from across the country, who gathered at Jantar Mantar.
Under the old pension system, a retired state government employee was assured a pension that was adjusted to the rising inflation rate and usually started at Rs. 9,000 per month.
However, the NPS or New Pension Scheme introduced a defined contribution by both the employee and employer and abolished an assured pension, which can be as low as Rs. 500 – “Not even enough to pay our monthly utility bills,” scoffs a participant.
This change happened under Atal Bihari Vajpayi’s BJP-led NDA government in 2003, coming into effect for all state government employees recruited from January 01, 2004. Under this, employees and employers make an equal contribution, which is then invested in schemes through pension fund managers.
Promila from Sonepat, Haryana is a teacher and Saroj Godara works as a medical representative in the state health department in Sikar Rajasthan. “Our salaries are over Rs. 40-45,000 and we’ll get a pension of Rs. 500! What sense does that make?” they say.
(Promila from Sonepat, Haryana and Saroj Godara from Sikar, Rajasthan)
Even the old pension scheme for state government employees is not comparable to those in the central government, which runs into high 5-digit to 6-digit numbers, with the addition of other services, like subsidised medical centres and CSD (canteen stores department).
“What a huge divide!” thunders a speaker, “We had only heard of double-speaking snakes with heads on both ends in village lores, but now the Government has shown us it exists; either the Government should implement a ‘one people, one family, one pension scheme’, or be prepared that we will stand together to defeat any government that doesn’t roll back the NPS.”
The Government claims that the old scheme placed a huge load on their coffers. Minister of State for Finance Shiv Pratap Shukla termed it “unsustainable”. In the Lok Sabha, he presented the total figure of Rs 1,56,641.29 crore as spent paying pension for 2017-18.
“It’s the government’s job to manage their finances in a way that its employees are secure at retirement, we don’t buy these numbers,” rejoins Hakim Singh Yadav from Madhya Pradesh.
This fire is not likely to die out soon with the elections round the corner. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has already initiated rescinding of the NPS in Delhi, and promised to talk to his counterparts in other states, like West Bengal.
Uttar Pradesh has seen unprecedented demonstrations by its state government employees bringing many parts of the state to a grinding halt, with the state government mulling over the use of ESMA or Essential Maintenance Act that prohibits government employees from calling a strike, and allows the police to arrest employees flouting the order.