The apparent contribution of the Congress’s promise to revert to the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) in its electoral success in Himachal Pradesh has given a massive boost to the campaign in Karnataka where government employees are now linking their votes to any party that replicates the model and scrap the contentious National Pension Scheme (NPS).
The Karnataka State NPS Employees Association, which represents more than five lakh employees enrolled in the new pension scheme and wants to revert to the OPS, has embarked on a campaign to turn their demand into an election issue.
The organisation is set to go on an indefinite sit-in at Freedom Park here on December 19 to press for the demand.
State Congress campaign committee chairman and MLA M.B. Patil had last week declared that his party would revert to the OPS if voted to power in the state elections due in April-May and include the promise in its manifesto.
The main objection of the members of the association is that monthly pension under the NPS is not predictable as it is market-linked.
Moreover, under the new system, the government doesn’t provide any additional benefits like a periodic hike in pension.
“More than 3,000 employees who have retired since the inception of the NPS in 2016 have been drawing abysmal levels of pensions. Those who drew Rs 50,000 to Rs 75,000 as their last salaries are receiving pensions between Rs 800 to Rs 2,400 since returns on their pension investment in the NPS is dictated by the market,” president of the association, Shantaram Teja, told The Telegraph on Friday.
“Under the OPS we are part of the system until death, which means we benefit from periodic increases in pension and certain allowances. But the NPS disconnects us from the government system once we retire and makes us entirely dependent on the market-linked scheme and its unpredictable returns,” he said.
Although the “Vote for OPS” campaign was launched before Himachal Pradesh went to the polls, the success of the Congress that made it an election promise has given fresh impetus to the campaign against the NPS in Karnataka.
“Our message in the ‘Vote for OPS’ campaign is loud and clear. We and our family members have resolved to vote for any party that promises to return to OPS,” Teja said.
The employees under the NPS plan to list the number of votes in each of their families and tweet the details to their respective MLAs to drive home the message.
While around 2.6 lakh government employees and another 3.5 lakh employees of the government boards, corporations and state universities come under the NPS in Karnataka, almost an equal number is part of the OPS.
Opposition-ruled states such as Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand and Punjab have already reverted to the OPS. Tamil Nadu and Kerala have yet to do so.
As part of the first phase of the campaign, the association held protests across 31 districts in the state between October 13 and November 13.
In the second phase, which began on November 22 and is set to conclude on December 12, the association has written to all 224 MLAs and 75 members of the Legislative Assembly (MLCs) in the state seeking their help in taking up the matter in the legislature.
“We have sent representations to all MLAs and MLCs and contacted leader of the Opposition P.C. Siddaramiah and (Congress president) D.K. Shivakumar who have promised their help. Even the chief minister (Basavaraj Bommai) has promised to look into our demands,” said Teja, also the vice-president of the National Movement for OPS that is active in 28 states.
“We have made it clear to all the political parties that government employees need the security provided by the OPS once we step into our sunset years and cannot depend on the NPS. That’s the least we can expect after working for 30-40 years for the government,” he noted.
A government source, who declined to be named, said it was unlikely the BJP dispensation would make any promise in this regard.
He said the current expenditure towards salaries and pension was about Rs 65,000 crore per annum against a revenue expenditure of Rs 1.91 lakh crore.