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Millennium Post

Pensioners fear of a future imperfect

The strike launched by pro-Left service organisations in support of their demand to scrap the contributory pension scheme to be introduced from 1 April 2013, has been called off to the palpable relief of one and all. But the manner in which the government headed by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy tackled the strike cannot but cause utmost concern.

What is most shocking has been the attitude of the chief minister towards the strike. Right from the beginning, the CM had adopted a closed mind on the issue. There was no going back on the contributory pension scheme, which has been accepted by 25 states. He also refused to invite the strike leaders for talks, despite requests from LDF leaders, including leader of the opposition V S Achuthanandan, on the plea that they had humiliated him at an earlier meeting. However, they could come and meet him if they wanted! Such petulance and arrogance hardly befits the responsible office he holds. The CM’s high and mighty attitude elicited a telling taunt from AITUC state general secretary and CPI leader Kanam Rajendran, ‘Does Chandy consider himself the presiding deity at Sabarimala temple that everyone should go and have his
darshan!?’
Credit must be given to Finance Minister K M Mani, who played the mediator and talked to the strike leaders, which led to the calling off of the week-old strike. The chief minister has emerged in poor light from the sordid episode.

The government may have won the immediate battle by trumping the opposition in the latest political standoff. But the last word on the struggle for protecting hard-earned gains and rights of employees has certainly not been said.

If anything, the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) and the All India Youth Federation (AIYF) have already signalled their intent to continue the struggle. These organisations know that it is going to be a protracted and long haul affair. But they are ready for the hard grind ahead, convinced as they are of the justness of their cause.

These organisations and the parent bodies, the CPI(M) and the CPI, assert that the strike, which has been temporarily called off in tactical move, was part of the struggle  against the sinister move to privatise the pension scheme; and they owe it to the future generations to fight against the calculated move to undo the gains and rights of employees, won after years of protracted struggles. The orchestrated campaign to undermine the social security measures at the prompting of the corporate lobby has to be fought and defeated, say the left leaders. Hence, their resolve to persist on the struggle path.

The government says there is no alternative to introduction of the contributory pension scheme in which the employee deposits 10 per cent of his basic pay and dearness allowance in the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) and the government contributes an equal amount. The reason: the salaries of government employees, pension and pension-related expenditure already devour 80 per cent of government’s revenue. And by 2040, the total expenditure on payment of salaries and pension would be of the order of an astronomical eight lakh crores! There would be no funds for social welfare and developmental activities. Flawless logic on the face of it.   Also, it would not affect the present lot of government employees. Only those who join government service on and after 1 April 2013 would be covered by the central scheme.

But a closer look reveals that nothing is farther from the truth. The figures contained in the report of the Expenditure Committee shows that the total amount needed for disbursement of salaries and pension accounts for only 58 per cent of the government’s revenue, and not 80 per cent, as is being assiduously propagated by the government and pro-government organisations. If anything, the figures show that there has been a decrease in the expenditure on salaries and pension to 58 per cent from the 64 per cent it was a few years ago. The government and the advocates of the contributory pension scheme are deliberately trying to confuse the people and create a fear psychosis by advancing the 80 per cent expenditure argument. And the figures furnished by the Expenditure Committee amply prove their point, exposing the fallacy of the government’s contention, contend the Left leaders.

In fact, the government gives the game away by remaining deafeningly silent on the need to raise the revenue through other means instead of targeting the hard-earned gains and rights of the employees. There are ways in which the revenue can be raised and wasteful government expenditure pruned. But nobody from the government says anything about it as it does not suit their sinister objective of ‘robbing the employees to humour the corporates – a policy Congress-led governments at the Centre have been pursing since 1991.

The government employees have several misgivings and reservations about the new scheme. They say the government has not given any assurance on the safety of the pension, to be deposited in commercial banks and company mutual fund shares. Nor is the government in a position to say what the minimum pension amount an employee who would come under the contributory pension scheme would get.  Therefore, the employees and the Left parties, which support their cause, insist on the continuance of the present statutory pension scheme. Why then is the tearing hurry to introduce the scheme when the Centre is yet to pass the Pension Fund Regulatory Development Authority (PFRDA) bill? That is their question to which the government has no answer. (IPA)
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