After Rajasthan announced it will reintroduce the old pension scheme for government employees that provides an assured income after retirement, another Congress-ruled state, Chhattisgarh, is set to follow suit, party leaders have said.
The reintroduction of the old pension scheme (OPS) was discussed by former party president Rahul Gandhi with Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, the party leaders said, asking not to be named.
“Baghel was told to explore the introduction of the old pension scheme from the next financial year,” a Congress functionary said on condition of anonymity.
OPS was done away with by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre in December 2003, replacing it with the market-driven new pension system from April 1, 2004.
Chhattisgarh is exploring the option of reintroducing the OPS on directions from the chief minister, a state government official said. “I don’t think there would be huge financial implication because of this. We are working on what would be the financial implication,” the official said, asking not to be named.
The budget session of the Chhattisgarh assembly is starting from Monday; the state budget will be presented on March 9.
Gehlot was of the view that the party should announce its commitment to providing an option for OPS to all government employees to make it a national issue, said a Congress leader present at the meeting with Gandhi.
“After retirement, if a government employee does not feel secure, then they cannot contribute wholeheartedly to their work. This is the reason why pension was granted in earlier times,” Gehlot is said to have told the Congress leaders at the meeting.
Even though two Congress governments are set to reintroduce the OPS, which guarantees assured income after retirement, Gehlot told party leaders that governments of Assam, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh have also formed committees regarding this.
Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav has announced that if his party wins the Uttar Pradesh polls, it will reintroduce the OPS. The Shivraj Singh-led Bharatiya Janata Party government in Madhya Pradesh is also said to be under pressure not just from the opposition Congress but also from some BJP lawmakers to restore the older scheme.
“This clearly shows that other states are apprehensive about the future of government employees. The Congress working committee should decide to make OPS a national issue,” Gehlot told party leaders, according to leaders present at the meeting.
In the budget speech on February 23, Gehlot announced that the Rajasthan government will restore the old pension scheme for government employees appointed on or after January 1, 2004. More than 300,000 state government employees stand to benefit, the state government said.
Justifying his decision in an article, chief minister Gehlot said that the critics of the old pension scheme, who said it puts a lot of financial burden on government exchequer, fail to understand that the country has done commendably well even when the scheme was in force.
“It’s a big political move by Gehlot and now other states will have to address it as no government can afford the ire of its employees,” Jaipur-based political analyst Manish Godha said.
The restoration of OPS will not put a major financial burden on the present government as the beneficiaries are employees who got government jobs after January 1, 2004, Godha said.
“Most of these employees will start retiring after 2030, so the financial burden will have to be borne by future governments,” he said. “But this move by Gehlot has paved the way for the party to capitalise on the vote bank of government employees across the country.”
Government employees should study the OPS thoroughly, former Rajasthan minister and BJP MLA Vasudev Devnani said.
“The employees are deducting their share of pension since 2004; what will happen to that? The state government needs to provide more clarity and specify the norms for OPS,” he said.
Welcoming the move, All Rajasthan State Employee federation (United) president, Tej Singh Rathore, said: “Certainly, it is a political decision, but what’s wrong with it? All employees would be benefitted.”
(With inputs from Ritesh Mishra in Raipur)