Wednesday, August 29, 2018

EPFO Pension Fiasco: An Example How Bad Governance Alienate People from Government in India!

There are now millions of people in India like me who feel that the Employees' Provident Fund Organization (EPFO) coming under the administrative jurisdiction of the Ministry of Labor and Employment of India, has degraded itself to such an extent that it is better considered as a typical case of bad governance in India.

If this organization is any yardstick, it is not at all difficult to find that India as a nation has miserably failed to deliver good governance.

Governance in India had been apparently so lethargic in the past several years. It gave a golden opportunity to Shri Narendra Modi to make fervent appeals to the people of India to vote for a change to bring good governance in India.

The people fed up of insensitive bad governance, earnestly wishing dynamic good governance, responded positively. Shri Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India a couple of years ago. In about a year he will be completing his five year term as the PM of India. Most likely he would again approach the people with the same slogan of good governance!

But what happened in the past four years? Did he command to bring about good governance?

The answer is debatable. Some say yes, while several feel the other way. 

Whatever those be, I personally feel that he had missed a golden opportunity to act positively and gain the goodwill of millions of retired and working employees of India. He could have easily accomplished that by simply acting decisively in just one case which is now known as the EPFO Pension Fiasco of India. (Click this hyperlink to read the blog article to know more about it)

It was all about bringing reasonable social security to millions of working class people of India who are not beneficiaries of government pensions. It was all about implementing a scheme in the letter and spirit of a statute made by the central government some years ago. It was all about removing certain administrative misdeeds created by the government officialdom. It was an opportunity to bring about solace to millions of retired people by way of getting them their due pensions from the funds that they and their employers contributed over the years. It was nothing complicated or anything that the government could not do. It even had a Supreme Court directive to the government to act!

But unfortunately the EPFO controlled by the government of India acted in the most unexpected manner. They forgot that they are an organisation for social welfare and they are required to act for the benefit of the people covered by the scheme and not against them.

The acts done by EPFO in recent years have been most shameful and undesirable. It acted to divide the people and create enormous confusions and complications that none could ever get any justified pension benefits from it in their life time! The government of India in turn failed to intervene and resolve the complications created by its officials. The political superiors simply bent their knees before the powerful officials and in turn became supporters of the latter. They deviated from the principles of good governance and became sheepishly party to bad governance.

The issue was brought to the notice of the government of India several times from different quarters and the issue got debated in the parliament several times. Conflicting news pervaded the media from time to time making the EPFO-pensioners rejoice and weep at the same time.

Yet the government did not act to bring justice to the retired people who earnestly waited and  hoped to get  justice. They thought their once beloved PM and proponent of good governance- Narendra Modi-  would make a decisive intervention.

Unfortunately for them nothing of that sort happened.

They cursed their fate. They cursed themselves for believing good governance would come as promised.

It was nothing complicated or impossible. It was simply a matter of removing certain elements of official misdeeds and bringing administration in the right tracks. It this couldn't be done, what better we can expect from a government?

Do you know why the millions of pensioners covered under EPFO pension feel cheated by the government?

By certain acts of the parliament of India, the EPFO pension scheme got introduced way back in 1995. The act required that the employers (mostly companies in the public sector and private sector in India) contribute some amount every month, equivalent to a small percentage of the concerned employees' monthly salary to form a superannuation pension fund which would be used to provide post retirement monthly pension to the concerned employee. The EPFO was legally entrusted to act as the apex fund and pension management organization. As a mark of social commitment the central government also committed to make a nominal amount with respect of every employee.

The EPFO pension scheme, was a contributory pension scheme.

For nearly 20 years the EPFO was in the process of raising the funds. During this time it hardly paid any pension to anyone. How they did the fund raising in itself was a matter debatable. It was quite arbitrary with the active administrative support of the government from time to time. Neither the employees, nor the employers were informed of the details of the scheme. Employees and employers too were treated differently by arbitrary and unjustified administrative decisions.

An employee became eligible for getting the EPFO pension once they attain the age of 58 as per the EPFO rules. The formula for payment of pension due was made by the EPFO and was never told to the employees nor the employers during the initial 20 years.

The epfo-pension being a contributory pension is an amount that should be proportional to a persons salary and length of service. It is worked out on the basis of EPFO's capacity to pay from the funds so generated. There is no dispute on this.

Based on EPFO's calculations, a person who served more than 20 years and drawn a monthly average salary of Rs.50,000/- at the time of retirement should get a monthly pension of about Rs.12,000/- ( for clarity, I am not going to the details of actual calculations!) The pension should be lower or higher for others with lower or higher actual salaries and length of services.

But due to their own administrative goof up, the EPFO could not collect monthly contributions from several organizations to the extent as payable by the employees' actual salaries. They had set an arbitrary ceiling for the salaries of all employees from time to time starting from Rs.5000/- to the now set limit of something around Rs.15000/-

There is no logic for this. If the scheme is purely contributory, why at all there should be some arbitrary ceiling like this?

Even if it had been done earlier by some reason, what is the harm in asking the concerned employee who wish to avail the pension as per his actual salary to refund the actual payable monthly contribution with all interests? Take that and pay the employee the due pension as per the actual salary? Quite reasonable, isn't it?

Any organisation who thought of their foremost objective of social security would have agreed and did that without any hesitation.

But India's EPFO officialdom refused to do it that way. Remember, they are not covered under this pension scheme. They are the people who take hefty pensions from government's budgetary support. If government does not pay for them, they find the funds from the employees' pension fund they manage!

Remember, a government employee drawing a monthly salary of Rs.50,000/- per month gets a pension of over Rs. 25,000/- initially and the same keep on increasing every year till their death. On the other hand, the EPFO contributory pension payable on actual salary of Rs. 50,000/- per month is only about Rs.12,000/- per month (fixed). And what they now pay is only a maximum of about Rs.2400/- per month (fixed) regardless of what salary the person had at the time of retirement!

This has caused several retired employees to approach the courts in India and finally the Supreme Court of India understood the logic and instructed the EPFO to pay the pensions as per actual salaries. The EPFO is allowed to collect the due contributions in lump sum too.

No doubt the actual calculations for those retired employees in the last couple of years is quite tedious. Yet it is not anything impossible.

For example, as per the EPFO rule, I became an EPFO pensioner in 2014. If EPFO had to pay me pension as per my actual salary, I had to refund about Rs.15,00,000/- and I would become eligible for getting a pension of about Rs.33000/- per month from 2014. Since I got only a pension of about 2300/- per month so far, my pension arrears would be something a bit more than the amount I have to refund (this is just an approximation for clarity)

That simply means, the EPFO can do the calculation adjustments and pay the amounts right away, if they want to help the retirees in their old age.

But the EPFO officialdom does not think it that way. They do not believe in good governance. They do not like to go as per the Supreme Court of India directive.

What they did subsequently was more disgusting and disappointing to both the retirees and those still in employment.

And they dragged the government of India too in their disgraceful acts and set an example to show how to spoil good governance in India.

Now thousands of retired employees have moved the courts and a big fiasco has taken shape or in the making. 

The EPFO officials on their part are doing all they can do to enhance the confusions and the never ending court cases! Perhaps these officials of the government may be laughing heartily at their clever manipulations to bring such an imbroglio.

And pitifully, the political leadership seems unconcerned or clueless to act. Or they simply lack the will and vision to do anything.

If they cannot implement a simple implementable social security system in a time span of 25 years, what do we expect from the political class of India? 

Is our political luminaries capable of doing anything as they speak when not in power? 

Is the officialdom too powerful to bring our political brass to their knees when the latter is in power?

Or is it yet another case of the so called unholy nexus?

What ever it is, I have lost faith in this country's governmental system. If they cannot even do the simplest of the simple things, what they can do after all?