The National Agitation Committee (NAC), a nationwide organization comprising EPS’95 pensioners, went on a countrywide “One Day Fast” on June 1st to press their demands for the implementation of a Supreme Court judgement on Employees’ Pension Scheme 1995 (EPS’95) dated October 4th, 2016.
The verdict had directed the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) to increase the pension amount based on the pensioners’ actual salary.
Over 60 lakh members participated all over the country, with five lakh members from Karnataka, including one lakh from Bangalore taking part in the one day fast. The NAC plans to intensify its agitation if the union government does not take note of their agitation and there is no favourable response to their demands.
On January 7th, 1996, the EPFO had published an advertisement stating that the EPS’95 pension would definitely be 10% or more than the government pension. EPFO had also promised to reevaluate the pension with a price index every three years, or less. It was promised then that the contributor’s capital amount remaining with the EPFO would be returned (RETURN OF CAPITAL) to the contributor’s successors after his/her death.
But the EPFO has not fulfilled any of these promises.
The clause on ‘Return of Capital to the nominee’ was unilaterally withdrawn in 2008. In 2014, the clause of 12 months’ average salary as a basis for calculating pension was replaced by 60 months’ average salary, thereby reducing the quantum of the already meagre pension.
As for the issue of minimum enhanced pension, the Bhagatsingh Koshiyari committee report of 2013 via its petition no.147 in the Rajya Sabha had recommended the government to increase its contribution to the scheme from the existing 1.16% of basic wages (basic pay+ dearness allowance) to 8.33% to ensure a minimum monthly pension of Rs 3,000. In addition, the committee was astonished to note that this pension could not be linked to inflation.
Unfortunately, the committee’s recommendations have remained on paper. The government has shown scant respect for the recommendations of the committee it had itself appointed to study the issue.
Assurances but no action, even from the PM
The NAC leaders met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 4, 2020, who assured them that the issue would be sorted out on a war footing. These helpless senior citizens had pinned all their hopes on the PM to enable them to live with dignity.
But even after a year, no action has been taken on the promises made.
The NAC therefore decided to organize a “Nationwide One Day Fasting” on June 1st, in support of the Chain Hunger Strike that has been going on for the past 889 days at the NAC HQ in Buldhana, Maharashtra, to remind the Prime Minister to fulfill the promises he made.
The major demands are:
1. Minimum Pension be enhanced to ₹7500 plus DA.
2. Withdrawal of EPFO interim advisory Dated May 31st, 2017 and abeyance Letter Dated 20.0.2021, giving EPS ’95 pensioners the choice of a higher pension as per the Supreme court’s order and as per EPFO’s Circular of March 23rd, 2017.
Note: The union ministry of labour and employment, vide its letter dated March 16th, 2017, had conveyed its approval to allow members of the EPS’95 who had contributed more to their provident fund than the specified amount as per the statutory wage ceiling of Rs. 6500, to divert 8.33% of the salary exceeding Rs.6500 to the Pension Fund with up to date interest as declared under EPF Scheme, 1952*, in order to get the benefit of pension on higher salary on receipt of joint option of the employer and employee. This was In accordance with the SC’s order.
3. Provide free medical facilities to all EPS’95 pensioners and their spouses.(This medical scheme has already been approved and is being implementatied at Delhi on a trial basis since 2017). This scheme can be extended to all EPS’95 pensioners all over the nation, which could save many lives during this global pandemic.
4. Retired employees who are not members of EPS’95 Scheme be allowed ex-post facto membership by recovering contributions with interest and granting them their due arrears. Alternatively, they may be granted a fixed nominal monthly pension of ₹5000.
These demands affect 67 Lakh EPS’95 pensioners from public and private sector organizations like transport corporations/electricity boards/pharma sales/Food corporation of India/HMT/BEML / BEL/spinning mills/paper mills and media.
These pensioners had contributed Rs 417 (from Nov.1995 to May 2001), Rs541 (from June 2001 till August 2014) and Rs 1250 from Sept 2014 onwards, based on the average salary drawn, to the pension fund to secure their future. The total amount accrued in their respective accounts would be around ₹15 to 20 Lakhs, which would have provided them needed social security for the rest of their lives. But now they are being given a monthly pension of just Rs 460 to Rs 3500.
Having no other alternative, EPS’95 pensioners throughout the country had formed a non-political organization, the National Agitation Committee, under the leadership of Commander Ashok Raut, a retired naval officer and farmer. The NAC subsequently took into their fold all retired pensioners organizations. This organization is active in 27 States and union territories.
The NAC has vowed to fight this injustice tooth and nail. They have organised thousands of agitations throughout the country including Atmahuti by thousands of pensioners on December 7th, 2019 at Delhi.
In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a minimum pension of Rs1000. However, most pensioners are still deprived of this benefit.
In fact, EPFO is continuously doing injustice to EPS’95 Pensioners.The EPFO had even issued a circular on March 23, 2017 accepting the 2016 Supreme Court verdict ordering the EPFO to give a higher pension based on actual salary.
However, The EPFO did a complete ‘U’ turn, by issuing an interim advisory on May 31, 2017 which neglected pensioners from the so-called exempted establishments, compelling the helpless pensioners to approach the court and now to resort to nationwide hunger strike.
[This article was written in consultation wIth NAC Karnataka team and under the guidance of C S Prasad Reddy, Co-ordinator NAC South Zone.]