Cong, AAP Make OPS Restoration Demand Major Poll Plank in Gujarat

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The demand for restoration of the old pension scheme (OPS) has emerged as a major poll plank in Gujarat with both the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party promising to implement it if voted to power in the state where the Assembly elections are scheduled next month.

With this promise, the opposition parties aim to garner the support of lakhs of government employees who are up in arms against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government over the new pension scheme.

Elections for the 182 member Gujarat Assembly will be held in two phases on December 1 and 5.

The Gujarat government had introduced the new contributory pension scheme for employees joining the service on or after April 1, 2005. As per its notification, it will make a matching contribution of 10 per cent of the basic pay plus dearness allowance (DA) contributed by the employees in the NPS fund.

Under the Centre’s scheme, the government will contribute 14 per cent against an employee’s contribution of 10 per cent of his/her salary and DA with effect from April 1, 2019.

After protests by employees in Gujarat, the state government had said the new pension will not be applicable to those employees who had joined duty before April 2005. It also promised to increase its contribution in the fund to 14 per cent from the 10 per cent earlier.

The employees have staged massive agitations against the government in Gujarat while demanding restoration of the OPS because they believe the New Pension Scheme is not in the interest of the retiring employees.

With the BJP government not acceding to the demands of the employees, the Congress and the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP have assured to bring back the OPS, in one of their most emphatic poll promises.

Both the parties have assured the agitating employees that the new pension scheme (NPS) will be scrapped and the OPS will be resorted. They have given the examples of their governments in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh (where Congress is in power) and Punjab (governed by the AAP) to drive home the point.

“We launched an agitation with 15 demands, of which those related to restoration of the OPS and fixed salary issue were not accepted. The government formed a committee. It said it will increase its contribution to the NPS fund but no notification was issued,” Digvijaysinh Jadeja, working president of the Akhil Bharatiya Prathmik Shikshak Sangh, a body of government primary school teachers, told PTI.

There are nearly seven lakh government employees who are pressing for the demand for the OPS, including around 70,000 primary schools teachers who joined before 2005 on a fixed salary.

Jadeja had in February 2019 led an agitation where around two lakh primary school teachers proceeded on ‘mass casual leave’ and gathered to protest outside the Gujarat Assembly in capital Gandhinagar.

The agitation was revived ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections when thousands of state government employees, including school teachers, joined the mass casual leave protest across the state in September this year.

The agitation had forced the government to mellow its stand on the issue and it promised to take the decision on the OPS at the right time, saying it was a policy matter.

Mahesh Mori, convenor of the Rashtriya Samyukt Morcha, a body of state government employees, told PTI that the government’s promises were only verbal and no notification was issued to make it official.

“The government is still in uncertain over the issue of OPS. We demanded that the OPS be implemented for all the employees. The government said in a meeting with us that the employees who joined before April 1, 2005, and not 2004, will get benefits of the OPS, but did not issue any notification,” Mori said.

Jadeja said they have held meetings in different parts of the country and are demanding that the OPS be implemented in all the states.

“The OPS is better because the retiree gets 50 per cent (of salary at that time) as pension. The NPS is based on share market and the amount of pension reduces,” he claimed.

Jadeja said the employees in Gujarat are aware that non-BJP ruled states like Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Punjab and West Bengal have reverted to the OPS for their employees, while the 17 states governed by the saffron party continue with the NPS.

“They will decide accordingly what to do in the election,” said Jadeja, who is also the president of the Gujarat State Primary Teachers’ Federation.

The implementation of the OPS is part of the Congress’s election manifesto for Gujarat.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had said those claiming that the OPS it will put a burden on the exchequer were not right as it was all about financial management.

The AAP has assured government employees in Gujarat that it will implement the OPS if voted to power in the state.

To bolster its point, the AAP government in Punjab reverted to it soon after the cabinet there gave the nod for its restoration.

AAP national convener and Delhi CM Kejriwal in a statement recently claimed the new pension scheme was “unfair” and said the OPS should be restored and implemented all over the country.

He had also tweeted that the Bhagwant Mann-led AAP government in Punjab fulfilled the promise.

“If the people of Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat give (us) a chance, we will implement OPS there too,” Kejrwal had said.

Polling for the 68 Assembly seats in Himachal Pradesh was held on Saturday.

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