The Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO)’s latest circular, providing an opportunity to a section of pensioners to apply for higher pensions, is silent about those who could not exercise the option for enhanced pension due to the authorities’ interpretation of the cut-off date.
Though the circular has been issued as part of the implementation of the Supreme Court’s judgment of November 2022 on the validity of the Employees’ Pension (amendment) Scheme of 2014, it has left out the pensioners whose case was recommended by the court.
Pointing out that the pensioners’ right to exercise the option before September 1, 2014 stood crystallised in its judgment on the R.C. Gupta case of 2016, the apex court stated two months ago that “all the employees who did not exercise the option but were entitled to do so but could not do so due to the interpretation on cut-off date by the authorities, ought to be given a further chance to exercise the option.” It is in this context that the court fixed a period of four months for them to exercise the option under paragraph 11(4) of the post-amendment Employees Pension Scheme (EPS).
‘Artificial cut-off date’
Contending that the circular would benefit only a “miniscule section” of the EPS pensioners, Dada Tukaram Zode, national legal adviser of the Employees Pension (1995) Coordination Committee, a body affiliated to the Bharat Pensioners Samaj of New Delhi, argued that it is against the court’s judgements of 2016 and 2022 which dismissed the notion of cut-off date. “But, this circular seeks to create an artificial cut-off date — the date of retirement of employees — as it is meant for those who had, prior to their retirement, exercised the option and suffered the rejection of their applications. This is why the latest circular will benefit only a miniscule section of the EPS pensioners,” he elaborated.
Expecting another circular to cover the pensioners who had been left out, Mr. Zode said that as per his estimate, only around 10 lakh out of the 67 lakh pensioners under the EPS will be eligible for higher pensions on the ground that their pensionable pay, while in service, exceeded the ceiling of ₹5,000, ₹6,500 or ₹15,000. “Even of these 10 lakh, only 50% may be in a position to remit the difference between the deductions already made for the Employees’ Pension Fund and the proportion of the actual salary to be set aside as contribution towards the Fund,” he explained. Those who want to opt for higher pension will have to pay the interest too on the difference amount.
Pointing out that the employers’ contributions account for 12% of the wages of employees towards the overall provident fund, Mr. Zode observed that of this figure, 8.33% is set apart for the Pension Fund. (The Fund also consists of contributions by the Central government through budgetary support at 1.16% of wages, up to an amount of ₹15,000 per month.) In support of his contention, the legal adviser says, quoting a reply given in March 2020 by the EPFO under the Right to Information Act, that only 24,672 pensioners, all from unexempted establishments, were allowed higher pensions and this was after the 2016 judgement of the Supreme Court.
On December 22, Rameswar Teli, Union Minister of State for Labour and Employment, informed the Lok Sabha that the quantum of corpus available with the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation, as on March 31, 2022 was ₹18,64,136 crore, of which the share of the Employees’ Provident Fund Scheme of 1952, was ₹11,37,096.72 crore; that of the Employees’ Pension Scheme of 1995 was ₹6,89,210.72 crore; and that of the Employees’ Deposit-Linked Insurance Scheme of 1976 was ₹37,828.56 crore.