In Himachal, old pension scheme issue could hamper BJP’s bid to retain power

As the electioneering gains momentum in the hill State, where Assembly elections are slated for November 12, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have been prominently focusing on the restoration of the OPS striking a chord with the government employees

October 26, 2022 04:42 pm | Updated 04:42 pm IST - Shimla

As the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) aims to retain power in Himachal Pradesh, the anguish among several government employees over the non-implementation of the old pension scheme (OPS) could prove to be a major hurdle in BJP’s ambition of ‘mission repeat’.

Annoyed with BJP’s indifferent attitude towards the restoration of the OPS, Kanhaiya Ram Saini. 62, who retired in 2019 at 58, from the post of associate professor at government college at Rewalsar in Mandi, is currently drawing around ₹5,000 as pension under the National Pension Scheme (NPS) – he firmly believes that scores of government employees and their families will vote in the upcoming Assembly election for political parties that would ensure restoration of OPS.

“I joined my service in 2006 under the NPS and I retired in 2019. I am getting a pension of ₹5,170 pension a month, and I would continue to get the same for the rest of my life... On the other hand, according to the 2022 revised pay scale by the UGC, my last drawn salary would have been close to ₹1.50 lakh, and based on this, was I under the OPS, I would have gotten around ₹75,000 as a pension. Even though I got a handsome salary but with such a meagre pension it’s difficult to sustain,” claimed Mr. Saini.

Mr. Saini added that in 2006, when he joined the service, he was 45 years old and did not even foresee the problems of the OPS. “At that time when I joined, the priority was to secure a job, getting a regular job is not an easy task, so I paid little attention to the pension. In fact, after the 2006 revised pay scale, the salary I was drawing was good enough, but the problem is once a person retires it’s difficult to make ends meet given the rising inflation and growing needs of the family,” said Mr. Saini. “There’s no doubt the ruling government will have to suffer politically in the upcoming election on account of the anguish of government employees against them,” he added.

Demanding the restoration of the OPS, several government employees under the banner of the New Pension Scheme Employees Association were holding a relay hunger strike in six districts — Mandi, Kangra, Hamirpur, Solan, Chamba and Shimla — till October 14, when the Model Code of Conduct was imposed, following the announcement of Assembly election. The relay hunger strike was started on August 13.

Association president Pradeep Thakur said, “We started a campaign ‘vote for OPS’ on September 15 and we are now urging people across the State to support and vote for the political parties that would give us OPS. There are around 2.5 lakh government employees and out of which close to 1.5 lakh staff are covered under the NPS. It’s natural for the employees and their families to be annoyed with the government. as their concerns arising out of NPS have been completely ignored,” he said. 

As the electioneering gains momentum in the State, where Assembly election is slated for November 12, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have been prominently focusing on the restoration of the OPS issue. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra announced at a public rally recently that if the Congress formed the next government, it would implement the OPS in the first Cabinet meeting itself. The AAP has also promised to restore the OPS and in fact, in the neighbouring Punjab, where the party is in power, the Cabinet on October 21 approved the restoration of the OPS for the employees of the State government. The decision is being seen as an attempt to garner support in the poll-bound State of Himachal as well as Gujarat. 

In its campaign, the Congress is highlighting that the Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand governments – all Congress-ruled States – have already announced the implementation of OPS.  

The BJP, meanwhile, asserts that the government has cordial relations with its employees and the majority of issues surrounding employees have been solved. Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has been accusing the Opposition parties of “misleading the employees in the name of the OPS”.

The OPS was abolished by the National Democratic Alliance government in December 2003 and the NPS came into force on April 1, 2004.

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