Prahlad Singh, an octogenarian pensioner retired from the Haryana State Cooperative Agricultural and Rural Development (HSCARD) Bank in 2002, is very active in the fight for higher Provident Fund (PF) pension based on the actual salary at the time of retirement. Hailing from Bhiwani in Haryana, Mr. Singh even went to Kerala some years ago to collect a High Court order that favoured higher PF pension. He succeeded in his fight, but now, to his utter shock and disbelief, the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) has stopped his higher pension and asked him to return the amount he received in a staggered manner. He received a notice from the EPFO a week ago.
“Around 300 pensioners like me, who retired from the HSCARD Bank, have received notices from the EPFO. This pension is our only income. Our revised pension has also been stopped,” Mr. Singh told The Hindu. From ₹6,076 per month, Mr. Singh’s pension has been reduced to ₹1,895 by the EPFO from January. He added that he is preparing a contempt petition against the EPFO with the help of some lawyers.
He believes that he was targeted for speaking up for pensioners’ rights. “I had circulated copies of judgments and other information among the pensioners, and we also started a fight for higher pension. We got higher pension after a long fight. We are being targeted for working for the rights of pensioners. The new verdict, in fact, has nothing to do with us,” Mr. Singh said.
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R.C. Gupta, who led a legal fight in the Supreme Court and received a favourable verdict for a higher pension in 2016, has also been sent a notice. “I retired in November 2008 from the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) as general manager. My monthly Provident Fund pension was ₹1,700. We went to Supreme Court and got a verdict in favour of us in 2016 and we started getting higher pensions based on our actual salary at the time of retirement. This notice is a misinterpretation of a recent Supreme Court judgment. More than 1,500 pensioners who retired from HPTDC, and opted for higher pensions based on actual salary, have got similar notices. We have decided to move a contempt petition against the EPFO’s decision,” he said. “We don’t get government pension. Most of the pensioners are in and around 70 years of age and won’t be able to stand for another long legal fight.”
Similarly, Parveen Kohli, another activist for pensioners’ rights has also received a notice. “It shows the high-handedness of the EPFO. The EPFO interpreted the Supreme Court order for their benefit and stopped the higher pension. Most of us are dependent on this pension. What will they do?” Mr. Kohli asked. He said more than 20,000 pensioners have received a similar notice from the EPFO. “We will fight against this,” he added.
A retired journalist, Neelam Gupta, too fought for adequate pension for her colleagues. “The EPFO has stopped the pension of January without any prior notice to us. We have paid our higher share from salaries to the EPFO and we are entitled for higher pension. It was between ₹8,000 to ₹ 15,000 and now EPFO has brought it back to ₹1,500 to ₹5,000,” she said. “This pension was the only income of us. Now, if EPFO wants us to pay it back, from where would we find it?” she asked.
Krishna Moorthy S., an advocate from Kerala who fights for pensioners, said he was preparing a contempt petition. “Deduction of pension cannot be endorsed even by the EPFO’s rules. The EPFO notification said recovery can be done only after taking an approval of the court. But the regional offices have not even served the notices. Very few pensioners have received recovery notices. The EPFO has not approached court for approval to stop the pension or recover the amount. The pension has been reduced to pre-revised state. The intention of the EPFO is very clear. They have misinterpreted the Supreme Court’s order to the advantage of the EPFO, to achieve their intention of stopping higher pension. The Supreme Court has never endorsed recovery of any payment from any pensioner or stoppage of any enhanced pension,” Mr. Moorthy said.
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A senior officer from the EPFO headquarters said the recovery is being done by regional offices on the basis of the data before them. He denied that the EPFO is targeting certain groups of pensioners. The EPFO had issued a circular to its regional offices recently, asking them to be careful while calculating the higher pension and recover the amount additionally given to pensioners. The notice was based on the November 4 verdict of the Supreme Court on the matter.