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Cong, AAP Make OPS Restoration Question Major Poll Shelf in Gujarat

The demand for reinstatement of the old pension scheme (OPS) has emerged as a major poll in Gujarat, with both Congress and the Aam Aadmi party pledging to implement it if they come to power in the state where next month the parliamentary elections are scheduled.

With this pledge, the opposition parties want to gain the support of lakhs of government employees who are battling the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government over the new pension scheme.

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

The government of Gujarat had introduced the new non-contributory pension scheme for employees who join on or after April 1, 2005. According to her notice, she will contribute a corresponding contribution of 10 percent of the base salary plus redundancy pay (DA) by the employees in the NPS fund.

Under the scheme of the Center, as of April 1, 2019, the government will contribute 14 percent against an employee contribution of 10 percent of his/her salary and DA.

After protests from workers in Gujarat, the state government had said the new pension would not apply to workers who entered employment before April 2005. She also pledged to increase her contribution to the fund to 14 percent from 10 percent previously. .

Workers have massively agitated against the government in Gujarat, demanding reinstatement of the OPS, believing the new pension scheme is not in the best interests of retiring workers.

With the BJP government not agreeing to workers’ demands, Congress and the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP have assured that they will bring the OPS back, in one of their most emphatic poll promises.

Both parties have assured the inciting employees that the new pension plan (NPS) will be scrapped and the OPS will be applied. They have given the examples of their governments in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh (where the Congress is in power) and Punjab (ruled by the AAP) to make the point clear.

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

There are nearly seven lakh government employees pushing the demand for the OPS, including about 70,000 primary school teachers who entered the service before 2005 on a fixed salary.

Jadeja had led an agitation in February 2019 in which about two lakh primary school teachers went on ‘mass casual leave’ and gathered to protest outside the Gujarat assembly in the capital Gandhinagar.

The agitation was revived in the run-up to the upcoming parliamentary elections when thousands of state government employees, including school teachers, took part in the massive protest against furlough across the state in September this year.

The agitation had forced the government to soften its stance on the issue and pledged to make the decision on the OPS at the appropriate time, saying it was a policy issue.

Mahesh Mori, chairman of the Rashtriya Samyukt Morcha, a body of state officials, told PTI the government’s promises were only verbal and no notice had been given to make it official.

“The government is still uncertain about the OPS issue. We demanded that the OPS be implemented for all employees. The government said in a meeting with us that the employees who joined before April 1, 2005, and not 2004, will receive benefits from the OPS, but has not given notice,” Mori said.

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

“The OPS is better because the retiree gets 50 percent (of the salary at that time) in pension. The NPS is based on the stock market and the level of the pension is decreasing,” he claimed.

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

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

The implementation of the OPS is part of the Congressional Election Program for Gujarat.

Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot had said those who claimed that the OPS would be a tax on the treasury were false, as it was all about financial management.

The AAP has assured government officials in Gujarat that they will implement the OPS if they come to power in the state.

To back up its point, the AAP government in Punjab backtracked on it shortly after the cabinet approved restoration there.

AAP and Delhi national convener CM Kejriwal recently claimed in a statement that the new pension scheme was “unfair” and that the OPS should be reinstated and implemented across the country.

He had also tweeted that the Bhagwant Mann-led AAP government in Punjab was delivering on its promise.

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

On Saturday, polls were held for the 68 seats of the Assembly in Himachal Pradesh.

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