Adding to the troubles of Sahara India, the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation has begun a compliance review of all the group firms. “It is requested to investigate the compliance position of M/s Sahara India and its Group of Companies … In case of already covered units, the up-to-date compliance position may be checked,” the EPFO has said in an internal missive to all its field offices.
Stressing that no unit be left uncovered and no worker of the Sahara Group left un-enrolled, the EPFO has further said that field offices must take “immediate action” against units that are not complying with provident fund norms. In the country-wide exercise, the EPFO has also asked its field formations to examine how many of the Sahara firms are depositing provident fund (PF) dues with the exempted Sahara India Trust or directly with the EPFO.
“The exemption was given only to four units but now we are checking how many of the Group firms are depositing their money with the exempted trust,” said a senior PF official. However, on being contacted, a Sahara Group spokesperson said, “Contributions being made by the Sahara Group for PF of the employees complies with the statutory requirements and the Group believes that neither any outstanding remains nor any irregularity and illegality has been committed on its part in so far as PF contributions being made by the company.” Under the EPF Act, 1952, establishments can seek exemption from the EPFO to operate a trust for independently managing the retirement savings of their employees. But the trusts are regulated by strict norms and have to follow the investment pattern prescribed by the EPFO.
But this is not the first time that the Sahara Group has come under the EPFO’s radar. As reported by The Indian Express earlier, five of the Group firms including Sahara India, Sahara India Financial Corporation and the erstwhile Sahara Airlines have defaulted on contributions to the related Employees’ Pension Fund.
All these five firms (including Sahara India Commercial Corporation and Sahara India Mass Communication) are part of the Sahara India Trust that was given exemption in 2006 to manage their employees’ savings. In fact, official data reveals that these five firms of the Subrata Roy promoted group has defaulted on EPF contributions amounting to Rs 7,255. 47 crore.
PF officials also pointed out that the EPFO is also embroiled in a legal battle with the Sahara Group over its provident fund dues and compliance after it published numerous advertisements in national newspapers that boasted of a 10 lakh plus workforce. Following this, the provident fund department had asked the group to furnish details of its employees. But the Lucknow headquartered group then approached the Allahabad High Court against the notice.