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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Gujarat government employees hit the streets, but BJP unruffled

Held at Satyagraha Chhavni, a place synonymous with various public demonstrations in the state Capital, the protest was organised by the National Old Pension Restoration United Front (NOPRUF) and the Gujarat State United Front, the two umbrella organisations of state government employees.

Written by Parimal A Dabhi | Gandhinagar |
Updated: May 12, 2022 8:01:48 am
Gujarat government employees, Gujarat protests, Gujarat government employees protest, Gujarat BJP, Gujarat news, Gujarat politics, Political pulse, Indian expressVarious govt employees union came together to protest over pending demands at Satyagrah Chavni, Gandhinagar on Monday. (Express photo)

They number over seven lakh and, if united behind a cause, carry the strength to affect electoral politics in Gujarat, which goes to the polls later this year. But despite state government employees hitting the streets of Gandhinagar on Monday to get the administration to accept two of their demands, the ruling BJP seems composed.

Held at Satyagraha Chhavni, a place synonymous with various public demonstrations in the state Capital, the protest was organised by the National Old Pension Restoration United Front (NOPRUF) and the Gujarat State United Front, the two umbrella organisations of state government employees. The protest saw 72 associations of different cadres such as revenue officials, panchayat employees, health employees, employees of industrial training institutes, employees of regional transport offices, and teachers participate.

The demonstrators demanded the implementation of the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) instead of the New Pension Scheme (NPS) and called for the abolition of a fixed-wage policy for various cadres of the administration.

“Our most important demand for the state government is the restoration of OPS. The state government has implemented NPS without any demand from employees,” said Rakesh Kanthariya, national advisor and the person in charge of the NOPRUF in Gujarat.

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Pointing out the drawbacks of NPS, he added, “In the OPS, the employee and his or her family were getting 50 per cent of his or her last salary as pension. And that pension was being upgraded as per the dearness regularly. In the NPS, the government cuts 10% of General Provident Fund (GPF) money from the salary of the employee every month while contributing the same amount and eventually deposits it in NPS Trust (for the employee). And at the time of retirement, the employee has to buy a pension product from three of the entities earmarked by the government from that money. In NPS, the amount of pension one gets is very limited if compared to the one under OPS. And this amount will remain fixed or definite irrespective of the rate of inflation. The OPS gets revised regularly as per the rate of inflation.”

The NOPRUF official said all state government employees recruited after 2005 had been enrolled under NPS. “By adopting NPS, the state government wants to wash its hands off its responsibility towards pension of its employees. When the government is working for a welfare state, it should implement OPS,” he added.

Kanthariya said West Bengal was the only state not to have adopted NPS. Recently, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have also reverted to OPS. “In 2009, the central government introduced a change in the NPS under which if a government employee dies during his service, his family will be entitled to get pension benefits under OPS. Gujarat government has not effected that change at all. So, there are cases where families of state employees, who died early during their services, they get meagre amount such as Rs 1,425 as monthly pension,” he added.

The NOPRUF official said his organisation had met Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and Finance Minister Kanu Desai over its demands. “They sounded very positive about it, but nothing has happened,” he added.

Abolition of fixed-wage policy

The other key demand of the protesters is the abolition of the fixed-wage policy that was implemented in 2006. Under this, some government employees are appointed to various cadre posts on a fixed wage for five years. They are regularised as state government employees after five years and that period is not considered for salary increments. Initially, some employees recruited under the policy received a salary of Rs 2,500, but it was subsequently revised following protests and raised to a minimum of Rs 19,950 per month.

The Gujarat High Court struck down the policy in January 2012 while acting on a public interest litigation (PIL) plea. However, the government challenged the verdict in the Supreme Court where the matter is pending.

The protesters also demanded that the government pay them allowances as per the provisions of the Seventh Pay Commission.

Gujarat State United Front and Gujarat Primary Teachers’ Association president Digvijaysinh Jadeja said no call had been issued yet to vote against the BJP. “But, if our demands remain unfulfilled, it can damage the party in the Assembly elections. One government employee can influence at least 500 persons directly or indirectly. One can gauge the impact of a government employee in an election by this. There are 50-60 seats in Gujarat that are decided by the margin of around 5,000-10,000 votes,” he added.

But playing down the impact of the Gandhinagar protest, a senior BJP leader said such demonstrations hardly have any impact on the party’s electoral prospects.

“I have been witnessing such protests by state employees’ associations since 1997-’98,” the party functionary added. “But such protests have hardly any impact on elections. When it comes to electoral politics, our party’s Hindutva agenda always prevails. Protests by state employees are generally extinguished by talks and by fulfilling some of their demands that are not very detrimental to the state’s finances. In fact, the employees too believe that they are getting more than what their counterparts in other parts of the country are getting. So, they simply try to arm-twist the government through such protests before elections to get their demands met.”

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