NPS money belongs to individual contributors, can’t go back to the states under law: Sitharaman

Shimla, November 10

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Thursday said the money in the National Pension Scheme account belongs to individual contributors and cannot go back to state governments as per the law.

Sitharaman, in Shimla today as campaigning for the November 12 Himachal election drew to a close, was responding to queries on the Congress governments of Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan asking Centre to return the money due to their employees and the Centre declining to do so.

"As per the law, money in the central kitty of NPS cannot go back to the state government. It can only go to back to the contributing workers. Can we change the law? It is the workers' money which is in the central kitty. That money has to go to individual workers, not to one authority and not to some other entity.

"I am not talking politics here. I am only talking law," said the FM addressing the press in Shimla.

Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel recently said the Centre had refused to return the Rs 17000 crore money due to state government employees enrolled under NPS when the state urged the Centre for the money in writing.

"They can't stop this money for long. We have sought legal opinion," said Baghel.

The Congress governments in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the AAP government in Punjab and the Jharkhand government have announced restoration of the old pension scheme.

The Congress in Himachal has made the same promise to agitating 1.5 lakh government employees enrolled under the National Pension Scheme which does not entail guaranteed pension benefits to retirees but helps them create a retirement corpus which is managed by a pension fund manager. Upon retirement the NPS employee can withdraw 60 per cent of the corpus and has to convert the rest into annuities for lifelong pension.

In OPS, a retiree was guaranteed 50 per cent of the basic salary drawn as pension plus some other benefits.

Sitharaman today said the previous Congress governments in Himachal led by late CM Virbhadra Singh continued with the NPS after OPS was scrapped in 2003.

"You are asking us questions about OPS when the Congress governments here chose to retain the National Pension Scheme in their tenures," she said.

Earlier in the day, CM Jairam Thakur also said the Congress had no right to raise the issue of OPS.

"The Congress has no moral right to flag this issue. It is not right to jump to conclusions here. We should look for a way out. Has Congress studied the implications of OPS?" asked CM, revealing that Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot at the last meeting of the NITI Aayog Council said to PM Narendra Modi that though his government had announced return to OPS, the same could not be done without the "Centre's blessings."

Thakur said NPS employees thrown out of the OPS list in Rajasthan had now moved court.

"My appeal to state employees is we understand your sentiments. But we caution you against Congress attempts to exploit your sentiments. The Congress has no future in the nation or the state," CM said.

Earlier, Sitharaman listed the benefits of "double engine government for Himachal" and urged voters to "change the tradition but not the government in the state."

The FM said the voters should not depend on the "Congress which made false promises" but should vote for the BJP for a "stable government and policy."

Sitharaman also said that where between 2009 and 2014, Rs 40281 crore grant-in-aid and devolution were given to Himachal, this rose to Rs 80000 crore between 2014 and 2019 and again to Rs 70,400 crore since 2019 with one-and-a-half years left.

The FM cited several combined schemes of the Centre and the state as "double engine examples of BJP rules" and said the Atal Tunnel, AIIMS Bilaspur, Renukaji hydro project, 8,000 houses under PM Aawas Yojna and devolution were all examples of BJP's governance in the state.

The FM, allaying the concerns of apple growers, said import duty on apples had been levied at a maximum of 50 as agreed under the WTO regime.

Courtesy: Tribune News Service

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