Playing with state finances for votes

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Monday, November 21, 2022, 02:48 AM IST
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Last Friday the AAP Government in Punjab decided to return to the old pension scheme, no doubt with an eye on the Gujarat Assembly elections where the party is making a strong pitch to mark its presence. Given Arvind Kejriwal’s one-trick magic to lure voters by dangling the carrot of freebies before them, he can be excused for stooping so low, but what about the Congress leadership which shares the credit with the BJP for introducing the new pension scheme? Why is the party which does not tire of taking credit for ushering in economic reforms bent on moving the clock back on them for the sake of a few votes? Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who no longer has any prospect of a higher constitutional office falling in his lap, ought to break his silence to defend one of the major reforms his Government had enacted in the UPA’s first and only productive term.

Undoubtedly, the Vajpayee Government had begun the process to unburden the coming generations from bearing the ever-rising costs of public servants’ pension bill. Because it did not return to power in 2004, the process begun by the NDA was completed by UPA-I. Now that legacy of a major reform aimed at rationalising pension payments to Government employees is being wilfully squandered. Under the OPS, pensioners were assured of nearly a little over half of the last pay drawn plus current dearness allowance. Given the periodic revision in dearness allowance due to price-rise, the pension bill of governments keeps increasing steadily. The new scheme was linked to employee contributions with a matching deposit by the Government in a designated pension fund.

Even in a prosperous country such as the U.S., several local Governments have gone bust paying un-reformed pensions to retirees who, thanks to rising life spans, live several decades after leaving employment. In India too, it is indeed a matter of pride that life expectancy has increased, but undeniably it burns an ever bigger hole into the stretched budgets of Central and state Governments. It is pertinent to note here that even after the death of a retiree his or her spouse gets a sizeable amount every month as part of the family pension. Though they form a small portion of the electorate, government employees, serving and retired, constitute a strong pressure group for the Opposition to try and keep them in good humour. If by so doing, the finances of States are ruined, so be it. For politicians are obsessed with today; what happens tomorrow when the next generation is confronted with an empty treasury is the least of their concerns. There seems to be a race among parties to inflict more burden on State finances, with the Congress Governments in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh too opting out of the NPS to embrace the OPS. It is worth mentioning here that the current and former Comptrollers and Auditors General of India had raised a red flag over the return to the OPS. But then, our politicians cannot be bothered by such expert advice. Their sole mission is to win elections by hook or by crook. Coming generations will be called upon to pay the price for their folly.

Abrupt action by BCCI

Every major defeat of the Indian cricket team need not necessarily be followed by a bloodbath. The fall-out of India’s loss to England in the recent T20 World Cup could have been handled better. Resting Captain Rohit Sharma and head coach Rahul Dravid had sent the wrong signal. This has now been followed by the dismissal of the entire selection panel. This is no way to create trust and confidence in players and encourage talent to keep honing their skills irrespective of an occasional loss. When all is said and done, chance plays a big role in all sports. On a bad day, the best team can be humbled by the minnows, as the World Cup yet again testified. The BCCI should cease playing to the gallery. Fans understand the game; cricket officialdom doesn’t.

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