From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : OPS, NPS and other alternatives
Mains level : pension system, ensuring security and stability
- The issue of government employees’ pension has emerged as a critical political concern, leading several states to consider reverting from the New Pension Scheme (NPS) to the defined-benefit (DB) Old Pension Scheme (OPS). Acknowledging the significance of this matter, the Government of India has established a committee to enhance the NPS.
What is pension?
- A pension is a retirement plan that provides a stream of income to individuals after they retire from their job or profession. It can be funded by employers, government agencies, or unions and is designed to ensure a steady income during retirement.
What is Old Pension Scheme (OPS)?
- The OPS, also known as the Defined Benefit Pension System, is a pension plan provided by the government for its employees in India.
- Under the OPS, retired government employees receive a fixed monthly pension based on their last drawn salary and years of service.
- This pension is funded by the government and paid out of its current revenues, leading to increased pension liabilities.
What is NPS?
- NPS is a market-linked, defined contribution pension system introduced in India in 2004 as a replacement for the Old Pension Scheme (OPS).
- NPS is designed to provide retirement income to all Indian citizens, including government employees, private sector workers, and self-employed individuals
Facts for prelims: Key differences between the two pension schemes
|Parameters||The Old Pension Scheme(OPS)||The New Pension Scheme (NPS)|
|Nature of the schemes||OPS offer pensions to government employees on the basis of their last drawn salary||NPS pays the employees for their investments in the NPS Scheme during their employment.|
|Amount of pension derived||50 per cent of the last drawn salary||60% lump sum after retirement and 40% to be invested in annuities for getting a monthly pension|
|Benefits in taxes||No tax benefits||The employee can claim tax deductions of 1.5 lakh under Section 80C of income tax and up to 50,000 on other investments under 80CCD (1b)|
|Tax on pension||No tax on pension||60% of the NPS Corpus is tax-free while the remaining 40% is taxable|
|Option of Investment||No option||Two choices: Active and Automatic|
|Who can avail?||Only government employees||Any Indian Citizen between 18-65 years.|
|Switching Schemes||OPS scheme can be switched to NPS||NPS scheme cannot be switched back to OPS in general, but central government employees can switch back to OPS in case of death and disablement of the employee.|
Reasons behind the growing demand for reverting to OPS
- Stability and Predictability: One of the primary motivations for the demand to return to OPS is the desire for stability and predictability in pension benefits. Under the OPS, employees receive a fixed pension based on their last drawn salary, which is increased periodically to account for inflation. This offers a sense of security and certainty about post-retirement income, ensuring a stable financial future.
- Market Risk and Annuity Payouts: The NPS, being a market-linked pension scheme, exposes pensioners to market risks. The returns on the pension fund are subject to market fluctuations, which can impact the overall corpus and subsequently affect annuity payouts. This volatility raises concerns among employees who seek a more secure and reliable pension arrangement.
- Lower Annuity Prospects: With the NPS, pensioners bear the market risk and face the possibility of lower-than-expected annuity amounts. This uncertainty about future pension prospects prompts many employees to advocate for a return to OPS, which offers a predetermined pension amount.
- Comparisons with Other Pension Systems: Employees often compare the OPS with pension systems in other countries, particularly those in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) economies. These comparisons reveal that OPS provides higher pension replacement rates, lower retirement ages, and covers the entire family. Such favorable aspects of OPS generate a perception of better benefits and incentivize employees to demand its reinstatement.
- Perception of Unsustainability: While the NPS was introduced to address fiscal strains associated with the unfunded OPS, there are concerns about its long-term sustainability. Some argue that OPS can be sustained through effective fiscal management and reform, rather than completely abandoning it. The perception of unsustainability drives the demand for reverting to OPS as a viable alternative.
Challenges involved in reverting back to OPS
- Fiscal Sustainability: The OPS operates on a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) system, where present workers finance the retired. With declining birth rates and increased life expectancy, the burden on the future workforce to fund pensions will intensify. The OPS, being an unfunded scheme, poses challenges in maintaining fiscal sustainability in the long run.
- Demographic Shifts: The dependency ratio is expected to increase substantially, with fewer workers supporting a larger number of retirees. This demographic shift adds to the challenges of sustaining the OPS, as it puts additional strain on the funding mechanism and the ability to meet pension obligations.
- Inflationary Pressures: The OPS guarantees periodic increases in pension payouts through dearness allowance (DA) adjustments to account for inflation. However, relying on fixed increments tied to DA can pose challenges during periods of high inflation. Ensuring that pension payments keep pace with inflation without compromising fiscal stability can be a complex task for policymakers.
- Budgetary Constraints: The financial burden of reverting to OPS can put a significant strain on the government’s budget. Pension liabilities already account for a substantial portion of states’ revenue receipts and own revenues. Increasing pension obligations may lead to a reduction in development expenditure or necessitate additional borrowing, potentially exacerbating the issue of public debt.
- Inter-generational Equity: Maintaining inter-generational equity is a crucial consideration in pension reforms. Reverting to OPS might fulfill the aspirations of current employees, but it can impose a heavy burden on future generations. Striking a balance between providing reasonable pension security for present employees and ensuring the sustainability of the pension system for future generations is a key challenge that needs to be addressed.
- Economic Factors: The economic environment, including interest rates and investment returns, can impact the financial viability of OPS. Changes in economic conditions, such as low interest rates or inadequate returns on pension fund investments, can strain the financial resources needed to sustain OPS and meet pension obligations.
Way ahead: Building sustainable and inclusive pension systems
- Comprehensive Reform: Governments should undertake comprehensive reforms which may involve revisiting the pension architecture, introducing alternative pension models, and exploring hybrid schemes that combine elements of defined-benefit and defined-contribution systems. Reforms should be guided by a thorough analysis of demographic trends, fiscal constraints, and economic conditions.
- Adequate Funding Mechanisms: Pension systems must establish robust funding mechanisms to ensure that pension obligations can be met. This may involve setting up dedicated pension funds, implementing sound investment strategies, and establishing appropriate contribution rates for both employees and employers.
- Strengthening Pension Governance: Effective governance is crucial for the success of pension systems. Governments should strengthen the regulatory framework, improve transparency, and enhance accountability in the management of pension funds. Establishing independent oversight bodies and adopting international best practices can help ensure the integrity and efficiency of pension governance.
- Promoting Financial Literacy: Financial literacy programs should be implemented to educate individuals about the importance of retirement planning, investment strategies, and the risks and benefits associated with different pension options. Empowering individuals with financial knowledge will enable them to make informed decisions and take an active role in securing their retirement income.
- Encouraging Voluntary Savings: Governments should encourage voluntary retirement savings programs to complement the mandatory pension schemes. Providing incentives, such as tax benefits or matching contributions, can incentivize individuals to save for retirement beyond the mandatory contributions. Voluntary savings options, such as individual retirement accounts or employer-sponsored plans, can offer individuals greater flexibility and control over their retirement savings.
- Flexibility and Portability: Pension systems should adapt to the changing nature of work and support individuals with diverse employment patterns. Portable pension accounts that allow individuals to carry their accumulated benefits across jobs can ensure continuity of retirement savings. Flexibility in pension payout options, such as lump sum withdrawals or phased withdrawals, can accommodate different financial needs and preferences of retirees.
- Social Safety Nets: To address the needs of vulnerable populations, social safety nets should be incorporated into pension systems. These safety nets can provide minimum income guarantees or targeted assistance for individuals with limited or interrupted work histories, low-income earners, and those facing economic hardships in retirement.
- Amidst the debate between NPS and OPS, it is crucial to devise a pension system that ensures security without compromising fiscal sustainability and inter-generational equity.
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