7th CPC recommendations on the National Pension System (NPS) – More transparency about the scheme and investments needed
7th CPC has submitted its recommendations to the Central Government. As part of the recommendations NPS was analysed and recommendations for more transparency suggested.
Pension has been one of the key Terms of Reference (TORs) for successive Pay Commissions. While the VI CPC was the first Pay Commission to have been constituted after the introduction of the National Pension System (NPS) which came into effect on 01.01.2004, the VII CPC is the first one to be constituted after some experience has been gained on this count.
Pension Related TOR of the Commission
The TOR of the present Commission – to examine the principles which should govern the structure of pension and other retirement benefits, keeping in view that retirement benefits of all Central Government employees appointed on and after 01.01.2004 are covered by the National Pension System (NPS)–limits the mandate of this Commission only to the Old Pension System (OPS). However, during its interaction with staff associations and other stakeholders, the Commission received many grievances/suggestions relating to both the OPS and the NPS. It has also been averred, inter alia, that NPS is proving to be an impediment in attracting and subsequently retaining the best talent for the Central Civil Services/All India Services (AIS). In this backdrop, the Commission decided to address the grievances related to NPS, which have been discussed in this chapter.
The Commission notes that the NPS is the culmination of a series of social security and pension related reform initiatives in India. As in many other countries, pension reforms in India were driven by the fiscal constraints of supporting a public pension system and the longer-term problems of an ageing population. Government of India, in 1998, set up the Committee for Old Age Social and Income Security (OASIS). The OASIS committee concluded, among other things, that the Defined Benefit Scheme (DBS), serving the Central Government retirees, is unaffordable for government and it should be replaced by a Defined Contribution Scheme (DCS).
The Commission notes that the total pension liability on account of Central Government employees had risen from 0.6 percent of GDP (at constant prices) in 1993-94 to 1.66 percent of GDP (at constant prices) in 2002-03. Pension expenditure of the Central Government grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21 percent during the period 1990 to 2001. This was also reflected in the increasing fiscal deficits. Further, in the DBS, pensions were wage indexed, and thus the outgo on this account would have increased manifold. The stressed fiscal situation, thus, set the stage for introduction of the NPS in India. The Bhattacharya Committee Report (HLE Group on NPS) (Feb 2002) recommended that an unfunded Defined Benefit (DB), Pay As You Go (PAYG) scheme or a pure Defined Contribution (DC) scheme would not be suitable and therefore recommended a hybrid DB/DC scheme to meet the requirements of central civil servants.
International Experience on Pension Reforms
Pension reforms, in recent times, have been initiated in many countries across the world. The Commission notes that an aging population, changing social structures, uncertain and inadequate social security benefits and rising fiscal liabilities have been the major causes behind pension reforms, especially for a transition from DBS to DCS.
Introduction of NPS
On the basis of various reports, the Central Government made the decision to place all new recruits into Central Government from 01.01.2004 onwards (excluding Defence Forces) under NPS. NPS is managed by the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA), which was initially set up as an interim authority. The PFRDA Act was passed by Parliament and notified w.e.f. 01.02.2014, bestowing statutory status on the authority.
Under the NPS, employees contribute 10 percent of their monthly salary (basic plus DA) towards their pension with matching contribution from Central Government. In respect of the AIS officers working under them, the matching contribution is made by the State Governments. Three professional Pension Fund Managers invest the funds under NPS following an asset allocation framework mandated by government. The Central Record Keeping Agency (CRA) maintains a separate pension account for each individual employee identified by a unique Permanent Retirement Account Number (PRAN). Individual employees have been given online access through the CRA website to view the status of their pension wealth.
Under the NPS, upon superannuation, the individual is required to invest at least 40 percent of pension wealth for purchase of annuity and the remaining up to 60 percent is paid to him as lump sum. The annuity provides for pension for the lifetime of the employee. Individual subscribers to the NPS are not covered under the General Provident Fund. Regulations issued by the PFRDA now provide for partial withdrawals up to 25 percent of the contribution made by the subscriber to his individual account after at least ten years from the date of joining, up to a maximum of three times during the tenure of the subscription for certain specified purposes, before superannuation. The regulations issued by PFRDA also provide that if the employee dies in service, then at least 80 percent of the accumulated pension wealth shall be mandatorily utilized for purchase of annuity and the balance amount would be paid to the nominee(s)/legal heirs.
Performance of the NPS
Over 13 lakh Central Government subscribers have accumulated pension wealth of over Rs.24,000 crore by the end of 2013-14. The Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of returns on the scheme are tabulated below:-
( in percent)
|CAGR (Central Govt.)||
The Commission further notes that all State Governments (with the exception of Tripura and West Bengal) have switched to NPS on the Central Government pattern.
Grievances against the NPS
The NPS has now been in effect for over 10 years. During this period, there has been perceptible progress in putting together the architecture and providing information to subscribers. Major concerns, however, remain. Broadly, these are as under:
i. The larger federations and staff associations advocated scrapping the NPS on the ground that it discriminates between two sets of government employees.
ii. Individuals covered under NPS have pleaded for reverting to the OPS on the grounds of uncertainty regarding the actual value of their future pension in the face of market related risks.
iii. Individuals have pointed out that under NPS, the effective salary becomes less since the employee has to mandatorily contribute 10 percent of pay towards the pension fund.
iv. Individuals have stated that grievance redressal facility is not effective and consultation with stakeholders has been non-existent. This communication gap has generated insecurity in the minds of stakeholders including staff and Group ‘A’ officers of Central Government as well as All India Service Officers.
v. Associations have complained that Family Pension after the death of the employee is not ensured in the NPS. Moreover, if an employee dies at an early age, the family would suffer since annuity from the contribution would be grossly inadequate.
vi. Individuals have complained that NPS subscribers have no recourse to GPF for their savings. Their personal savings (10% of salary) are considered part of a larger corpus. It has been pointed out that the right approach would be to consider only government’s contribution and the returns earned on it as the effective amount available for purchase of annuities.
vii. Associations have pointed out that unlike the facility under GPF, it is not possible to take refundable advances under NPS, even to meet obligatory social expenditure. This forces employees towards increased indebtedness as they have to borrow from elsewhere.
viii. Grievances also relate to tax treatment under NPS. While contributions and accumulations in NPS are exempt, lump sum withdrawals from NPS at any time are taxable at par with any other income. In addition, there is a service tax liability on any amount utilised for purchase of annuity.
ix. It has been pointed out that though NPS became effective from 2004, detailed instructions were issued only in late 2009 and in many cases the credit of contributions began from 2012. In the case of AIS officers in some States, contributions by the concerned State Government are yet to be fully made and deployed. The net result of this has been that contributions for the period 2004-2012 have not been made in full or have earned simple interest and did not get any market linked returns. Because of the prevailing confusion, contributions made by some AIS officer have been returned to them without interest. This will have a huge impact on the eventual corpus as the benefits of compounding were not available for the first 8 -9 years.
x. Individuals, in their presentation before the Commission, stated that annuities under NPS have no compensation for inflation unlike dearness relief under OPS. Further, in the case of OPS there is a revision in basic pension itself after every Pay Commission. This too is not available in respect of annuity of NPS subscribers.
xi. It has been pointed out that government employees are not given freedom of choice in choosing their fund manager based on performance and track record as the contributions are divided in a pre-specified ratio among selected Pension Fund Managers. It has been stated that government employees have no say in asset allocation of their money.
xii. Concerns were raised that the contribution of 10% +10%will not be sufficient to create a corpus which provides reasonable assurance that pension will be 50 percent of the last pay drawn.
Analysis of the Issues by the Commission
The Commission has examined these concerns raised by the stakeholders. The Commission also interacted with Chairman, PFRDA, and representatives of the Department of Pensions and Pensioners Welfare (DPPW), Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), Department of Expenditure (DoE) and the Department of Financial Services (DFS).
In so far as the future value of pension under NPS is concerned, the Commission notes that this would depend upon a combination of factors: (i) performance of the invested fund, which in turn would depend on the asset mix of the investment and general economic situation of the country, (ii) cost of financial intermediation, (iii) contribution rates, (iv) period of contribution, (v) performance of the fund manager and (vi) development of the annuity market.
Analysis of the Asset Mix of Investments
On asset mix of the investment, the pension funds, the world over, are invested in different assets including government and corporate bonds, equities, foreign securities etc. government bonds are generally the lowest risk and lowest yield. Corporate bonds and equities are higher risk and higher yield. Typically, systems use a mix of at least two types of assets– Government Bonds and Corporate Bonds/Equities.
As per the investment guidelines stipulated by the government for Central Government employees under NPS, up to 55 percent can be invested in government bonds, up to 40 percent in corporate debt securities, up to 15 percent in equities and up to 5 percent in money market instruments. International experiences on asset mix vary across countries which have adopted the DCS.
The Commission notes that an innovative approach to investment under the DCS is the Life Cycle Approach. Under this, the asset mix of each individual changes based on his/her age. The underlying assumption under this approach is that younger workers are better able to absorb year on year volatility and therefore can undertake risk while older workers should reduce risk as they approach retirement.
A carefully selected asset mix is the sine qua non to higher returns. The Commission recommends that the investment choices under NPS be calibrated on a life cycle approach and the choices be offered in a simple manner so that any lay person can understand and act accordingly. The Commission also recommends that government, in consultation with PFRDA, come up with different options for investment mix and provide subscribers a range of options.
In DCS, typically, the employees as well as the employers contribute towards a pension fund. As discussed earlier, the quantum of pension payouts would also depend upon the contribution rates. Higher the contribution rate, better would be the pension payouts. The contribution rates for both the employees and the employers vary across the globe. The Commission has received suggestions that the government’s contribution should be enhanced from the present 10 percent in aid of a higher payout under the NPS. Associations and individuals have made presentations before the Commission highlighting that forecasts suggest that a 10 percent contribution from government will not be adequate to provide reasonable post retirement financial security in all cases. The Commission, therefore, recommends that this important aspect should be re-examined in detail by an expert body for making course corrections if required.
Period of Contribution
The Commission notes that time is of the essence in building up a reasonable corpus and ensuring that effects of compounding are significant. It is therefore essential that contributions by individuals and corresponding contributions by government are made in time, and more importantly, are deployed without any loss of time. Any delays in this respect, particularly in the initial years can have a large impact on the eventual corpus.
Government employees who have joined service between 2004 and 2011 have suffered due to delay in finalizing the structure of the NPS and the issue of detailed instructions. Although they have made regular contributions, in many cases, this money and/or counterpart contributions were not deployed in the market. In the case of AIS officers, some states are yet to release counterpart contributions or pay interest on delayed contributions. This has led to a situation where the accumulated corpus even after 11 years of service could be meagre. It is necessary that this situation which arose during the transition from OPS to NPS be addressed. The Commission therefore recommends that Central Governments and State Governments should, in a time bound manner, ensure that all the due contribution along with compounded interest, where contributions have been delayed, be deposited in the accounts of the beneficiaries. Advisories should be issued to the State Governments to deposit amounts, if not already done, in respect of NPS beneficiaries belonging to All India Services.
Many Association have pointed out that unlike the facility under GPF, it is not possible to make withdrawals under NPS, even to meet obligatory social expenditure. This forces employees towards increased indebtedness as they have to borrow from elsewhere.
The Commission notes that under the NPS Tier-I account, a subscriber is permitted to make partial withdrawal of twenty five percent of the contributions made to his/her individual pension account for certain specified purposes. Such withdrawals are permitted a maximum of three times during the entire tenure of subscription and a period of at least five years should have elapsed between two such withdrawals.
The Commission further notes that there exists a voluntary Tier-II account. Under this account, a subscriber can, at any time, withdraw the accumulated wealth either in full or part and there is no limit on such withdrawals provided the account has sufficient balance of accumulated pension wealth to cover the amount being withdrawn. However, the Tier-II account is yet to be made operational. The Commission therefore recommends that PFRDA should take steps to make the Tier-II accounts operational as early as possible to enable the NPS subscribers the facility of withdrawals from their accounts in case of requirement.
Transparency under NPS
Many associations and individuals have complained that the information relating to the NPS is inadequate, resulting in high degree of uncertainty in the minds of contributors about post-retirement benefits. The Commission noted that PFRDA sends a communication to every participant each month with the current pension wealth and the latest contribution that has been credited. The Commission recommends that focused efforts be made to capture email addresses and mobile numbers of subscribers so that seamless communication is ensured for all subscribers. The Commission recommends that consultation with stakeholders should also be held periodically in different parts of the country.
The Commission notes that no department of Government of India is taking ownership of the NPS. The Commission recommends that a Committee consisting of Secretary, Department of Financial Services, Secretary, Department of Pensions and Pensioners Welfare and Secretary, Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances may be constituted to review the progress of implementation of NPS. The Commission also recommends that steps should b e taken for establishment of an Ombudsman f or redressing individual grievances relating to NPS.
Tax Treatment under the NPS
NPS is under the Exempt–Exempt – Tax (EET) regime while the General Provident Fund under the OPS is under Exempt–Exempt–Exempt (EEE) dispensation. Under the NPS, while the contributions and the accumulations are tax-exempt, withdrawals are taxable. As such, this is an inferior tax treatment when compared to other pension programmes such as General Provident Fund, Contributory Provident Fund, Employees Provident Fund and Public Provident Fund wherein contributions, accumulations and withdrawals are tax-exempt. The Commission feels that tax neutrality should be ensured across various avenues for long term savings for postretirement incomes so that the employees covered by NPS are not at a disadvantage. The Commission therefore recommends that withdrawals under the NPS should be tax-exempt to place NPS at par with other pension schemes. The Commission also recommends that the service tax levied at the time of annuity purchase by NPS subscribers should be exempted.
Issue of Family Pension In Case Of Death of the Subscriber
Another complaint received by the Commission from staff associations and individuals is that Family Pension after the death of the employee is not ensured in the NPS. The Commission notes that the government had provisionally extended benefits under the Central Civil Service (Extraordinary Pension) Rules, Family Pension/Extraordinary Family Pension/Liberalised Pensionary Award to government servants appointed on or after 01.01.2004.
Rules regulating these benefits have now been notified by the PFRDA. PFRDA regulations provide for an exit option from NPS in case of premature death of the subscriber by availing of additional relief from government, in which case the entire accumulated pension wealth inclusive of subscriber’s contribution would be transferred to government. The Commission recommends notification of a scheme by government for provision of additional relief in such cases consequent to exit from NPS.
Framing of Rules and Regulations
The Commission notes that rules and regulating relating to NPS are being framed and notified by PFRDA from time to time. Associations and individual officers have raised the issue of the need for greater involvement of stakeholders in finalizing these regulations The Commission recommends that government encourage the PFRDA to set up a strong consultative mechanism involving the DPPW, DoPT, DFS and some associations of employees for a review of regulations and for finalizing future regulations to bring clarity and remove uncertainty relating to NPS. The Commission also recommends that draft regulations should be widely publicized to enable subscribers to respond to any proposed changes, as normally done by other regulatory authorities.
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Source : 7th CPC