Central government employees getting short-changed by NPS allocations
Moneylife Digital Team 26 August 2010

Central government employees are getting an unfair deal with the NPS as politicians play politics and finance ministry plays safe

Central government employees have missed out on one of the biggest bull runs, which would have given them the desired head start that they needed, and for no fault of theirs. This is all thanks to the indecisiveness of politicians and the ministry of finance playing it safe regarding the New Pension Scheme (NPS) for Central government employees.

Out of the seven asset management companies (AMCs) that manage NPS, only three of them, all of which are state-controlled companies, are allowed to manage the funds for government employees. According to the data available, State Bank of India (SBI), Unit Trust of India (UTI) and Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) offered a return of around 11% to 12% to Central and state government employees between 1st April and 31st March.

While this seems better than the 8% that government employees were getting under the earlier regime, it is a low return given that under NPS, a part of the money can be invested in equities. Between 1 April 2009 and 31 March 2010, the Sensex rose 77%. Now if the employees were allowed to invest 50% in equities, then the returns on their NPS investments would have been that much higher, as the equity portion of their assets would have yielded healthy returns. Instead, the employees got returns as low as 11% on their NPS investment.

The reason the returns are low is because only 15% of the money has been allocated to equities under a diktat. This is because politicians are squabbling over the NPS itself, with Mamata Banerjee hell bent on stalling the full application of the scheme until the West Bengal elections next year. And the ministry of finance lacks the courage to make it a market-determined scheme and has played safe by allowing only 15% to be put in equities. According to officials close to the matter, this directive has come straight from the finance ministry itself. This directive is unfair to government employees because they have been cut loose from a guaranteed pension scheme and have to choose between different plans to create their post-retirement nest egg. However, in practice, they don't have the choice.

NPS is a new contributory pension scheme introduced by the Central government for its own new employees, joining after 1 January 2004. Under the system, each new central government employee will open a personal retirement account on joining service. Every month, and till the employee retires or leaves government service, 10% of the employee's salary will be transferred into this account with matching contribution from the government. When the person retires, he will be able to use these savings to take care of the needs and expenses of his family during old age.

In theory, the NPS offers a choice to investors to put more money under different schemes but in practice, only 15% is going into equities even though the key point of NPS is that it is a defined contribution scheme and the benefits would depend upon the amounts contributed and the investment growth up to the point of exit from NPS. Returns are not guaranteed.

A fund manager handling NPS told us that he is allowed to invest only up to 15% of the amount in equities, while the rest is invested in a mix of government securities and money market instruments. Until a year back (before 1 April 2009), only 5% was allowed to be invested in equities, while the rest went into Central government securities and money market instruments. The change in stance was done not so much as to ensure better returns on investment, but to stay in line with other pension fund products.

The official reason given to fund managers is that the government wants to play it safe. According to a fund manager, there is some logistical issue, because of which the entire government employee database has not flown to the Central Recordkeeping Agency (CRA) till now. Somebody else had to take a call on the asset allocation and to be on the safer side, the government decided not to allocate more than 15%.

The Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) Bill is still to become an Act and as such PFRDA has no legal powers and functions. In fact, the PFRDA Bill 2009 had become the bone of contention among political bigwigs from West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. It was introduced in 2005 by the then finance minister P Chidambaram. The Bill proposed to set up a regulator and give more freedom to subscribers to invest in pension funds. Sadly, it attracted opposition by the Left Front which is against the equity investment option given to investors in the NPS.

Even today, the government faces stiff opposition to the Bill from its own coalition. The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which had to garner the support of different political parties like M Karunanidhi's Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) and Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, had put the legislation into deep cold storage as they were opposed to the Bill.  Meanwhile, government employees have missed out on a year of stupendous return and will be forced to earn subpar returns for a few years. The next major market move may be years away and it is not even certain that by that time, government employees will still be suffering from the worst of both - market-determined return but no choice to choose market instruments of high returns.
 

Comments
Dibyojyoti saha
1 decade ago
It totally misses the big picture. In the name of giving option more equity options may be provided and people may have the right to choose but its pension! its a substitute to govt pension! the most stable, fixed form of pension when you are trying to replace then why give the option of a volatile instrument. Everyone can choose but is everyone financially aware of the volatility? May not be slave but surely a child in eyes of govt!. Just think i toil and toil and reach my retirement age, i have 30-40% equity exposure in my nps because i got motivated by the likes of this big talk articles and researchers.(Shadows of the generation of researchers who sweared how usefull and great those junk sub prime instruments were till 2007)and in the year of my retiremnt i still have the exposure in equity and have not transfered to a debt fund because my knowledge of finance is child alike and i plan to withdraw 40% of my nps corpus and receive rest through equity. I need that 40% for some thing.and the market crashed on that very year...my 40% is half of the principal..and then i would curse why govt allowed equity exposure of such level..wats my fault i didnt knew finance that well.
Sanjay
1 decade ago
Finaly I submitted my NPS acct opening form at Kotak Bank on 7 May'11. However till date neither my acct is opened nor the cheque has been debited. Kotak says that they are only a collection agent & acct is opened by NPS. I should hear from them in 4-5 weeks. I have no clue where to followup now. Any suggestions? WHat is ur exp in NPS acct opening? I am a Pvt Sector employee..
Chetna
1 decade ago
The Government employees have been done away with their pension , gratuity their own contribution to the erstwhile PF used in contigencies. Has anyone calculated/questioned the basis of arbitrary 10% contribution by government in lieu of above which leads to one-fourth of the pension compared to old pension scheme and on top loss of gratuity.It is synonomous to saying that since expenses have gone up those after 2004 will be given half the salary of their counterpart.
Rajeev
1 decade ago
Come On...
If the Sensex would have gone done by 30%.Yiu woukd have said it is foolish that employees pension money be traded on the stock market.
Looking back everyone can find fault.
MANIK
1 decade ago
i forgot my password, now how can i make/apply new password
Sanjay
1 decade ago
I think awareness is also an issue with Banks about NPS.
I live in Powai, Mumbai. I visited bank of baroda, ICICI, HDFC Bank and SBI at Powai. None of them have even heard of NPS. They gave me such blank looks as if I am new to this world. BoB helpfully suggested that I must be meaning NSC.
If this is the awareness of NPS then someone in NPS Org must crack the whip so that public can open NPS accounts..
harish maheshwari
1 decade ago
Praveen is right when he says that individual who is making the invesment must have the liberty to decide where he wants to invest.
If he is not smart enough, it is his return which will take a beating. Why others are bothered about that.

Infact the biggest problem with NPS is that it is biased towards Debt Instruments, where one can invest 100% but in case of equity the cap has been fixed at 50%. When you are giving liberty to invest 100% in Debt why fixing maximum cap of 50% in equity ?. Give level playing filed man !.

And everyone knows, nothing had so far matched equity's returns in long run (except property).
Harish
pravin
1 decade ago
ravi,you seem to have missed the point totally.
the argument is not that stock market returns are guaranteed.its ofcourse volatile given that its manipulated by money printing central banks.

the problem is that instead of individuals being allowed to determine their own equity allocation,it is babus and useless netas who are trying to play financial player for these employees.what are they? little children or slaves?
ravi
1 decade ago
Very one-sided and biased article.
I too had invested in the stock market during the last one year and have only losses to show for it.
No pension scheme should be at the mercy of uncertain returns.
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