UP: State Employees Launch Protest Demanding Restoration of OPS, 'Rath Yatra' Underway
Lucknow: Mounting pressure on Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls, employees of the Uttar Pradesh government have continued their strike demanding restoration of the Old Pension Scheme (OPS) in the state, providing the opposition with an opportunity and a challenge for the incumbent government.
Thousands of government and semi-government employees took out 'Paidal March' (foot march) under the banner of All India State Government Employees Federation in the state capital, raising slogans along the way. The union later handed over a memorandum to the district magistrate addressed to the chief minister.
The protesting employees included teachers, court employees, health employees, employees of taluka/district panchayats, municipal corporations, and PWD employees, among others.
Meanwhile, the employees’ federation has launched a 'Pension Rath Yatra' (Rally for Receiving Pension) from all district headquarters. In the first phase, this yatra is to start from Kanpur and will go up to Bundelkhand and Purvanchal after which it would culminate in Lucknow. The Rath Yatra of the second phase will pass through Western Uttar Pradesh and Rohilkhand in support of the demand for restoration of the Old Pension Scheme.
On June 21, the employees will hold a massive demonstration in Lucknow demanding the restoration of the old pension scheme.
State spokesperson of UP Federation of Ministerial Service Association CP Srivastava said that for the past several years, teachers and employees have been continuously opposing the New Pension Scheme. About 15 lakh employees in Uttar Pradesh are covered under the New Pension Scheme. "Privatised pension scheme is now the most prominent economic offensive of neo-liberal globalisation, which has engulfed the workers and employees worldwide," he said and hailed the decisions by the governments in Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh to restore the OPS.
With this, both Congress and Samajwadi Party would look to woo government employees who are unhappy with the National Pension System (NPS).
"We have sympathy for all, including [those who want] OPS. This is the Congress's commitment if voted to power in 2024," Shahanwaz, a Congress leader, told NewsClick.
In February this year, Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council (Vidhan Parishad) witnessed intense protests and a walkout by the Samajwadi Party members after the government categorically asserted that it was not possible to restore the old pension scheme for the state government employees.
In the past, state employees from various departments have taken out protest rallies in various parts of the state, demanding the reintroduction of the old pension system, abolition of fixed pay arrangement, cashless medical facility, and implementation of 7th pay commission recommendations.
There are over 61 lakh pensioners in Uttar Pradesh, and it has been their long-pending demand that NPS be replaced with OPS.
The New Pension Scheme (NPS) was introduced by the Centre for all government appointments after January 1, 2004. The NPS is regulated under the Pension Fund Regulatory & Development Authority Act, (PFRDA) 2013. The federation has demanded the withdrawal of the PFRDA Act to pave the way for the restoration of the Old Pension Scheme.
Apart from seeking regularisation of the employees engaged by the government departments under the outsourcing policy, the federation has also demanded recruitment for lakhs of vacancies in the government sector to provide jobs to unemployed youths.
Commenting on the protest, a senior journalist from Lucknow told NewsClick, "Old pension scheme would be a major poll plank for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The state employees in large numbers have been protesting for restoration for the last many years and if the government does not pay heed, it would surely dent the vote bank."
Hari Kishore Tiwari, a union leader, speaking to NewsClick, said, “The protests against the NPS that emanated from the state capital Lucknow in 2021 have now spread far and wide. Diverse sections have thronged public spaces to support what began as an employees’ agitation, but now appears like a larger movement.”
"The election of Himachal Pradesh is the latest example. Old pensions will be the main issue in the Lok Sabha elections. Also, our spirit and morale have strengthened due to the power employees’ sit-in protest which lasted for a week. The government will have to bow down before Lok Sabha polls as it is a matter of concern to more than 50 lakh employees who will vote," he added.
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