NEW DELHI: Despite the Kerala high court’s interim order directing EPFO not to insist on prior consent for subscibers to apply for higher pension, other aspects of the scheme like method of deposit or computation of pension still need clarity with just three weeeks till the deadline.EPFO had also promised to issue a detailed explainer, which is awaited. The extended deadline for opting for higher pension is May 3.
The EPFO has been snail-paced even though Union labour minister Bhupender Yadav assured the EPFO’s Central Board of Trustees last month that the pension fund manager was committed to implementing the Supreme Court’s November 4, 2022, order on higher pension, in full.
Experts pointed out that EPFO’s arguments before the Kerala HC – its insistence on compliance to para 26(6) of EPF Scheme, 1952, and arguments that employees of exempted establishments cannot be granted benefits of higher pension – are contradictory to the minister’s statement. This is because the provision of “prior approval” for PF contribution based on actual basic salaries with retrospective effect was not specifically referred to in the SC order.
This contention forwarded by the writ petitioners was also sustained by the Kerala HC on Wednesday and the court said it was evident that in some cases, instructions were issued from some of the offices of EPFO to accept (higher contributions), and in some cases, accounts of respective employees were also updated in tune with such higher contributions.
The HC also dismissed an argument by the EPFO standing counsel that employees of exempted establishments cannot be granted benefits of higher pension. Referring to the Supreme Court’s 2022 order, the court held that this aspect had already been considered, and it was found that employees of the exempted establishments should not be deprived of the benefit of remaining in the pension scheme while drawing salary beyond the ceiling limit. “Therefore, the said contention is also not prima facie sustainable,” the Kerala HC said.
TOI was the first to report on March 4 that the pension fund manager introduced procedural complexities that would make it virtually impossible for subscribers to apply. It also pointed out that EPFO had been pocketing administrative charges on higher contributions, based on actual salaries, without raising the contentious provision issue they are now insisting on.In fact, in many cases EPFO accepted these charges not only from the private trusts, but also from employees of unexempted establishments, whose contributions are directly handled by the regional PF commissioners. Even in these cases, contributions were made on actual salaries – without prior permission from EPFO.