Bengal pension bill spirals, even as CPM body shuts govt to protest Bill

Written by Bidyut Roy | Kolkata, Oct 30 | Updated: Oct 31 2007, 07:47am hrs
Even as the CPI(M)-backed Coordination Committee of State Government Employees brought government offices to a standstill on Tuesday to protest a national move to do away with defined pensions, the Left Front government is getting deeper into debt to meet its rising pension bill.

Since 2001-02, when the Union government took the first step towards reforming the pension system, the state's pension expenditure grew by 62% to reach Rs 3,642 crore in 2005-06.

The Comptroller & Auditor General of India, in its report for 2005-06, has pointed out that, with the number of retirees increasing, the pension liabilities are likely to increase further.

"The State Government has not constituted any fund to meet the fast rising pension liabilities of the retired State employees," the CAG has pointed out.

On Tuesday, as another working day turned into a paid holiday, government staff ignored the fact that the state's precarious finances can be blamed on two liabilities --- their salary and pension payments. During 2005-06, the government shelled out Rs 10,161 crore to pay its staff.

"Salaries alone accounted for 43 per cent of the revenue receipts of the State," the report notes. The only consolation for the government, it seems, is that expenditure on salaries as a percentage of gross state domestic product (GSDP) declined marginally from six per cent in 2001-02 to five per cent in 2005-06.

Salaries as a percentage of revenue receipts declined from 59 per cent in 2001-02 to 43 per cent in 2005-06.

The CAG has also criticised the government for not taking any steps towards reforms in the existing pension scheme, as recommended by the 12th Finance Commission.

The 12th Finance Commission had recommended that the state follow a recruitment and wage policy that would keep the total salary bill with 35 per cent of the revenue expenditure net of interest payments and pensions.

"During 2005-06, the salary, however, constituted 58 per cent," the CAG has noted.

Jyoti Prasad Basu, secretary of the Coordination Committee, said the members would oppose the government on the issue of reforms.

"How does it matter if it is our government" Basu said. "If they try to reform the pension system, we will oppose it with all our might."