Pensioners not to get arrears any time soon. Balagopal takes cover under fiscal crisis

Representational image: Shutterstock/Andrii Yalanskyi

An increase in tax and non-tax levies on a range of items from land and houses to water and petrol is not the only fallout of Kerala's serious fiscal crisis. Now, pensioners have their hopes dashed.

It was widely expected that the last two installments of pension and DA arrears as part of the 11th Pay Revision would be disbursed this fiscal. The final installments of both pension and DA were supposed to be paid in August 2021 and November 2021. More than a year has now elapsed.

On Monday, finance minister K N Balagopal told the Assembly that this was not possible any time soon.

"We have already paid two installments. To pay the remaining pension arrears in two more installments we would require Rs 2800 crore. And for the DA arrears, we will require another Rs 1400 crore," Balagopal said in response to a Submission moved by CPI MLA and former revenue minister E Chandrasekharan in the Assembly on Monday.

Neither could the finance minister specify a time for the release of the arrears. His promise to pay the remaining sum during the coming 2023-24 fiscal was conditional. "We will consider this during the next fiscal when the government's fiscal position gets better," Balagopal said. Going by Balagopal's own estimates of revenue crunch, Kerala crisis will sustain longer.

Making his Submission, Chandrasekharan said that such delay in the payment of arrears was causing problems for pensioners. 'Those in service, too, find this tough but the pensioners are the ones most affected," Chandrasekharan said.

He said though the earlier promise was not kept, the pensioners were given to believe that the third installment would be given this January and the final by the next fiscal.

"For those with low pension amounts, a timely disbursal of the arrears would be of great help," Chandrasekharan said, in a humble almost pleading tone. Chandrasekharan, who is also the CPI assistant secretary, wanted the finance minister to take a sympathetic view.

However, right at the outset of his reply, Balagopal made it unequivocally clear that the state was too starved of funds to consider Chandrasekharan's request. Nonetheless, he said the government would take steps to strengthen MEDISEP, the Rs-500 government insurance scheme, so that it would be more beneficial to pensioners.

Kerala has a total of 5.12 lakh pensioners, of which service pensioners form 3.12 lakh. The most number of pensioners are in the 66-70 age bracket (80,182), closely followed by the 71-75 age bracket (70,252).

The total outgo on pension is around 21 per cent of the total revenue receipts of Kerala. The ratio between employees and pensioners is almost 1:1.

As per the 11th Pay Revision, the minimum basic pension has been enhanced to Rs 11,500, which is 50 per cent of Rs 23,000, the lowest revised scale of pay under the State Government. The maximum pension is now Rs 83,400, which is 50 per cent of Rs 1,66,800, the maximum of the master scale of pay under the State Government.

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