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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pension Age: Why This Kolaveri?

“It is not the lack of work or wages that's the problem, it is the lack of people willing to work to earn that wage that's the problem,” says Swaminathan, Yentha reader and a teacher in Govt. High School, Kalady, Trivandrum  
“It seems the government wants a war with the unemployed youth of the state. It will get that war. Kerala's streets are going to burn with protests over this,” these were the words uttered by the President of a popular youth party and a present MLA.
At the 2012 State Budget, the pension age was raised from 55 to 56. The announcement about an increment of a year to the service limit of a government employee has been met with harsh criticism and violent protests. In Kannur, more than 50 persons, students and policemen alike, were injured and had to be hospitalised. The protests were made by all the parties  which had the 'Y' factor, Y here standing for 'Youth'. Violence was also reported from most towns in the Malabar region, including Wayanad and Kasargod.
In the year 2011, the government had to scrape up Rs. 4825 crores in additional funds to meet its commitments. The youth, protesting against the unemployment that would be created as a result of the rise in pension age, has just donated a few extra handfuls to the tally.
“But the pension ages had virtually gone up for many when it was decided for the retiring employees to retire together as a batch every March ,” says Sherin Bala, retired Under Secretary, who had received a ten month extension to her service period by virtue of her date of birth falling in the month of May.
“And that system denied many from getting their promotions as well. So the old format had to be brought back and the pension ages had to be raised to 56, which was the only practical way out.”
Ironically, the decision for a mass retirement was made by the very leaders for whom student activists are resorting to violence and getting hurt in the streets at the moment.
The population growth rate for the state is 0.48% according to 2011 census, half way down from the 0.94% in 2001. The economic growth rate of the state meanwhile stood at 9.13% last year, up from the 8.95 during 2009 – 2010. The population is currently split 52.28% rural and 47.72% urban. The growth rate in urban population is 92.72% while for rural it stands at -25.96. The net deduction is that the population of the state is set to stay poised at around the 3 crore mark, but growing increasingly urban, while the economy, or the opportunity to generate revenue, is growing almost twenty times the growth of additional job claims that come with an increase in population.
The retirement age is 60 for a Central Government employee and it is the same with some other states as well. Kerala has one of the longest life expectancy rates in India. A person retiring as a government servant at the age of 55 is eligible for pension for 20 more years, according to statistics. These pensions account for 19.1 percent of the revenue receipt of the state. If not for a rise in pension age, the other way is reducing the pension rate to lighten the burden. And it would be interesting to know if the youth who are vying for government jobs badly enough to face tear gas shells and lathi charges, would find government jobs so attractive if there is no pension involved.
And what about the government itself? Are they really being pressurised by the eager youth waiting to apply his or her skills for the well being of the state, for a job vacancy in a government department? According to a report published by the Public Relations Department, the government has been steadily loosing out in talent towards the IT sector and there was an acute lack of skilled people in its various technical departments. Yet, the fact remains that around 50 lakhs of unemployed youths have  their names registered in the employment exchange.
“I got mine registered in 2009,” says 26 year old Vinod, currently employed in a private computer firm. “I do not see one year making much of a difference to the situation. If a difference has to be made, it is with the corruption involved in sending call letters; more often it is decided by the recommendation of a powerful individual rather than the proper channel based on seniority.”
“Young people up to thirty-five years of age can enter into government service and I hardly see anyone nearing thirty going without any job at present,” Binoz, a 28 year old Marketing Executive observes. “And most of those who turn into government employment does it to 'relax', as it is supposed to be a lot less strenuous compared to the private companies.”
And the bigger question is whether an educated young person coming from a socially and advanced state like Kerala, still needs to be helped so much. Kerala used to be a poor state with a high  literacy rate during the 1970s. That had resulted in the large-scale immigration to the Gulf in search of employment and income. The foreign money sent in by the NRKs had pulled ashore the state from its poverty. Even now the number of Keralites employed outside the state are more than those employed in the organised public and private sectors combined, in the state. Kerala stands at the foremost position in the entire nation in per capita income. It only means that the able population of the state can and has changed its fate by itself, without waiting for the aids to pour in.
Is it so hard then, to overcome the ‘challenges’ posed by increasing the pension age to 56?
Source :, March 22, 2012

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