Rs 43,000 crore. That is one hell of a lot of money. But it belongs to the benighted tribe of provident fund subscribers who haven’t cared to claim their balance out of sheer ignorance. The government is reportedly eyeing these unclaimed provident fund balances of thousands of employees/ex-employees for financing its numerous projects by way of loan.
One may turn around and say what is wrong in it. Well everything. It is one thing for unclaimed dividend belonging to shareholders to be used for such altruistic purposes as investor education etc but quite another to use workers’ money for financing government projects. Shareholders after all are literate middle class or elite who have been constantly served notice about the unclaimed dividend through various means including the annual report.
But most of the unclaimed provident fund belongs to the itinerant, ignorant labour class who flit from organization to organization spread across the country leaving a PF balance at each halt. Of course Universal Access Number or UAN is meant to address this problem but when vast number of literate PF subscribers are yet to become the online UAN members then what to talk of the illiterate workers.
It is the government’s job to ensure that the beneficiaries of these balances are alerted about the existence of the money belonging to them. When netas take out full page advertisements at the drop of the hat in both national and vernacular dailies tom-tomming their achievements, what prevents the government from publishing prominently the list of unclaimed PF accounts in each city or town? And what prevents the government from bringing out public interest ads on Doordarshan and other television channels alerting the beneficiaries generally about a tidy sum tucked away in their PF accounts? And what prevents the government from using the new kid on the block-- -UAN.
When somebody opens his/her Universal Access Number on the net to see his PF balance or to update his KYC document or change the nominee or indeed for any other purpose, information should spring up about unclaimed balances of persons likely to be known to such UAN member. This is the beauty of information technology. UAN can be programmed to flash the relevant unclaimed details of friends, neighbours and colleagues so that the UAN member imbued with public spirit can act upon the information by alerting such friends, neighbours and colleagues.
The point is the government should think in terms of handing over the unclaimed money to those who have a lawful right on it instead of coveting it for bankrolling its projects. EPFO has been chary of investing 5% of its total funds in the share market on the ground that it could amount to throwing employees’ money to wolves.
It should be even more chary and put its foot down to this hare-brained move of the government because in India NPAs are not unique to banks. Who will compensate the PF account holders if these loans go up in smoke? Government departments are as guilty as private parties in the matter of NPAs-- -- witness the massive dues from the electricity boards to power generation companies.
The Indian government is seized of a problem faced by the Indian working diaspora in the USA-- -- their contributions to the social security scheme is going abegging when they leave its shores before the mandatory ten year period, before which social security contributions cannot be claimed. Its social security scheme is our PF equivalent.
The Indian government is trying to impress upon the US government that the ten year mandatory period should include service in Indian establishments as well as in establishments of other countries that have the equivalent of social security scheme. The US government it seems is impressed by this argument.
If the Indian government can take up cudgels for its US-based NRIs, it should take up cudgels with greater vigor for the benighted working class rooted in India. God knows how many of them might be borrowing from wicked local money lenders practicing usury, sadly unaware of the existence of a tidy sum tucked away in the ledgers of a dingy PF office.