Voices Wednesday, July 01, 2015 - 05:30
By Padmaja Shaw For over 15 days now, the English Tv news channels are providing blanket coverage to the l‘affaire Sushma-Vasundhara-LalitModi. A great deal of investigative reporting is on display, led from the front by Times Now. Documents are dug out from all kinds of sources, national and international. Interestingly, even channels like NDTV India, which generally strikes out on an alternative track, are following the pack. While it is exciting to see the relentless coverage provided to the issue, it is also disturbing to see that the channels have become single issue oriented. What about issues that directly impact our lives? The government arm-twisting the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) to invest in the stock market is the latest and one of the most important issues that needs to be debated and yet is being ignored by the media. Provident fund is a retirement plan intended to help the employees who save a part of their salaries. It is paid out when they retire, face a disability, sickness or cannot work anymore. It is a social safety net created by governments through Provident Fund legislations. Provident fund is savings from the wages that an individual earns and no external entity, including the government, can have the right to invest it as they choose to. This risking retirement funds in the markets is a legacy from the 401K policy of President Reagan that forced the pension funds of all American working people to be invested in the stock market. When major companies like Enron sank and the 2008 crash hit the markets, retirement savings of millions of Americans disappeared into thin air, leaving many destitute. There are stories of wheel chair bound elderly people seeking employment in neighbourhood enterprises to eke out a living. The glaring income differences between the 1% and the 99% are partly a result of this siphoning off of resources from the middle classes by the top 1%. Under pressure from international financiers, India is seeking to emulate these policies to hit at the little security that middle-class families who work for years to provide for themselvescomfort in their retirement years. EPFO is one of the biggest organisations of its kind and has been providing safe and consistent returns when compared to the equities investment, as analyses show. There has been consistent opposition from various employees' unions to this over the years. Both Congress-led UPA and BJP-led NDA governments are like-minded on this issue and have persistently tried to break into the Fund over the years unsuccessfully. The UPA government went on to create the National Pension Scheme (NPS), after scrapping pensionable jobs in government, forcing employees to invest in NPS and leaving the pension funds under NPS open to investment in the stock market. When there was widespread opposition to the speculative investment of retirement funds and the NPS found little response, the subscribers are now allowed safer options for investing their funds. It is no secret that the stock markets are the riskiest investment for a salaried person. After the dotcom bubble burst, after people like Harshad Mehta, Ketan Parikh and others took the markets on a spin leaving many investors distraught, after the 2008 crash from which most economies are still struggling to recover and with the crisis in Greece and the European Union looming, the government of India will begin to invest Employees’ Provident Fund resources in the stock markets starting July 2015. There are already some restrictions over withdrawals from the Fund, and now the captive Fund will be under the control of some private fund managers as well, whose natural concern will be their own profits and not necessarily the welfare of the people whose retirement savings they will play around with. It is amazing how there is near complete silence or lack of debate in mainstream media about this. This is an issue that concerns a large section of the working population in India. And it ought to find place in the mainstream news discourse. We are all avid followers of IPL. We love political controversies. We don’t mind the anchors going for the jugular of the ruling dispensation on corruption. But the media must pay attention to crises in the making as well, instead of coming in to close the barn doors after the horses have bolted.   Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability for the same.