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After the backlash against the tax on the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), the government should get ready for opposition to its proposal allowing EPF members to switch to the New Pension System (NPS). Only this time the government may be unfairly targeted because the switching rules it has framed for EPF and NPS are quite flexible and subscriber-friendly.

The proposal to switch from EPF to NPS was announced in last year’s Budget. This year’s Budget has extended a one-time tax exemption to such switching. A legislation to amend the Employees’ Provident Fund & Miscellaneous Provisions Act has already been framed and is lying with the Law Ministry.

The amendment allows EPF subscribers to make a one-time switch to the NPS. Within 30 days of applying, the entire balance in his EPF account will be transferred to the NPS. Opting for the NPS would also mean the individual exits from Employees’ Deposit LinkedInsurance as well as the Employees’ Pension Scheme (EPS). The Bill is silent on what this means for the amount mandatorily deducted from the employer’s contribution and put into the EPS.

But the best part about the proposal is that once he shifts to NPS, the employee will have a one-time chance to return to the EPF fold. “It’s a progressive legislation which offers a lot of flexibility to the subscriber,” says Manoj Nagpal, CEO of Outlook Asia Capital.

However, on rejoining the EPF, the subscriber will be treated as a new entrant and will not be eligible for benefits he might have accumulated in his previous tenure in the EPF. Also, after this ghar wapsi, the subscriber will not have the option to go back to the NPS.

The amendment also seeks to ensure that employers don’t force a particular scheme down the throats of employees. “No employer shall force any employee to opt for any particular scheme as a condition of employment or service,” states the amendment.

However, even though the amendment gives a lot of flexibility, there is a lot of opposition against this move. The government could not convince EPFO board members to agree to the move. “We are totally against the portability move,” says Virjesh Upadhyay, all-India general secretary of the Bharat Mazdoor Sangh.

Trade unions are opposed to the NPS because it is a defined contribution scheme, unlike the defined benefit schemes like the EPS and the Family Pension Scheme (FPS).

“These schemes are not comparable,” says Upadhyay. Unlike the NPS, where you have to buy annuities for pension, the pension from EPS and FPS are based on the last drawn salary and tenure of contribution.

Though the switching facility is yet to become a reality, financial planners and tax experts say that switching to NPS may not be a good idea. This is because the proposed tax on 60% of the EPF (if not rolled back) will apply only for contributions made from April1, 2016. The existing corpus will remain tax free. On the other hand, 60% of the NPS is still under the EET regime. “Don’t shift your existing EPF corpus to NPS till you are sure that the money will also remain tax free in the NPS,” says tax expert Balwant Jain.

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