The pension regulator is pitching for income-tax exemption for contributions to the New Pension Scheme (NPS), akin to the one available for investments in Public Provident Fund (PPF) and government provident fund (GPF).
The Pension Fund Regulatory & Development Authority (PFRDA) will be soon writing to the finance ministry on the proposal that aims at attracting voluntary contributions to the NPS. At present, only central government employees are under the NPS.
The government should incentivise contributions to NPS as those for PPF and GPF, which are completely exempt. Schemes under NPS should not be placed at a tax disadvantage under the exempt-exempt-tax (EET) regime vis--vis any other savings instrument. Going forward, this will prove to be an incentive for the voluntary sector to join the NPS instead of opting for the PPF, PFRDA chairman D Swarup said.
He reasoned that since PPF and GPF are subjected to the exempt-exempt-exempt (EEE) system, contributions to NPS should also be treated under a similar regime. Under the EEE system, contribution, interest accumulation and withdrawals are tax-exempt.
However, under the EET system, while contributions and interest accumulations are tax-exempt, withdrawals attract tax. The minimum retirement age in the new system is 60 years and taxation is based on the EET principle. The Centre has been considering moving towards the EET system. Under NPS, withdrawals are allowed only after seven years under exceptional circumstances.
Capital in the PPF accounts can be completely withdrawn after 15 years and partial withdrawals are possible after five years. The PPF account is often used as a tax-reducing rather than a retirement savings vehicle. NPS is the only long-term savings product. Under other retirement options including PF, PPF and GPF, withdrawals are allowed in shorter periods and the funds tend to get used up.
Saving for retirement should not be just a tax-saving instrument, it must encourage long-term savings. PPF investment is an option to save taxes but cannot substitute retirement savings, Mr Swarup said.
The NPS was made mandatory for employees joining central government services from January 1, 2004. It is yet to be operationalised for other segments who would like to voluntarily opt for it, pending passage of the Bill. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), less than 3% of the unorganised sector workers participate in voluntary schemes like the PPF. The government is of the view that the introduction of NPS will boost the voluntary pension market.
The PPF has an administered rate of return of 8% while under NPS, up to 15% of the retirement funds can be invested in equities, apart from investing entirely in government securities.
It is estimated that government employees would have earned 14-29% interest on their savings in pension fund, depending on the equity option opted for investing in stocks, against just 8% returns from investment in government securities.
The government is the largest borrower of the funds to meet its current expenditure. The funds collected through GPF, PPF, EPF and post office deposits go directly to the government account. Experts feel there is a downward pressure on interest rates of the schemes since it would reduce the cost of borrowing for the government.