An RTI query revels that the Nagpur office of the EPFO (Employees Provident Fund Organisation) has almost half its current deposits in the ‘unclaimed’ category! The story is the same across the country. As per the latest rules, unclaimed deposits will now also stop earning interest
An RTI application filed by Abhay Kolarkar found out that the Nagpur office of the EPFO (Employees Provident Fund Organisation) has almost half its current deposits in the ‘unclaimed’ category! Out of a total of about Rs308 crore, about Rs145 crore is dormant or unclaimed. As per the latest rules, all these unclaimed deposits will now also stop earning interest and, and for all we know, will also attract some holding charges. It is quite possible that funds are siphoned off by fraudsters.
On the other hand, the Australian government, has taken all funds below 2,000 Australian dollars lying inactive in any account—savings or superannuation linked—for a year or more and transferred them to itself, so that it can protect the people from the money from being siphoned off. These funds will continue to earn interest, while the government tries to locate their rightful owners or heirs.
In India, the EPFO or the banks, despite having full contact details of depositors as well as their nominees and next of kin, won’t even make a phone call, send an email or drop an intimation letter. If you go to claim your own money, they will treat you with suspicion at every step, going as far as doubting your genuine documents presented personally, be it passport, PAN card, Aadhaar, driving licence, and what not. In the latest episode, an acquaintance was asked to get an affidavit re-verified by an elected representative. We all know what this means. No wonder people from the current generation, involved in changing jobs frequently, think of their EPF contributions as a tax rather than a savings instrument.
Recently, I received an email from an ex-colleague, who now lives abroad, with whom I had worked about 23 years ago, asking me for help to get his Provident Fund money back. In order to learn how the EPFO process works as well as help my ex-colleague, I decided to try and figure out the whole thing.
My colleague had not followed up because he was under the impression that the money lying with the EPFO was earning interest and would come to him automatically at the age of 58, or to his nominee. With computerisation, he assumed that pending as well as dormant accounts would surface one day, as though by magic, and would be able to trace his dues by name, father's name, company's name and so on.
In his case, in the course of about five years starting in the late 1980s, he had worked for, let us say, company ‘A’, which merged with company ‘B’. The merged entity got renamed to company ‘C’ which was finally absorbed into the parent group company ‘D’. All its employees were transferred to yet another company ‘E’, which operated outside the parent group. The registered offices for A, B & C were located Mumbai, the registered office for ‘D’ was in a small town, and the registered office for ‘E’ was in Chennai. Prior to this episode, my ex-colleague had worked in Company ‘Z’, with their offices situated in Delhi. Way back in 1989, his transfer of Employee Provident Fund (EPF) from ‘Z’ to ‘A’ was hitting the walls of ‘babudom’. Now, ‘Z’ doesn't exist anymore nor does A,B,C and E.
Here’s what I did:
• Emails have been sent to the companies ‘D’ and ‘E’ as well as the parent group where I worked, for information on how to proceed in this case, since all documentation appears to have gone adrift. Parent group where I worked has, however, been divided between heirs.
• Right to Information (RTI) applications will be prepared and sent to the headquarter offices of the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO).
• There are no known guidelines on what is to be done in case somebody wants to get more details about their dormant unclaimed amounts. Online data on this does not exist.
Likewise, I had worked with a shipping company, Indian flag, and never saw my Provident Fund money, which was earned from 1975 till 1981. The company, then listed, had vanished while the parent group is still around. Having been pilfered twice over, the Seaman's Provident Fund is, and was, one of those spectacular scams which still echoes.
The EPFO took some steps to fix matters, but appear to have come to a standstill again, as even their ePassbook scheme appears to have gone off the horizon again. Is this the best that our government can do, if we assume that 40% or more of all deposits lying with the EPFO are ‘unclaimed’, for any reason?
(Veeresh Malik had a long career in the Merchant Navy, which he left in 1983. He has qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, loves to travel, and has been in print and electronic media for over two decades. After starting and selling a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing.)