Money invested under NPS is locked in till the age of 60 under the NPS Tier-I account. Will this change now? The Standing Committee suggests some flexibility, but there is a positive and a negative side to it
The New Pension System (NPS) has not worked very well. While for central government employees, contribution to the scheme is mandatory, the voluntary part of the NPS has not taken off at all. One of the main deterrents is that Tier-I of the NPS does not offer a facility to subscribers to withdraw their funds till they reach 60. Also, the NPS does offer a voluntary Tier-II account where withdrawals can be made.
The Tier-I account is compulsory for government employees and the bulk of the money is kept here, but it is almost impossible for them to withdraw the money in case of emergency expenses for an unforeseen event. This is what deters non-government subscribers from investing in the NPS Tier-I account, where savings would be locked up for about 25-40 years, till retirement.
This issue was taken up by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance which reviewed the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) Bill, 2011. In its report presented to the Lok Sabha last week, it mentioned that NPS is aimed at providing income security in old age and not to meet periodic or occasional fund requirements during the working life of a person. However, such emergencies cannot be ignored either.
Therefore, the Committee has suggested that in the case of Tier I account, an element of flexibility should be provided to enable subscribers to withdraw money to meet unforeseen, urgent expenses, like a critical illness. For instance, a subscriber can be allowed to take one repayable advance from the accounts after completion of 15 years of service, and permanently withdraw up to 50% of the contribution after completion of a minimum 25 years of service to meet exigencies that should be appropriately listed in the regulations.
This will have two implications. A withdrawal clause would immediately make NPS more attractive for non-government employees. But would it also introduce an element of arbitrariness? India is known for red-tape and corruption. And this could lead to subscribers being forced to run around to secure permission to withdraw from the fund, causing frustration that may compel them to resort to other means to get their claims passed.
The Committee should have suggested a minimum percentage of withdrawal from the fund after a particular period, as is the case for ULIPs, which allow partial withdrawals after 3-5 years. This would have been easier to understand and non-discretionary.
Currently, one can invest through a Tier-II account, from which withdrawals are permitted. But the procedure for this is cumbersome.(Read: The New Pension System needs a comprehensive online facility) The network of Points of Presence (POP) agencies, where a subscriber can make a request for withdrawal, is not very widespread. There is no online facility and the subscriber would have to travel long distances to visit a POP, causing a lot of inconvenience.
The Employees Provident Fund (EPF) unlike the NPS, allows withdrawals in case a member requires to buy a house, repay a loan, fund children's marriage, or pay for medical expenses.