Excerpts from a news item from the Times of India dated 07.12.2012:
“It has been observed that open-ended assessment, inquiries and investigations serve no real purpose. Moreover, such inquiries often do not result in the identification of beneficiaries and only tend to harass the employers and establishments. It is accordingly directed that no inquiry or probe shall ordinarily go beyond seven years that is, it shall cover the period of default not exceeding preceding seven financial years. It is to be ensured that compliance actions are initiated in time and there is normally no reason for extending the scope of investigation and assessment inquiry beyond previous seven financial years,” Central PF commissioner R C Mishra said in a circular issued on November 30, the day he superannuated.
“This circular is anti-worker. The law of limitation does not apply on us and does not stand the test of law as there are several Supreme Court rulings on the issue,” said A D Nagpal, Hind Mazdoor Sabha secretary and a trustee on the EPFO board.
“Nagpal said that fearing action, employees often do not complain against their employer till they leave service and the new provision will make it impossible for them to claim what is due to them.”
“It is not proper to have a time limit for what is an employee’s right,” added CITU president A K Padmanabhan, who is also on the EPFO board. He said the EPF statement usually does not reach employees on time and very few actually check the balance and deposits carefully.
Even before the circular was issued, there were protests within EPFO over the move. Sources said some of the members of a committee of officers on judicial proceedings had opted out from giving their recommendations as they recognized that the move was not employee-friendly. Yet, Mishra went ahead and issued the directive.
“In a country which has precious little by way of a social safety net, the provident fund is one of the few such fallback options, even if only for those in the organized labour force. Any change in the rules governing this scheme must therefore be tested on the touchstone of whether it enhances the safety net or weakens it. Imposing a time limitation on when defaults can be investigated clearly weakens it. Most of those whose savings lie in the EPF do not regularly track whether money is being deposited in it by their employers and, if so, whether it is as much as it should be. They may well discover a default well after it happens. Clearly, they cannot be left with no scope for redress due to a time limitation clause.”
What happened in the ESIC? The ESIC had, silently, restricted the duration to five years (and not seven as in the EPFO) and got the Act amended too. The cut-off date for determining the five years period is not with reference to the financial years but with reference to the 21st of every month. The cut-off date was just left to float, so fast.