Kolkata: After doctors and college teachers, several other sections of West Bengal government employees could get to work for two extra years as the state seeks ways to ease its financial burden of heavy debt repayment.
Raising the retirement age of schoolteachers is now under consideration, said West Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee. There is, however, a small legal hurdle because a section of teachers are governed by central regulations, he added.
Recently, the state government raised the retirement age of college and university teachers from 60 to 62 years. Previously, in May 2014, the state government had raised retirement age of doctors under the West Bengal Medical Education Service from 62 to 65 years, and those under West Bengal Health Service from 60 to 62 years.
Though Chatterjee denied that the move had anything to do with debt servicing, a key adviser to the state government said it is a “strategic step” taken in view of the fact that over the next couple of years, West Bengal will have to repay about a quarter of its outstanding loans.
In the state budget for 2016-17, West Bengal’s indebtedness was projected at Rs3.33 trillion at the end of March. In the current year, it is estimated that it will spend close to Rs36,900 crore to service its debts compared with around Rs33,000 crore in the previous year, according to budget documents.
A substantial jump in debt repayment obligation is expected over the next few years, said the adviser cited above, who is also an economist. By deferring the payment of retirement benefits—gratuity and pay for accumulated leaves—the state is going to make significant savings, this person said, asking not to be named.
In the current year, the state is expected to spend around Rs36,200 crore on salaries, and around Rs14,500 crore on retirement benefits and pensions, according to budget estimates.
A large number of college and university teachers in the state were hired in 1985 and in 1990, and around 40% of them were to retire on reaching the age of 60 between 2015 and 2020, said Srutinath Praharaj, general secretary of the West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association.
Even among doctors, about a fifth was to retire during 2015-2020, according to Anjana Adhikary, assistant professor at Kolkata’s RG Kar Medical College and Hospital. The health department, which is headed by chief minister Mamata Banerjee, has been talking about raising the retirement age of doctors to 68, she said, but there has been no notification yet.
Though a section of college teachers are of the view that raising the age of superannuation was aimed at making political inroads into their Left-leaning association, Biswanath Chakraborty, a professor at the Rabindra Bharati University and an election analyst, said it isn’t really a populist move. The increase in retirement age means fewer vacancies are to open up for the youth looking to join the workforce, said Chakraborty.
A former principal secretary in the department of health said recruiting doctors in government-run hospitals and colleges is becoming “increasingly challenging”. “With the state government planning to launch many new hospitals in the near future, it is natural that the state wants to hold on to those already in its workforce,” this person said, asking to not to be identified.