Provident fund withdrawal: If I-T returns can be truly online, what stops PF from being so?

In 2012 Delhi Development Authority (DDA) launched an online freehold conversion facility. It urged people to use it so that numerous and tiresome visits to its office could be obviated. Indeed, that is the rationale of any online facility. Itchy palms can be avoided. Serpentine queues can be avoided. And above all one can do a transaction from the comfort of one’s home or office. But DDA’s was an apology of an online facility—you could only upload the numerous duly filled-in forms after downloading them offline. In other words, one could not fill the forms online and simply click ‘submit’. The apology of the online facility had to be withdrawn by DDA as it helped neither the DDA nor the leasehold property owners.

The provident fund online withdrawal facility is of a piece like the aborted DDA facility. Those who have registered themselves online under the EPFO’s Universal Access Number (UAN) scheme can download the withdrawal form from one’s UAN after logging in. This is the only online aspect of withdrawal. What follows is all offline. Fill in the form and submit it to the jurisdictional PF office. The PF office would process your withdrawal application and credit the amount to the bank account seeded into one’s UAN provided one’s Aadhaar is also similarly seeded. In other words, if there is a convergence of all the three accounts—-PF, bank and Aadhaar then only can this so-called online withdrawal be done. There is nothing wrong in insisting on such convergence. Indeed, it is desirable as it makes withdrawal foolproof.

What irks one is the need to make a pilgrimage to the PF office for withdrawal despite ensuring convergence of all the three—PF, bank account and Aadhaar. In all fairness to the subscriber, she must be required just to enter the OTP (one time password) sent by the UAN managers to the subscriber’s registered mobile number which by the way is also a mandatory requirement under the UAN scheme of things. The accurate entry of OTP tantamounts to signature of withdrawal application by the subscriber and that should have been deemed sufficient.

The EPFO must take a cue from its income tax counterpart. The income tax returns are truly online all the way. Access your Permanent Account Number (PAN), log in, access the relevant Income Tax Returns (ITR) for the relevant year, fill online and submit. Since your Aadhaar is seeded into your PAN, just entering one’s Aadhaar number completes the process of verification and signing of ITR by the assessee without having to take a printout and snail-mailing it to the income tax office. Refund if any is automatically credited to one’s bank account specified in the ITR.

The Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN) also strives to make the entire process of registration, payment and assessment for GST online, obviating the need for any offline work culminating in numerous and tiresome visits to the revenue office. This is as it should be even though there is a carping criticism that the all-pervasive GST should not have been put in place without ensuring the internet data backbone across the country.

PF is relatively esoteric in the sense it caters to the organized labor class who are fewer in numbers. The very idea of ushering in UAN was to ensure that a subscriber was not driven from pillar to post for provident fund related work. She should be able to get her account transferred from one employer to another on change of job simply by changing her employer’s profile online by accessing her UAN account. And she should be able to withdraw as per her entitlement once again by simply accessing her UAN. But sadly that is not the case as of now.

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