With over 96 million people above 60 years of age, India has the second largest elderly population in the world. Yet, senior citizens feel both the Centre and the state have done little for them in their budgets.
“Improved healthcare and lifestyle is fuelling demographic change and the break-up of the joint family has brought a new dynamic to the care of elderly,” says Dr SP Kinjawadekar, president of the All India Senior Citizens Confederation (AISCCON).
Dr Kinjawadekar spoke to DNA on the sidelines of a meeting of the Joint Action Committee for Maharashtra/Mumbai which met at Tata Institute of Social Sciences ((TISS) to discuss strategies to tackle government apathy. While appreciating the Centre’s announcement that everyone above 60 years would be entitled to benefits as senior citizens, Dr Kinjawadekar pointed out how many government schemes under the finance and transport ministry (both Central and State) still consider age of eligibility to be 65 years and above.
Senior citizens and NGOs have long protested neglect and non-implementation of National Policy on Older Persons (NPOP) formulated in 1999. It mandates that every state policy should have its own policy for elder persons. Unfortunately, only seven states in India have formulated their own state policy and Maharashtra is not one of them.
Senior Citizens Organisations had jointly presented Draft of State Policy on Senior Citizens (Older Persons) in 2002 but the state government in 2004 declared a one-and-half page State Policy, which remained unimplemented. Though a draft was resubmitted in 2009, no action has been taken to declare the State Policy. The Union government declared the National Policy on Older Persons in 1999. “Eleven years later, the state still hasn’t find time to do this,” laments AISCCON vice-president RN Mittal.
Similarly, the Maintenance & Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007 has also not been implemented by most states. “Only pan-India implementation of the act will serve as deterrent against abuse, neglect and abandonment,” points out Vijay Aundhe of the Federation of Senior Citizens Organisation, Maharashtra (FESCOM).
In fact, he points out how even old age pensions are not uniform all over the country. While Delhi and Kerala give Rs1,000 per month,others like Maharashtra give Rs250 and Andhra Pradesh a princely sum of Rs75 only. The latter also considers only those above 65 eligiblefor this largesse. “The government should make the pension Rs1,000 across the board. All 60-plus people, including those in old-age homes, should be extended this benefit,” says Aundhe.
Official studies estimate that over 3.7 million people are affected by dementia in India, a statistic expected to double by 2030. “It is indeed unfortunate that this major issue of mental health of the elderly does not attract adequate budgetary provisions for research,” laments Dr Kinjawadekar.