Ministry of social justice takes note of the issue raised by 80-year old S Krishnamurthy
There is good news for senior citizens who have moved to retirement homes. The government, it appears, is finally going to listen to their issues. A month ago, I wrote about a PIL (public interest litigation), filed by the 80-year old S Krishnamurthy, in the Madras High Court (WP No. 22967 of 2015) seeking a regulatory authority for senior citizen homes in the state. I had pointed out that the happy life and superb facilities promised to well-to-do senior citizens by those running retirement homes, sometimes, end up disastrously. Mr Krishnamurthy is among several such victims who moved to a retirement home, in scenic Coimbatore, only to realise that the reality was vastly different. A division bench of the High Court, on 21st September, took his plea seriously, rejected the government’s initial attempt to shirk responsibility and asked for a proper response. This has triggered an interesting chain of events that hold a lot of hope for proper regulation of retirement homes.
On 13th November, TP Madhukumar, a deputy secretary of the ministry of social justice & empowerment, wrote to the additional solicitor-general of Tamil Nadu asking him to seek time to file a response in court, since “the matter is being re-examined in consultation with the Department of Housing, Ministry of Urban Development.” This seems to acknowledge a regulatory lacuna that needs to be remedied. The letter also repeats the Court’s concern that “privately run Old Age Homes were squeezing the Senior Citizens.” Our only quibble is with the terminology ‘old age homes’, which have a different profile from retirement homes; but so long as the government puts in place a regulatory framework that holds private developers to the services promised in their agreements, and ensures supervision, audit, redress and a fair exit option for seniors, the rules may work for all categories of senior citizen facilities.
Retirement homes are also attracting affluent women seniors who do not want to be dependent on their families and seek the companionship of people of their own age and interests. A retirement resort in Kasauli says that 10% of all its bookings were from ‘well-heeled’ single women, mostly widows whose children are settled far from home. It is well-documented that women tend to outlive their spouses by an average of seven to eight years and, often, end up alone.
Retirement homes are a good option for them; but the high-end facilities with limited resale value or price appreciation, could end up as a trap for those who don’t fit in and want to move out. Some retirement homes cost between Rs1.5 crore to Rs6 crore plus monthly costs for food, maintenance and use of amenities. Since the concept itself is new, there is little discussion on long-term maintenance, security and continuation of services (especially promised medical help) or the legal options and remedies, if things go wrong. Mr Krishnamurthy’s petition has achieved a breakthrough by drawing the attention of the ministry of social welfare and empowerment.
With the number of seniors in India expected to go up to 143 million in five years, it will need many more Krishnamurthys to push the government to think seriously about developing geriatric care and assisted-living facilities and to promote well-regulated retirement homes as an option for affluent seniors as domestic help and home-care becomes increasingly scarce, unaffordable or unsafe. Unfortunately, this development offers no immediate relief to Mr Krishnamurthy for his personal situation.