There is a proposal to increase allowance under the old age pension scheme to Rs300 from Rs200 per month. How will this princely amount help anyone over a period of one month, is a question that the sarkari babus and ministers should answer
Exactly one week prior to the presentation of the Budget, press reports indicated that the CEO of Help Age India, Mathew Cherian, called on Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, seeking support and a suitable provision to take care of the elderly senior citizens. Regrettably, the Finance Minister appears to have said that ‘we do not have enough money’, apparently to take care of this growing segment of the Indian population.
Help Age India appears to have conducted a survey, covering selected cities like, Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and Patna, in which 833 respondents, aged over 80 years, participated. It has been found that while these people, in their hey days have contributed to the national economy, there is nothing for them in terms of support, when they need it most!
This report, further estimates that there are over 100 million elderly in the country and by 2050, there may be as many as 48 million people over the age of 80 and 324 million citizens who will be beyond the 60s! All these people would need some state support, if it is not coming adequately from their own families!
At present, the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme allows Rs200 per month to those above 60 years of age, living below the poverty line; and there is a proposal to increase this amount to Rs 300! How will this princely amount help anyone over a period of one month is a question that one would like to ask the authorities?
Traditionally, the Indian philosophy has been to take care of the elderly parents by the eldest son in the family. However, due to changing circumstances and western style of living, children tend to branch out on their own, leaving the elderly parents to fend for themselves. As long as the parent, mostly the father in the earning sense, continues to work and gets a ‘pension’ from his office, there appears to be no problem in a joint family system that is in vogue throughout the country. Trouble starts, when the ‘earning’ elderly member retires, or dies and family squabbles lead to separation!
The elderly parents need their children's love but, as the Survey shows, as much as 80% of the "oldest old" face abuse with the family members, themselves! This is one big reason why they would like to move on to live in Old Peoples' Homes, if economically feasible. If they have been smart enough to keep their savings and have made provision for such an unfortunate eventuality, moving into the Old Peoples' Homes is the only safe answer available to them. Government must extend medical insurance automatically until the end.
In the Budget, the Finance Minister has made a few concessions on the tax slabs, if the elderly still have ‘various incomes’. The fact is that if the elderly had such levels of ‘incomes’, they would not be facing the abuse as found by the Survey, because this will be considered as ‘income support’ by the children, who will ‘take care’ of the parents. The major issue is the ‘widowed mother’ that has no income, as such, and may therefore face troubles even when staying with her own children!
It is for all these reasons, the government must seriously consider that some kind of provision should be made which would enable them to build government sponsored Old Peoples' Homes, even as a start, for government servants. They may encourage corporate bodies to consider this as an additional benefit that they can extend to their staff, and, if necessary, seek a separate contribution from their employees and match it with their own contribution.
Either way, the fact remains that India needs to seriously make provision for taking care of the elderly, as many nations are doing the same. They cannot be left to fend for themselves in these difficult circumstances.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US