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Elderly in India – Issues


The demographic transition from the young to the aged is happening faster than anticipated. Fertility rate in the India is decreasing and for the first time in census 2011,  the population in the age category of less than six years declined by a little over 5 million between 2001 and 2011. By 2050, India will be home to one out of every six of the world’s older persons, and only China will have a larger number of elderly people, according to estimates released by the United Nations Population Fund. This shall soon result in too few hands supporting many elderly, the problem which should concern the policy makers in India. With the feminization of the elderly and many of elderly below the poverty line (30 percent), the concerns stand compounded. The ‘elderly’ or ‘senior citizen’ is a person aged 60 and above according to the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 and National Policy for Older Persons 1999.

As the roots of joint family system are eroding in India, the elderly are more vulnerable now. Analysis of two rounds of the National Family and Health Survey shows that the proportion of elderly living alone or with their spouse only jumped from 9 per cent to 19 per cent in just over a decade. This is because number of migrations due to employment for men and marriage for women are on the rise. After the enactment of the Maintenance and Welfare of the Senior Citizens and Parents 2007 Act, it had become not only moral responsibility but also legal responsibility for children/ relatives to take care of their parents/ senior citizens.  The Act provides the senior citizens to claim monthly maintenance from their children/relatives by Maintenance tribunal. It also enables the state in taking care of them by way of constructing old age homes and others. The Act is to be implemented by the State govt.

The critiques of the Act include

  • It is the responsibility of the State to provide health care and assistance to the elderly, as is noted in the Article 41 of Directive Principles of State Policy.

  • The state is absolving of the above said responsibility which is also seen, in the “may” construct old age homes etc. which is not mandatory.

  • It is doubtful if parents who are suffering shall take their children to the maintenance tribunals due to the social factors involved.

  • The act doesn’t apply to those parents who do not have children, or those who do not have property.

Elderly are a heterogeneous section. They are less vulnerable in rural areas as compared to their urban counterparts, due to the still holding values of the joint family system. The elderly in India are much more vulnerable because of the less govt. spending on social security system. Senior Citizens allowed to travel on a concessional price on railways.  The general concerns of the elderly include lack of financial support for livelihood, emotional support from their children, ill health and others. In India, the state support of the elderly is minimal as compared to other countries, this combined with the Patriarchal system results in parents preferring sons as they can depend on sons later in life. This could be one of the many reasons for the skewed sex ratio in favor of males in India.

One of the issues affecting old persons also involve the denial of active euthanasia in India. There is a right to live, but no right to die in India. A person suffering a chronic disease and is unable to live a life of dignity, which is also an enormous financial strain on the family with no resources, continues to live in that state as India doesn’t allow active euthanasia. However, in 2010, a Supreme Court judgment in the famous Aruna Shanbaug case had with some safeguards allowed passive euthanasia in specific cases. To treat the elderly requires good understanding of Geriatrics which only few private colleges and govt. colleges are offering an MD.

In India, the Pension system is almost non- existent. The formal pension system covers only few, whereas more than 90 percent of the workforce are in informal sector and aren’t covered under the formal pension system. There is a need for Universal Old Age Pension in India. The social security system in India fares worst even when compared some of the developing countries with low per capita income.

Negatives of the Pension System in India

  • Not universal

  • Being arbitrarily based on BPL criteria. ( IGNOAPS)

  • Based on contributions from the beneficiaries (NPS)

  • Not present in India as a matter of right.

  • Wherever allocated, the amount is not adequate.

The informal sector which makes up for bulk of the population had played a crucial role in the India’s growth story last decade, they have been denied the benefits from state in form of social security. There has been a Dharna in May 2012 in Delhi by organizations from across 20 states supporting a Universal, non-contributory pension system as a matter of right, not based on some arbitrary criteria, and not as charity. They opine that it is the responsibility of the State to provide the social security to those who are in need of it the most, the informal sector that comprises percent of population, not to those which are in need of it the least. The unorganized sector which has been the backbone of India’s growth story and which accounts for the bulk of the labor force cannot be neglected in a democratic nation.

Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is the nodal agency for policies and programmes concerning the elderly. It has formulated the National Policy on Older Persons in 1999 to better the welfare of the elderly in India. To oversee the implementation of the policy, National Council for Older Persons has been constituted in 1999, chaired by the Minister of SJE. It is the highest body to coordinate with govt. and help in formulation and implementation of policies and programmes on elderly. The implementation of the policy failed and a new National Policy on Senior Citizens is drafted under MohanGiri Committee.

An Integrated Programme for Older Persons (IPOP) is being implemented since 1992, which is revised in 2008, with the objective of improving the quality of life of senior citizens by providing basic amenities like shelter, food, medical care and entertainment opportunities and by encouraging productive and active ageing through providing support for capacity building of Government/ Non- Governmental Organizations/Panchayati Raj Institutions/ local bodies and the Community at large. Under the Scheme, financial assistance up to 90% of the project cost is provided to non-governmental organizations for establishing and maintaining old age homes, day care centres and mobile medicare units etc.

The National Programme for Health Care for Elderly in 2010, with the main objective of the Programme is to provide preventive, curative and rehabilitative services to the elderly persons at various level of health care delivery system of the country. Other objectives are, to strengthen referral system, to develop specialized man power and to promote research in the field of diseases related to old age. The major components of this programme are establishing geriatric departments in eight regional geriatric centres and strengthening health care facilities for the elderly at various levels in 100 districts.

The social assistance provided by the National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS) by the Ministry of Rural Development is inadequate and distinguishes between BPL and non BPL categories which is quite arbitrary. And there are many who are in need of genuine assistance not just BPL, for poverty line in India is equated with destitution line, it ignores the real pictures.

For elderly who might suffer from physical, financial and emotional distress, what is needed is not just support from the children at the individual level and community levels, but state has to support the elderly in leading a life with dignity by instituting social security systems in place, by providing affordable housing, health care, formalization of employment etc.