By -Satyendra Prakash :Older persons these days do figure prominently in the planning process. It is a common feature of planned economy internationally. Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) was adopted in April, 2002 to ensure concerted action on part of the international community for their well-being and a rightful place in the process of development.
What has accentuated the growing concern for the elders globally? It is indeed the rising percentage of ‘gray’ population or so to say ‘Silver’ Population. This segment has outpaced the corresponding increase in the number of youth population. Known as ‘demographic revolution’; this fact has engaged the serious attention of development economist and population scientist for almost three decades now.
The comity of nations for the first time expressed their common resolve to adequately take note of this at the first World Assembly on Ageing at Vienna in 1982. The adoption of October 01 as International Day of Older Persons (IDOP) by the United Nations almost a decade and half later in 1998 reinforced this commitment. Older persons who had traditionally enjoyed a pride of place in the family and the society, were of late, relegated to the sphere of neglect and oblivion. Computer games and reality shows and soap operas have robbed ‘grannies’ off their traditional role of ‘story tellers’ and ‘safe refuge’ to grand children from parents’ wrath.
They appeared to be fast losing their place and relevance in the family. Compulsions of urban living and modern working conditions, at times with both man and wife working do not leave any room for them.
Notwithstanding the diminishing place and position in the family and society, the growing economy and policy could ill afford to ignore a sizeable chunk of population that continues to remain active both as consumer and voter. A UN estimate had put the size of elderly population at 580 million a couple of years ago. On the turn of second decade of this century, this figure is likely to reach the whopping level of 1000 million. And at this rate, as it is projected, every fifth person is likely to be a senior citizen by mid-21st century.
Back home, the ageing scenario is no different. With approximately 83.5 million in 2006, India alone accounted for one-seventh of world’s elderly. In percentage terms, the population of older persons is projected to increase from current about 7.5 – 8 per cent to about 12.4 per cent in 2026. In absolute terms the number would more than double in coming two decades, i.e., from 76.6 million in 2006, it would become 173.1 million in 2026.
The science of population development and economic planning are thus altogether a ‘new number game’ now. Internationally, MIPAA emphasizes three major policy directions viz. ‘Older Persons and Development’, ‘Advancing Health and Well being into Old Age’ and ‘Ensuring Enabling and Supportive Environments’. These policy directions broadly encompass all aspects of development that ensure creation of a ‘Society for All Ages’.
National Policy on Older Persons (NPOP) adopted in 1999 predates MIPAA. It undoubtedly set the goals to be precursor of policy directions of MIPAA. Not only the need for special care and protection of senior citizens was the focus, the National Policy recognized the specific role they could very well play in the growth of our economy, as partner in progress rather than merely being a burden on the family and society, always hankering for support.
‘The Maintenance and Senior Citizens Act’ promulgated as Act 56 of 2007 provides legal backstopping to the visions of the National Policy. While resting prime responsibility of maintenance of parents on children or the grand children or even the relatives who are likely to inherit the property, the Act enjoins on the state to provide for indigent and destitute elderly. It provides for:
• Effective mechanism for parents and senior citizens to claim need-based maintenance
• Institutional mechanism for protection of life and property of Senior Citizens
• All parents unable to maintain themselves can claim maintenance from their adult children
• A childless Senior Citizen can claim maintenance from those in possession of or likely to inherit their property
• State Government to set up one or more tribunals in every sub-division
• District Magistrate level officer to be the Appellate Authority
• No legal practitioner required or permitted
• Parent/Senior Citizen himself can file or authorize any person or organization or Tribunal may take suo-moto cognizance
• Erring persons are punishable with imprisonment upto three months or a fine up to rupees five thousand or with both
• At least one Old Age Home for 150 beneficiaries in every district with minimum basic amenities such as food, clothing, recreational needs of elderly
• Government hospitals or those funded by Government to provide beds for all Senior Citizens as far as possible.
Seven States, namely, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland have already notified the Act in their respective States. Others are likely to follow the course sooner than later.
The National Council of Older Persons (NCOP) meeting on 30.9.2008, the eve of International Day to re-intensify the efforts of the Government and the civil society to ensure comprehensive implementation of Act’s provisions. Old Age Pension under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) has risen from Rs. 75 to Rs. 200 as Central Governments’ contribution and the State Governments are required to add as much or more from their side.
Coming close on the heels of Promulgation of the Act, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has revised the Integrated Programme for Older Persons w.e.f April 01, 2008 which would inter-alia:
• Ensure basic needs of Older Persons and encourage active and productive ageing
• Build and strengthen inter generational relationships
• Provide institutional and non institutional care services
• Carry out research, advocacy and awareness
• Provide financial assistance upto 90 per cent of the project cost to Panchayati Raj Institutions, local bodies or eligible NGOs for establishing and maintaining old age homes, Multi service centers, Mobile medicare units
• Assist the setting up of respite care homes and day care centers for Alzheimers’s Diseases/Dementia Patients
* Training of care givers
Besides, governmental interventions, the vibrant civil society and the corporate sector too have actively come forward to contribute for the well-being of older persons. The sponsors of ‘half marathon’ organized in Delhi in October-November have certainly looked to the silver population certainly beyond the close confines of oft-talked and clichéd ‘CSR’-the Corporate Social Responsibility.
Any population group accounting for 10-12 per cent and still active physically and mentally merits serious corporate attention both as consumers as well as work force. The ‘peak of curve’ of turn over and gains may prove illusory unless the elderly segment of the population is ensured to be robust. The corporate world may find an opportunity for rightful investment against the old concept of charity, through Public Private Partnership (PPP) or even otherwise. ‘CSR’ may give way to a new ‘Corporate Investment Opportunity’ for ‘Silver Population’ and ‘Silver’ Economy.
After all, today’s elderly population may be ‘retired’ but not ‘tired’. They believe in the saying of Mark Twain that “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you do not mind, it does not matter.”