Can the Government light a new Diva as a surprise in Senior Citizens houses too like for its employees?

Can the Government light a new Diva as a surprise in Senior Citizens houses too like for its employees?

Tejinder Singh Bedi
@tsinghbedi

Soon after Ravana was decimated for yet another, nth time yesterday, in keeping up with the current national mood of festivities that commenced with the navratras and culminates around Diwali; (our greatest national festival) the Union Government; although a routine and regular feature has aptly timed its announcement of a 5 percent point increase in the Dearness Allowance applicable to its employees, hiking it by a good 5 % to 17 %, now.

The move is expected to benefit a total of 1.15 crore persons including 50 lakh existing serving central govt employees and another 65 lakh retired senior citizens — who are in receipt of their regular monthly pensions. Sooner or later, the State Governments would also follow suit one by one for all of the remaining at least 1.60 crore serving employees and another estimated over 1 crore getting monthly pensions taking the total number of beneficiaries before Diwali on all India basis to 3.75 crores.

Seen with reference to the overall population of senior citizens that stood at 10.77 crores (as in 2017 & may well be over 11 crores by now with the average life-expectancy increasing every year), at the last updates in government web-sites, the Diwali delight will still leave another 67 % the country’s elderly population — who are not in receipt of any pensionary and medicare benefits as available to our Central and State Government employees.

While there could be some senior citizens who having retired from a very few progressive private sector houses who may also be in receipt of some superannuation or pensionary benefits and another very small infact negligible percentage who one might say may be receiving their family pension (under various Central or State Government Schemes) yet the overall population continuing to remain outside the purview of any basic pension and hence any benefits accruing as a result of periodic revisions thereof still remains huge.

Although the decision to benefit the government employees should have no forbearance to the plight of such left-out senior citizens, given the outlook of the current union government that has been trying to gradually cover all working; active or aged hands in our unorganized sectors too under its various welfare schemes, the situation might call for one serious review by the union government.

To begin with, let us look at the status of those senior citizens who have to sustain their living merely on ‘interest incomes on their short-term FDs’ for compulsions of a reasonable recurring monthly return besides an assured minimal liquidity required in the elderly age groups to meet various unforeseen medical and other pending needs towards family, including spouses too being more or less in the same age groups.

For clarity sake the figure of 10.774 crore senior citizens, (meaning the elderly above 60 years of age including about 55 million females and 52 million males) included as live registered voters had been taken from the last updated (2017) data at the ECI’s web-site, against an overall figure of 10.39 crore estimated population (as at the end of 2016), as per details uploaded by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MOSPI), including 7.33 crore in rural and the rest 3.06 in the urban cities. Collating the MOSPI data with the latest updates of the ECI, one can safely guesstimate that around 7.6 crore senior citizens may today be residing in rural India with the rest dwelling in urban regions. From the ministry’s data, projections also indicated that as in 2017, no more than 43.13 per cent of this population was working in some kind of a vocation and the rest 56.87 per cent may not have been doing anything, and dependent upon the working population among the overall elderly besides their siblings and children. Further, overall, literacy among these elderly was reported around 43.5 per cent (with no more than 4.5 crore estimated to be literate), with only 2.98 crore to be dwelling in urban areas. The data also indicated that 75 per cent to 85 per cent of the elderly (both males and females) are estimated to be living off their children with no more than 6 per cent to 16 per cent being able to find economic support from the other spouse and about 6 per cent solely dependent upon other relations and society in general.

Consider also the fact that most senior citizens above the age of 60 today belong to an era in which majority of their spouses may not have been gainfully working, though engaged as housewives, too have thus not financially contributed towards the income of the household. The position becomes more difficult for those living in Metro cities and Urban areas where the cost of living and maintenance is even higher.

With this backdrop now if this population of about a 3.75 crores is to be excluded, close to 7.25 crores of the elderly population in the country today (considering the 2017 figure might have crossed 11 crores by now with the life-expectancy increasing every year and now well over 70) can be presumed to be outside the ambit of any regular support during their sunset years of life barring another very small number having access to some very marginal benefits under various BPL schemes of the governments.

Since there is no direct certified data or link available on the number of senior citizens living on pensionary support in the various government portals — whether under the Union government or state government services or under the ministries of railways and defence, which have separate pensionary rules, or under the EPF schemes or the National Pension Schemes of the Ministry of Finance since January 2004 — the indicative overall spread amidst the data referred by the MOSPI and the CEC has been banked upon to a large extent to arrive at the estimate of this population of around 7.25 crore living without any substantial regular support.

In the past five decades since 1961, the number of the elderly have grown from 2.74 crore to 10.77 till 2017. In the coming decades, the rate is only going to further increase manifold, even faster with each year gone by. By 2026, as per a report released by the United Nations Population Fund and HelpAge India, this number is expected to grow to 17.3 crore as also the size of the electorate out of the same, equally significant politically too for all the parties. This irreversible continuous increase by itself warrants a more serious approach to the needs of various income groups within the existing overall number of 10.77 crores or the projected figure of 17.3 crores in another 6–7 years.
Life expectancy at birth during 2009–13 stood at 69.3 years for females as against 65.8 years for males. At the age of 60 years average remaining length of life was found to be about 18 years (16.9 for males and 19.0 for females) and that at age 70 was less than 12 years (10.9 for males and 12.3 for females). The old-age dependency ratio climbed from 10.9 per cent in 1961 to 14.2 per cent in 2011 for India as a whole. For females and males, the value of the ratio was 14.9 per cent and 13.6 per cent in 2011 and with growing years and practically no opportunities of gainful work for senior citizens, except for politicians, this is surely shooting up unbridled. While in rural areas, 66 per cent of elderly men and 28 per cent of elderly women are reported to be engaged in some vocation, in the urban areas only 46 per cent of elderly men and about 11 per cent of elderly women are estimated to be working for a livelihood.

The figures may vary, but will do so only marginally in my opinion. The Honourable Finance Minister, being in a much better position to summon all such figures, is requested to have a reality check for the guesstimation carried out through the Ministry’s related departments for an in-depth review.

Needless to highlight, majority of these senior citizens are also paying very high rates of premia for the health insurance covers for themselves and their spouses for the extraordinarily exorbitant rates of Medicare in Metro and most urban cities. Most of the 7.25 crores without any incomes can be safely presumed to be devoid of this cover though the Ayushmaan National Health Insurance Scheme introduced last year might still provide some relief to them for certain critical illnesses covered thereunder. The last year’s enhanced rebate benefit under health premium costs was a good step but this too has benefitted only a handful out of the 3.75 crores in receipt of pensionary benefits as mentioned above.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment too is requested to look into the genuineness of these gaps and ensure equitable treatment to the senior citizen population of the country to ensure they are no longer subjected to any such inequalities, discrimination and injustice so that they can continue living with dignified and a secure life. Our Honourable Prime Minister, who has himself come up the hardest way since childhood and is today a senior citizen, too — one hopes will understand the plight of this nearly 11 per cent of this of his fraternity ignored all so far, better.

Life expectancy at birth during 2009–13 stood at 69.3 years for females as against 65.8 years for males. At the age of 60 years average remaining length of life was found to be about 18 years (16.9 for males and 19.0 for females) and that at age 70 was less than 12 years (10.9 for males and 12.3 for females).

The old-age dependency ratio climbed from 10.9 per cent in 1961 to 14.2 per cent in 2011 for India as a whole. For females and males, the value of the ratio was 14.9 per cent and 13.6 per cent in 2011 and with growing years and practically no opportunities of gainful work for senior citizens, except for politicians, this is surely shooting up unbridled. While in rural areas, 66 per cent of elderly men and 28 per cent of elderly women are reported to be engaged in some vocation, in the urban areas only 46 per cent of elderly men and about 11 per cent of elderly women are estimated to be working for a livelihood.

It is ironical that the interests of these senior citizens have remained largely ignored for many decades. Although it is true that of late the inflation is under control yet while those in service including even in private employment as well as in receipt of pensionary benefits keep on getting revisions in their compensation packages including the dearness factor to set off this rate of inflation — for sure the senior citizen block of 7.25 crores has been bearing the brunt of even a lower level of inflation out of their limited tax paid savings or support systems from their children or relations or some marginal earnings here and there. For this category of population, there is not even a single item or commodity for kitchen or the house, in general, the price of which has stayed static at the 2014 level with no compensation having come ever! On top of it the rates of interest on savings and fixed deposits made by senior citizens in various banks have been coming down gradually.

Can the senior citizens hope that after the Corporate & the Business Sectors which have seen good support from the government and now the government employees, the left out senior citizens can also expect some big surprises before the ensuing Diwali?

It can really come as a big relief to these elderly citizens if the banks can be directed to increase the rates of interests offered to them on their short term fixed deposits from the existing 5 % to maximum 7 % (depending upon the tenure) to at least 9% to 11% to offset the inflationary impact at least. There is enough talk for revisiting the direct taxation rates before Diwali but if that is happening, let the concerns of the senior citizens not be ignored again. This government alone can remove this long pending anomaly of taxing senior citizens on the interest they earn on their life time savings, on which they have already paid both direct as well as indirect taxes all along their active lives. Infact, considering no compensation against inflation to this block, any senior citizen buying routine monthly items upto a limited consumption for maximum two persons should also be completely exempted from the GST levied on the same. Every senior citizen today has a valid ID and an age proof to stake claim for such exemptions, if incorporated appropriately in our digitized as well as manual systems of levy of GST on items or commodities of common consumption at least.

The insurance companies should also be supported by the government to subsidise the cost of renewal of the health insurance policies upto 50 % at least besides making it mandatory on all private and government hospitals to make their entire OPD treatment free.

Furthermore, wherever such people have paid their taxes to the government; as applicable as well as the insurance premia to the Insurance Companies regularly and not claimed anything till the age of 60 — the insurance companies must be directed to cover costs of their dentures, hearing aids and spectacles — some of the most common challenges confronting almost every adult after crossing 65 or 70.

There have been marginal lollipops like discounted rates of travel fares for air and train travels, but in reality, it is really a very small percentage of the senior citizens who really need to travel except in emergencies.

Our Honourable Prime Minister himself being a senior citizen, one hopes will understand the plight of nearly 11 per cent of this of his fraternity better and consider the suggestions shared above to ameliorate their weakening financial condition without delay. To reduce the burden of supporting the senior citizens those who are both mentally and physically fit should also be recalled to serve the huge vacant positions in the government at even fifty percent of the salaries attached to such jobs but at appropriate levels commensurate with their seniority and meritocracy.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment too should look into these gaps and ensure equitable treatment to the senior citizen population of the country to ensure they are no longer subjected to any such inequalities and discrimination. They too deserve to live a dignified and secured life, without depending on other sections of the society.

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(*Author Tejinder Singh Bedi is a former technocrat, a people management, CSR Adviser, free-lance writer and a passionate singer)

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Tejinder Singh Bedi

Tejinder Singh Bedi

(*Author Tejinder Singh Bedi is a former technocrat, a people management, CSR Adviser, free-lance writer and a passionate singer)

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