Though India is primarily a young country with median age of 29 years, there are significant number of elderly people as well. Number of people in India with 60 years plus is around 138 million comprising approx. 10 per cent of total population. This is likely to go up substantially to around 20 per cent by 2050 with an absolute figure of around 319 million. This means by 2050, one (1) in every five (5) persons in India will be an elderly individual. This is an alarming statistic. With scarce public spending on elder care, absence of social security and lack of pension and other support system, elders are going to be in a very difficult situation in days to come. And that essentially means that population and society, at large, are also going to be in difficulty to sustain pressure of elder care.
In some parts of the country, percentage of elders is even more than national average. For examples, proportion of elders (60 plus) in Mumbai is estimated to be around 25 per cent of total voting population. The situation therefore is more serious. This calls for urgent action by all stakeholders as otherwise all of us might face a catastrophic situation. Political parties as representative of people are one of the most important and influential stakeholders to facilitate steps to be taken for remedial actions. These parties should take lead in terms of reforms that are needed for creating an ambience conducive for “happy aging for elders”.
The question however arises whether these parties are doing much for cause of senior citizens. According to the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of various NGOs / organizations / researchers working for cause of senior citizens in the state of Maharashtra, answer is in the negative. Rather much more needs to be done by political parties to make the change effective and visible. Hence the JAC has submitted an appeal to all political parties in Maharashtra to include certain issues in their election manifesto in the upcoming BMC elections. These issues are very specifically related to elderly people and encompass various areas of operations.
Some main points of the demand of JAC include following:
1. Policy and Outlay: Having a minimum budgetary allocation of 10 per cent of BMC is the most important demand. Further demands include setting up senior citizen policy committees at central as well as ward level and setting up of a “senior citizen bhavan” at a central accessible location in Mumbai. It also calls for having a nodal officer to look after interests of elderly people.
2. Health Care: Primary request in this regard is to make health facilities affordable to all senior citizens. This includes setting up of geriatric wards in all government hospitals, making treatment totally free (for seniors) in government hospitals, making 10 per cent reservation for elderly people in private hospitals, and availability of free / subsidized treatment to all elderly. Demands also include making mandatory facilities for alternative treatment including yoga / meditation / other wellness programs and providing mid-day meal scheme to poorer sections of elderly people.
3. Shelter and General Welfare: Demands here include setting up of government supported day care centers, old age homes, special homes for mentally challenged elderly people including those suffering from dementia and similar other diseases. There should also be special protection of elders during natural disasters.
4. Protection of Rights: Request in this regard include providing all types of legal and other allied support to elders in need including involving NSS and civil defense officers / volunteers for their safety and security. It also calls for a separate “call center facility” for seniors in need of help.
5. Age Friendly Environment: Requests under this include creating all types of environment including transportation services / modes that are age friendly as well as courteous for service to elders. Housing facilities should also be safe, secure, and constructed in an elder friendly manner.
6. Capacity Building: Enough trained caregivers and other medical care personnel should be developed to take care of elders. Sensitization of all for cause of seniors and mandatory celebration of dates for senior citizens (like elder abuse awareness day on June 15) will go a long way.
Demands furnished by the JAC to all political parties are quite comprehensive; these essentially aim at sensitizing representatives of people to cause of elderly and their problems. This has become even more important as senior citizens have often been neglected and despite a few laws and policy, their plight remains woefully pathetic in terms of social security, medical benefits, and support from the state. Even the basic paradigm of “aging gracefully” has been neglected and cases of elder abuse are on rise. By making “elder issues” a part of agenda on manifesto of political parties will go a long way in creating awareness about plethora of issues and problems faced by seniors in society. Political parties are expected to represent interest of all segments of society; this includes seniors as well. Demands placed by the JAC will thus force these parties feel that the cause of “elders in need” must be addressed. That by itself is a good beginning. (with input from Sailesh Mishra, Coordinator, JAC).