Elderly in India – Challenges, Schemes & Legal Provisions

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India is currently thriving because of the young population and is moving to become the most populous country in the next 7 years. However, the ageing population is growing faster than previously thought and may have a 20% population of 60 years and above by 2050. Various other studies including Economic Survey 2018-19 points out that India may face an increasingly ageing population just like developed nations like Germany and France. It is the duty of the state to take care of the senior citizens and it is ingrained within the Indian tradition to take care of them. However, with the increasing industrialisation and westernisation, many senior citizens are left vulnerable and India is among the countries that are unfavourable for the old age population. Laws and welfare schemes are helping them to only a certain extent due to implementation limitations. With the growing old age population, the government must take necessary steps so that the senior citizens are respected and can lead a dignified life.

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Who is a senior citizen?

  • According to the National Elderly Policy, the senior citizen is the Indian citizen who has attained the age of sixty years or above.
  • The Social Defence Division of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment aims to ensure equitable treatment of the senior citizens, besides victims of alcoholism and substance abuse, transgender persons and destitute.
  • The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment develops and implements Acts, Policies and Programmes for the welfare of the senior citizens in collaboration with the States/UTs.

What does the 2018-19 Economic Survey say about the ageing population?

  • According to the Economic Survey 2018-2019, India’s population will continue to rapidly slowdown over the next two decades, growing less than 1% during 2021-31 and under 0.5% during 2031-41.
  • This kind of trend is currently seen in Germany and France.
  • Currently, India is a very young country, half of its population being under the age of 25.
  • However, India’s current demographic dividend is going to shift, with the young population giving away to an ageing one by the 2030s.
  • States like Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, West Bengal and Maharashtra are already witnessing an ageing phenomenon.
  • As India’s economy has progressed, people have better access to healthcare, information and awareness around fertility. Thus, the country has witnessed a sharp decline in the total fertility rate (TFR) since the mid-1980s.
  • The economic survey estimates that the share of the old-age population in India will rise steadily from 8.6% in 2011 to 16% by 2041, warning the policymakers to prepare for ageing.
  • It had called for increased investments in healthcare as well as a plan for increasing the retirement age in a phased manner.

What are the challenges pertaining to old age?

There are numerous challenges faced by senior citizens in India. They can be social, financial and health-related challenges. Some of them are listed as follows:

Social:

  • As the Indian society is advancing towards industrialisation, urbanisations, technical and technological changes, as well as being influenced by western education and globalisation, senior citizens are increasingly being neglected by the younger generation.
  • Discouragement because of retirement
  • Senior citizens feeling vulnerable and lonely

Financial:

  • Increasing economic dependence of senior citizens on:
  • Pensions, which in most cases, is not sufficient
  • Next-generation who may or may not take care of them
  • Increased health-related expenses
  • Relocation of young age population for livelihood leads to neglect, poverty and distress of the senior citizens
  • Inadequate housing facility

Health:

  • Numerous disabilities among the senior citizens due to old age
  • Health-related issues like blindness, deafness, mental illness, etc. are highly prevalent among this section of the population.
  • Lack of geriatric care facilities in rural hospitals

What are the initiatives taken by the government for the welfare of senior citizens?

  • Integrated Programme for Older Persons (IPOP) scheme aims to ensure improved quality of life for senior citizens by providing basic comforts like housing, food, medical care, entertainment, etc.
  • Rashtriya Vayoshri Yojana (RVY) is a central sector scheme that is funded by the Senior Citizens’ Welfare Fund. All amounts that are not claimed from small savings accounts, PPF and EPF are transferred to this fund. This scheme provides senior citizens belonging to the BPL category with aids and assistive devices to address age-related disabilities. Artificial Limbs Manufacturing Corporation of India (ALIMCO) under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment implements the scheme.
  • Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS) under the National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) provides financial assistance to senior citizens belonging to the BPL category. Central assistance of Rs.200 per month is provided to persons in the age group of 60-79 years and Rs.500 per month to persons of 80 years and above.
  • Varishtha Pension Bima Yojana (VPBY) run by the Ministry of Finance was first launched in 2003 and then re-launched in 2014. It is a social security scheme that gave a guaranteed minimum pension on a guaranteed minimum return on the subscription amount.
  • Pradhan Mantri Vaya Vandana Yojana (PMVVY), launched in May 2017, aims to provide social security during the old age. This scheme is a simplified version of the VPBY and will be implemented by the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) of India. Senior citizens who are eligible to invest in this scheme can invest a maximum amount of Rs.15 lakh on or before March 31, 2020. For the policy term of 10 years, senior citizens get a minimum pension of Rs.1,000 per month and a maximum of Rs.10,000 per month depending on the amount invested.
  • Vayoshreshtha Samman: It is a scheme of awards instituted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and gradually upgraded to the status of National Awards, for institutions involved in rendering distinguished services for the cause of the elderly population, especially indigent senior citizens and to eminent senior citizens in recognition of their services. These awards are presented as a part of the celebration of the International Day of Older Persons on 1st
  • Senior Citizens Saving Scheme (SCSS) is a government-backed savings instrument offered to senior citizens in India. The deposit matures in five years and can be extended once for an additional three-year period.
  • National Programme for the Health Care of Elderly (NPHCE) launched by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to address various health-related problems of the senior citizens. The major objectives under the district level activities of the NPHCE are to provide dedicated health facilities in district hospitals, community health centres (CHCs), primary health centres (PHCs) and sub-centres levels through State Health Society. The healthcare facilities provided under this programme are either free or highly subsidised.

What are the legal provisions that deal with the welfare of senior citizens?

Constitution:

  • The government’s duty towards the senior citizens is provided under the articles in Chapter IV of the constitution, which corresponds to the Directive Principles of State Policy.
  • Though these provisions cannot be enforced by a court of law as per Article 37, they are the basis upon which any legislation is drafted.
  • Article 41 of the Constitution secured the rights of the senior citizens to employment, education and public assistance. It says that the state must uphold the rights in cases of disability, old age or sickness.
  • Article 46 states that the educational and economic rights of the senior citizens must be secured by the government.
  • Article 47 asserts that the state must raise the level of nutrition and standard of living and to improve the public health of the people
  • These articles apply to senior citizens.

National Policy for Senior Citizens, 2011:

This policy aims to:

  • Mainstream senior citizens’ concerns, especially older women, and bring them into the national development debate.
  • Promote income security, homecare services, old-age pension, health insurance schemes, housing and other programmes/services
  • Promote the care of senior citizens and consider institutional care as the last resort
  • Ensure inclusive, barrier-free and age-friendly society that recognises senior citizens’ rights and ensures their full participation
  • Distinguish senior citizens as the nation’s asset
  • Promote long-term savings instruments and credit activities for rural and urban areas

Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956:

  • The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act contains important provisions regulating the maintenance of wives, widowed daughters-in-law, children, aged parents and other dependents.
  • As per the Act, a Hindu must mandatorily maintain his/her aged parents.

Criminal Procedure Code:

  • Under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code, elderly parents can claim maintenance from their children.

What is the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill, 2019?

The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was introduced by the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment on December 11, 2019. This Bill amends the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. This Act provides effective provisions for the maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens.

The salient features of the 2019 Amendment Bill include the following:

Definitions of terms:

  • Children: In the Act, the term “children” refers to children and grandchildren, excluding minors. The Bill includes the following to the definition:
  1. Step-children
  2. Adoptive children
  3. Children-in-laws
  • Relative: The Act defines a relative as the legal heir of a childless senior citizen, excluding minors, who possess or would inherit his property after death. The Bill amends this provision to include minors represented by their legal guardians.
  • Parents: The Act defines parents to include biological, adoptive and stepparents. The Bill takes in parents-in-law and grandparents.
  • Maintenance: As per the Act, “maintenance” is defined as the provision of food, clothing, residence, medical attention and treatment. The Bill, under the definition of maintenance, includes the provision of healthcare, safety and security of parents and senior citizens to lead the life of dignity.
  • Welfare is defined as the provision of food, healthcare and other services necessary for senior citizens. The Bill includes the provision of housing, clothing and other amenities vital for the physical and mental welfare of the senior citizen/parent.

Maintenance Fee:

  • According to the Act, the state governments should set up Maintenance Tribunals to decide on the maintenance payable to senior citizens and parents.
  • These tribunals may order children and relatives to pay a monthly maintenance fee of up to Rs.10,000 to parents and senior citizens.
  • The Bill removes the limitation of the maintenance fee.
  • The Tribunal needs to consider the following while deciding the maintenance amount:
  1. The standard of living and earnings of the parents or senior citizen
  2. Earnings of the children.
  • The Act mandates the children and relatives to deposit the maintenance amount with the relevant parent/senior citizens within 30 days after being ordered to do so. The Bill reduces the time to 15 days.

Appeals:

  • The Act allows only the parents or senior citizens to appeal the decisions of the maintenance tribunal.
  • The Bill allows the children and relatives also to appeal to the tribunal’s decisions.

Offences and Penalties:

  • The Act states that the abandonment of a senior citizen or parent is punishable with imprisonment of up to 3 months or a fine up to Rs.5,000 or both.
  • The Bill increases the imprisonment penalty from 3 to 6 months or a fine of up to Rs.10,000.
  • The Bill also states that if the children or relatives fail to comply with the maintenance order, the Tribunal may issue a warrant to levy the due amount.
  • The failure to pay the fine may lead to imprisonment for up to one month or until the payment is made, whichever comes earlier.

Maintenance Officer:

  • The Act provides for a maintenance officer to represent a parent during the Tribunal Proceedings.
  • The Bill mandates the maintenance officers to:
  1. Ensure compliance with orders on maintenance payments
  2. Act as a liaison for parents/senior citizens

Old age homes:

  • As per the Act, state governments may establish old age homes.
  • The Bill removes this provision and provides for senior citizen care homes that may be set up by the government or private organisations.
  • These homes must be registered with a registration authority that is to be set up by the state government.
  • The Central Government will prescribe the minimum standards for these homes like food, infrastructure and medical facilities.

Healthcare:

  • The Act provides for certain facilities (like separate queues, beds and facilities for elderly patients) to the senior citizens in government hospitals.
  • The Bill mandates all hospitals, including the private hospitals, to provide these facilities to the senior citizens.
  • Also, the home care facilities will be provided for senior citizens with disabilities.

Protection and welfare of senior citizens:

  • The Bill mandates every police station to have at least one officer, not below the rank of Assistant Sub-Inspector, to look into the issues pertaining to parents and senior citizens.
  • The State governments must set up a special police unit for senior citizens in all districts. This unit will be headed by a police officer, not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.

Challenges:

  • Providing for welfare schemes that exclusively deal with the welfare of senior citizens while providing for stringent laws against the negligence of senior citizens is a step in the right direction.
  • However, laws on the protection and welfare of the elderly are difficult to implement.
  • For instance, state governments are not obligated to set up old age homes under the law.
  • Furthermore, it is a huge challenge to find reliable, enthusiastic and able persons and NGOs for the Tribunals.
  • Also, many senior citizens are unaware of schemes and laws or are unwilling to sue their own family members, making it difficult to assist them.

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What can be the way forward?

Some of the ways to enhance the lives of senior citizens include the following:

  • Increasing the monthly pension to a minimum of Rs.5,000 per month. Any amount below this is of no use, given the rising inflation.
  • Under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, providing housing facilities for senior citizens must be prioritised.
  • The government must make sure that there are sufficient old age home facilities.
  • More tax benefits or at best removing the tax on deposit interest for senior citizens.
  • Improving the geriatric care infrastructure in healthcare facilities especially in the rural areas
  • Providing entertainment facilities like libraries and clubs at the grass-root level.
  • Appreciation of contributions by the senior citizens at the village level.
  • Ensuring behavioural change within the society so that the senior citizens are respected and taken care of. This is because laws and welfare schemes can ensure the well-being of senior citizens to only a certain extent. Promoting behavioural change can be done through education, public awareness and innovative measures that connect senior citizens with the younger generation. One such innovative measure is Switzerland’s time bank.

Switzerland’s time bank:

  • Switzerland, like many other countries in the world, is currently facing an increasing number of the elderly population, making it difficult for the government to take care of them during times of need.
  • To address this issue, the Swiss Federal Ministry of Social Insurance brought forth a retirement project called “Time Bank”.
  • Under this initiative, the younger generation will start to save ‘time’ by taking care of senior citizens. Later, they will use the saved ‘time’ when they get old, sick or in need of someone to take care of them.
  • All applicants must be healthy, communicative and kind enough to spend some time taking care of seniors in need of help. Hours of service will be deposited in the personal account of the social security system.
  • Currently, “Time Bank” has become a common practice in Switzerland.
  • This initiative not only helped reduce the country’s retirement expenses but also solved some other social issues faced by the elderly population and enhanced their standard of living.
  • According to the Swiss retirement agency survey, more than half of the young Swiss are willing to participate in this initiative.

Conclusion:

For the welfare of the senior citizens, the focus must be given in securing the already existing traditional values within society. However, given the increasing westernisation, it is becoming a huge challenge in India. Stringent laws cannot always be successful in promoting behavioural change within society. Nudging the population to become more sensitive towards the elderly can be ensured through positive behavioural change through innovative welfare schemes and increased educational focus on this issue.

Test yourself:

Are laws and welfare schemes sufficient to address problems faced by senior citizens in India? (250 words)

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