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14 March, 2011

Marching into old age

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

About half of India’s population is younger than 25 years. According to some experts, between 2010 and 2030 the country’s working-age population will grow by 241 million while China’s will grow by only 10 million. This is supposed to give India a distinct advantage in the perceived economic competition with its neighbour.

There is, however, no room for euphoria. The old age population — those aged 60 years and above — which registered only a small increase in the last century, from 5.06 per cent in 1901 to 7.70 per cent in 2001, is set to grow at a fast pace. It is expected to soar to 23 and 30 per cent by 2050.

Some parts of India are already facing the problem of an ageing population. The problem appears to be more acute in the villages than in the urban areas. A national sample survey held a few years ago showed that 84 out of 1,000 aged persons in rural areas could not move and were confined to the bed or home as against only 77 out of 1,000 in the urban areas.

Ageing has assumed serious proportions in Kerala, which boasts of social development indices comparable to those of the West. The state had an old age population of 8.2 per cent at the time of the 2001 census. While the 2011 census data is still being processed, it is estimated that the state’s old age population is now around 11 per cent and may rise to 20 per cent in a decade.

Kerala, which accounts for only about 3.5 per cent of India’s population, already had about 11 per cent of its old age population of 77 million in 2001. An expert group of the Planning Commission has estimated that, life expectancy in the state, which is 71 years for men and 76 years for women, may rise to 75 years and 79 years respectively in 20 years. This means the state is close to the stage where it will have to take care of two generations of old people.

Kerala’s predicament is the result of a successful family planning programme. Tamil Nadu, which has the best record in population control after Kerala, also has a growing geriatric population.

1n 1999, the Indian government formulated a National Policy on Older Persons to ensure the well-being of senior citizens. It envisages provision of state support for financial and food security, health care, shelter and other needs of older persons, an equitable share in development, protection against abuse and exploitation, and certain services to improve the quality of their lives.

Although the Centre advised the states to formulate separate policies of their own to supplement its efforts, few has done so. At present the Centre is reviewing the working of the national policy. This exercise is likely to result in some changes in the policy.

In 2007, the Centre enacted the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act to cast on the younger generation an obligation to provide need-based maintenance to parents and other senior citizens. If children fail to discharge their duty, parents can seek relief from a tribunal set up for the purpose. The law provides for protection of life and property of senior citizens, revocation of transfer of property and award of penalty in case of negligence or abandonment by relatives.

Almost all states have brought the law into force but many of them are yet to take follow-up measures like framing of rules, appointment of maintenance officers and setting up of maintenance tribunals.

The increasing number of cases of neglect of parents reported from Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which have taken follow-up measures, indicates that the law is not yielding the desired results. Last November Tehelka magazine reported that in some villages of Tamil Nadu family members use the services of quacks to extinguish the lives of senior citizens by administering some poisonous stuff as they are not able to bear the burden of looking after them.

The law is failing as it does not address some critical issues. A comprehensive social security system is needed to ensure that the old do not become a burden on the young. The limited geriatric care facilities available in the country are located in the cities. Such facilities must be available at the primary health centres which serve the rural population. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, March14, 2011

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