"It is my great pleasure and privilege to be among the distinguished senior citizens of our country.
Let me at the outset thank you for your immense contributions towards building this country and taking it to its present stature.
You are truly valuable and important to India and its future. Your wealth of experience will continue giving us wisdom and direction.
I am happy to know that All India Senior Citizen’s Confederation, with a membership of approximately 20 lakhs in various States and Union Territories in the country, is the largest national level organization of senior citizens in India.
I am told that it devotes itself to networking, advocacy and research on the issues concerning welfare and development of senior citizens and works with governments and civil society organizations engaged in similar activities. It is noteworthy that the Association also provides service activities including healthcare.
It is heartening to know that both the AISCCON and its State-level Federations work with the state governments in the country to take up measures for the welfare of senior citizens.
We always talk about the tremendous opportunity that lies in our demography. We usually focus on youth but not enough attention is paid to the elder age group.
Currently, there are an estimated 10.5 Crore elderly in India and by 2050 it would reach 32.4 Crore. Out of 10.5 Crore elders, 80 Lakhs are the eldest, that is 80 plus. Their number is increasing at the fastest rate and they are the most vulnerable.
Worldwide, by 2050 every fifth person you see will be an elder person. There will be 64 countries including India where 30% of the population will be 60 plus.
Though India, traditionally, enjoyed a robust joint family system which took great care of the elderly, the fast changing socio-economic conditions has led to its complete disintegration.
There was an inherent social security in our joint family system. The children of the family developed deep ties with their grandparents and often turned to them for guidance and solace in troubled times. The elderly, in turn, knew no dearth of love and companionship. There was a kind of symbiosis that held joint families together in comfort and security.
With the emergence of nuclear families where the husband and the wife work and where there are frequent, pressing financial crises, the elderly are getting increasingly neglected, adversely affecting their care and dignity.
Wherever family system fails in its duty to protect the Elderly; the community, civil society and the government have to step in to fill the vacuum.
In spite of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior citizens Act 2007, the number of cases of children abandoning their elderly parents is on the rise. Apart from abandonment, the elderly also face neglect, abuse, physical, verbal and emotional and other forms of violence.
This is an abhorrent and completely unacceptable trend. When we, as a society, fail to meet the needs of our seniors’ community, we are only creating a dreadful preface to our own inevitable destiny.
More than 70% of our elders reside in rural areas. The rising rural population of senior citizens due to large scale migration of younger generation to urban areas or other countries in search of jobs, has aggravated the problems faced by the rural elderly. They are facing deprivation, discrimination, dispossession, loneliness and abuse.
Out of the total population of the Elders, 70% – that is around 8 Crore people – are below the poverty line. The pension they receive from the government is highly inadequate. Even though with the recent Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) the situation has improved greatly, we still have a long way to go.
Our country spends just 0.032% of GDP on the welfare of the elderly while most of the other countries, even smaller and with weaker economies, spend 3 to 8 times more on their elders. Moving towards a reasonable universal pension for all is an inevitable step.
It is of paramount importance that we provide the much needed physical, financial and social security and dignity to our elderly. The National Policy on Older Persons which was announced in 1999, seeks to assure elder persons that their concerns are national concerns and that they will not live unprotected, ignored or marginalized lives.
The goal of the National Policy is the well being of elder persons. This policy has to be implemented by all State Governments in letter and spirit.
Dear sisters and brothers,
Implementation of various welfare measures for Senior Citizens cannot wait.
We must focus on affordable health care, insurance, personal security, prevention of abuse, establishment of multi-purpose day care centres, setting up of homes for the elderly, geriatric wards in hospitals and construction of shelters for the abandoned.
Article 41of the Directive Principle of State Policy, says that the State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for social security for the elderly the right to public assistance in case of old age. We must give meaning to this policy intent.
Senior citizens are easy targets for criminals, cheaters and looters. Our law enforcement agencies and the justice system must be sensitized to the plight of the elderly so that they can take prompt, effective action.
There is a need to implement the Maintenance & Welfare of Parents & Senior Citizens Act 2007 more effectively. The act was enacted a decade ago and it needs to be reviewed to reflect the present day social realities.
There is also a need to expand geriatric healthcare facilities in our hospitals
Our cities and the facilities within them should be accessible to the elderly. Senior Citizens have the right to barrier- free public places. They have the right to safe and quiet spaces for peer group and intergenerational dialogue. They deserve to participate actively in Senior Citizens’ Associations and Residents’ Welfare Associations.
To mitigate the problems of senior citizens, one should not look up to the government alone. Senior Citizens associations, federations like AISCCON, NGOs, all retirement-related agencies like retirement communities, elder care homes, Self Help Groups and lastly, corporate houses should join to support seniors’ cause.
If sufficient awareness is created among the companies to expand their CSR activity towards elders’ issues, quite a lot can be achieved in a short time.
To keep seniors active and engaged, sufficient opportunities to work beyond retirement and to volunteer must be made available. That is a sure way of ensuring productive or active ageing among seniors.
Dear sisters and brothers
The Government of India has launched several welfare schemes for providing comprehensive healthcare and economic independence to the senior citizens.
A healthcare scheme namely National Programme for the Health Care of the Elderly, NPHCE to address the various health related problems.
Two National Centers of Ageing are also being set up at Chennai and New Delhi. In addition, Regional Geriatric Centres are also being established.
"Varishtha Pension Bima Yojana" a pension scheme for the elderly, is being implemented by L.I.C. of India since 2017. Under this Scheme, an assured income of 8 per cent per annum is given to the senior citizens for ten years, alongwith Life Insurance Cover.
A Senior Citizens' Welfare Fund has been established in the year 2016 by pooling together the unclaimed amounts remaining in the inoperative accounts under the Post Offices, Savings Banks, Provident Funds, Insurance Companies, etc. The interest accrued on such unclaimed deposits would be utilized for Schemes promoting the welfare of senior citizens.
The Department of Social Justice and Empowerment has launched a scheme namely "Rashtriya Vayoshri Yojana" since 2017, for free distribution of physical aids and assisted living devices to senior citizens belonging to the BPL category. So far more than 53,000 senior citizens have been benefitted under this Yojana.
Recently, I also had the privilege of presenting the "Vayoshreshtha Sammans'' to Senior Citizens for their outstanding achievements in their respective fields relevant to Senior Citizens and to the society as a whole.
Dear sisters and brothers
We are a civilization that has always been proud of the way we treated our elderly. We have always given the most esteemed and respectful positions in the society to our elders.
Manu Smriti, one of our ancient texts has this statement: “If one serves the elderly with devotion, he or she is blessed with long life, sound education, fame and strength”.
We should take inspiration from these ennobling thoughts from the past and shape the present day care facilities for the elderly.
I wish the AISCCON all the very best in their efforts to serve the elderly. I wish all the senior citizens a healthy, happy and meaningful retired life, full of purpose and energy.