The Constitution of India has been considerate about supporting senior citizens, with Articles 38 (1), 39 (e), 41 and 46 making it incumbent on the state to make provision for public assistance in old age. In an address to senior citizens, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said, “At this juncture, you have simple needs. You look forward to a peaceful and healthy life. And a life of dignity and respect, where you do not have to depend on others.”
The government has not only taken initiatives for employment of senior citizens with dignity but also taken up action for supporting the startups working towards the development of the senior care sector through their products and services. A hallmark initiative under process is the Poshan Abhiyan Project for meeting the nutritional needs of the elderly.
In 2017, the government amended the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act and made it legally binding for all “children”, defined not only as sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, but also step-children, adoptive children, children-in-law, and legal guardians of minor children, to maintain “parents”–defined as biological, adoptive or step parents–to the extent that they can live a normal life.
Now, a senior citizen who is unable to maintain herself/ himself shall have the right to apply to a Maintenance Tribunal for a monthly allowance from their child or relative. In case of childless senior citizens, relatives are obliged to provide maintenance. Under the Act, Maintenance Tribunals may direct children to pay a maximum of ‘10,000 per month as maintenance amount to their parents.
The government has been exploring opportunities to develop and implement novel programmes in order to make India an elderly-friendly society and promote happy, healthy and productive ageing. The National Policy for Older Persons (NPOP) was modified in 2020 as National Action Plan for Welfare of Senior Citizens (NAPSrC), and further modified as Atal Vayo Abhyuday Yojna as the umbrella scheme for all government-aided schemes for the elderly.
The policy emphasises the need for developing formal and informal social support systems and strengthening the capacity of families to take care of older persons so that the latter may continue to live with their family.
The government has adopted an eclectic approach and introduced varied affirmative actions and age-friendly schemes and programmes to enhance the mental acuity, physical dexterity and social welfare and overall well being of senior citizens.
The government has been running more than 650 senior citizens homes spread across the country in various districts. These homes work towards improving the quality of life of indigent senior citizens by providing them basic amenities like shelter, food, medical care and entertainment. The government is set to inaugurate 75 new senior citizen homes to mark 75 years of independence through the ‘Azadi ka Amrut Mahotsav’ scheme.
Many youth leave their parents home to pursue professional opportunities. As per the 2011 census, 37% of Indians are not living where they were born. With this migration, many older people do not have family close by and there are unmet care needs. In order to bridge this gap, the government launched the National Helpline for Senior Citizens (ElderLine- 14567). At present, Elderline is functional across 30 states and UTs.
Senior citizens often face difficulty in finding jobs. In order to bridge this gap, the portal Senior Able Citizens for Re-employment in Dignity (SACRED) was launched on October 1, 2021.
For creating “one-stop access” for age-friendly products and services, Senior care Ageing Growth Engine (SAGE) portal was launched on October 1, 2021. In order to promote silver economy and startups developing products and services for senior citizens, the government supports through equity participation of up to ‘1 crore. In the financial year 2021-22, nine such companies were selected.
During Covid-19, the government launched 10 podcast stations for the involvement and home entertainment of older people. These are organised by older people themselves in local languages. For create a pool of skilled geriatric caregivers, various types of capacity building trainings are being organised year round in association with the National Institute of Social Defence.
Concerted government effort through these programmes are expected to enhance the well-being of senior citizens and contribute towards reducing inequalities in old age. It envisions a society in which senior citizens live a healthy, happy, empowered and self-reliant life along with strong social and inter-generational bonding.
(The writer is Union minister of social justice and empowerment)