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National Conference on Ageing – Addressing the Issues and Problems of Senior Citizens

The first ever National Conference on Ageing was held by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment here today. Inaugurating the two day conference the Minister, Kumari Selja said “It gives me immense pleasure to be here at the National Conference on Ageing. During the course of this Conference, we will deliberate on important issues relating to senior citizens for further strengthening our efforts to strive for an inclusive society - a society that embraces all ages. Our Government believes that the interface between the State and the Social Institutions in the care of the elderly forms an important area of intervention and needs to be addressed comprehensively. 

It is a well-known fact that the 21st century is witnessing a gradual transition to an ageing society all over the world. Ageing poses twin challenges. First, we need to ensure care and protection of the elderly so that they can lead a healthy, dignified and productive life. Second, the older people must be looked upon as partners in progress rather than as a burden on the society, which is the case if their existence is seen from the prism of contribution to the GDP. 

As per the 2001 census, the total population of the Senior Citizens (60+) was 7.7 crore. This was composed of 3.8 crore males and 3.9 crore females. The population of the senior citizens thus constituted 7.5% of the total population in 2001. The final figures of the 2011 census on this subject are not out yet. However, as per the Report of the Technical Group on Population Projections, constituted by the National Commission on Population in May 2006,and published by the Office of the Registrar General of India, this figure is projected to go up to 12.40% of the population by 2026. The social implications of this demographic shift will be profound. 

The Government recognized the challenges posed by this demographic change quite some time ago. We have been taking various initiatives to ensure that the process of ageing for the people is both active and productive. The existing National Policy on Older Persons (NPOP) was announced in 1999. This envisages State support for the elderly to ensure financial and food security, health care, shelter, protection against abuse and exploitation, and training of human resources for their care and support etc. An important element of the policy is that it recognizes the need for special attention to vulnerable older persons, particularly the older women, and the need for expansion of social and community services for the older persons. The Policy is sensitive to the need for the development of a social support system, informal as well as formal, so that the capacity of families to take care of the older persons is strengthened and they continue to care for the older members in their family. 

The Policy places value on an age-integrated society and recognizes that the older persons, too, are a resource. The Policy seeks to assure the older persons that their concerns are national concerns and that they should not feel unprotected, ignored or marginalized. It aims to strengthen the legitimate place of older persons in the society and help them to live the last phase of their life with dignity and peace. 

An institutional mechanism has been put in place to monitor the implementation of the policy and to advise the Government in the formulation and implementation of programmes for the aged through a body called the National Council for Older Persons. This body has now been renamed as the National Council of Senior Citizens. 

More than twelve years have elapsed since the announcement of the National Policy on Older Persons, 1999. Keeping in view the changing demographics, socio-economic pattern and technological advances, the Government is considering a revision of this Policy. A draft of the new Policy has been prepared and is under discussion with the stakeholders to ensure the widest possible consultation. 

Giving legislative backing to the Policy, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act was enacted in 2007. This is a landmark legislation in our response to the challenges of ageing. The Act, inter alia, makes maintenance of parents and senior citizens by their children, and where there are no children, by their relatives, obligatory and justiciable through Tribunals. It empowers the senior citizens to revoke any transfer of property, which they may have made in favour of a relative, in case of negligence by such relatives. It contains penal provisions for the abandonment of senior citizens; it provides for the establishment of Old Age Homes for indigent senior citizens; and it also envisages protection of the life and property of senior citizens. 

This Act has to be brought into force by individual State Governments. The Act is not applicable to the State of Jammu & Kashmir, while Himachal Pradesh has its own Act. As per the information available with us, all the other State Governments and the Union Territory Administrations have brought the Act into force in their respective jurisdictions. However, the level of implementation of the Act by the States and the Union Territories does not seem to be either uniform or satisfactory. One possible reason for this could be the lack of adequate awareness about the provisions of the Act amongst the civil society in general, and the State Government functionaries in particular. This situation needs to be corrected. The State Governments and the Civil Society need to take a pro-active role in disseminating information about the various provisions of the Act, so that the people become aware of them. 

Today, we have invited the State Ministers for Social Welfare/Social Justice and the representatives from the concerned State Departments amongst us. I am confident that they would be sharing with us the manner in which the Act has been implemented in their respective States at the grass roots levels and what more needs to be done. The Governments and the civil society must join hands to ensure that this important legislation is implemented both in letter and spirit. 

In order to improve the quality of life of the older persons, the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment is implementing a flagship scheme called the Integrated Programme for Older Persons since 1992. This scheme seeks to provide basic amenities like shelter, food, medical care as well as entertainment opportunities to encourage productive and active ageing. Under the Scheme, financial assistance up to 90% is provided to Governments/Non-Governmental Organizations/Panchayati Raj Institutions/local bodies etc. The assistance is provided for running and maintaining Old Age Homes, Day Care Centres, Mobile Medicare Units, Day Care Centres for Alzheimer`s disease/dementia patients, Physiotherapy Clinics for older persons, sensitization programmes for children in schools and colleges; Regional Resource and Training Centres, etc. About 350 NGOs are being supported every year for running and maintaining around 550 projects under the Scheme. Keeping in view the rising cost of living, the cost norms of various projects under the Scheme are under revision. 

The demand for Caregivers for Older Persons has been increasing in the recent past. To cater to this requirement, the National Institute of Social Defence (NISD) is implementing a project called the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly. The main objective is to create a pool of skilled care givers, and to enhance the capabilities of service providers in the area of old age care. The Institute conducts One-Year Post-Graduate Diploma Courses on Integrated Geriatric Care, Six-Months Certificate Courses on Geriatric Care and One-Month Basic Courses on Geriatric Care. Besides, the Institute also collaborates with reputed institutions and organizations for running short term training programmes for caregivers. 

Various Central Ministries and Departments of the Government of India are also implementing a number of welfare programmes for the senior citizens. A few of these schemes are the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, which is being implemented by the Ministry of Rural Development; the National Programme for the Health Care for the Elderly, which is being implemented by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare; the income tax benefits, which are being extended by the Ministry of Finance; the rail fare concessions which are being extended by the Ministry of Railways; the air fare concessions which are being extended by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Further, the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued an advisory to the State Governments in 2005 to ensure that the life and property of senior citizens is fully protected. There are other schemes for the older persons which are also being run by the Central Government through various Ministries. I am sanguine that as a result of the deliberations of this Conference, some more schemes may get added to the basket of schemes that already exists for the older persons. 

In conclusion, I wish to reiterate that the problems relating to ageing pose serious challenges which need to be addressed on an urgent basis. The main problems faced by the senior citizens in the country are protection of their life and property, financial security, health care, protection against ill-treatment, productive engagement and care and support. The objectives of this Conference are to sensitize all stakeholders on the issues pertaining to ageing, review the various interventions of the Central Government and assess what more needs to be done. The State Governments, the UT Administrations as well as the NGOs and the Civil Society need to share the best practices and to draw up suitable recommendations for more effective implementation of the various programmes for the welfare of senior citizens”. 

Present on the Conference were States Ministers of Social Welfare/Social Justice, Shri Anil Goswami, Secretary, Shri Anoop Kumar Srivastava, Additional Secretary, Shri T. R. Meena, Joint Secretary, Representatives from International Agencies, Representatives from Central Ministries and Departments, NGOs, Eminent Senior Citizens and officials of the Ministry and the National Institute of Social Defence. 

Source : Press Information Bureau


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