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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 49, November 27, 2010

Improved Longevity in India: A Challenge

Wednesday 1 December 2010

by Monica Munjal And Poonam Kaushik

It is a universal phenomenon for a person to grow older. However, changes in demographic structure in the last century have altered the picture of the ageing population. The world’s population has gone on a changeover course of increased life expectancy and lowered fertility. The number of children is no longer increasing as rapidly as the older population continues to grow. The age-structure of the population has changed. There is growth in the number and proportion of old people. This results in the need for caring the aged population.

India: An Ageing Country

INDIA is a large country in terms of both popu-lation as well as area. One of the triumphs of our country in the last century has been decreased mortality resulting in a long life. The elderly population of India, that is, those people who are at least 60 years old, has blown from 12 million in 1901 to 76 million in 2001 and is predicted to be 137 million in 2021. Today India is home for one out of every ten old people in the world.

According to the United Nations definition, any country is labelled as ‘ageing’ if the percen-tage of old people (more than 60 years old) living in that country is equal to or more than seven per cent. In the case of India, we are already far ahead of this figure with India being placed second in the list of countries with the highest aged population. By 2025 India’s old population is likely to reach 12.6 per cent of its total population. So, in terms of the United Nations terminology, India is already an ‘ageing’ country.

This rapid increase in the aged population is one of the major challenges being faced by our country. The scenario in India is different from other countries as 90 per cent of the working class forms part of the informal sector in our country and lacks the provision of security provided by pension and other post-retirement reimbursements. Also, due to more increase in life-expectancy there are more women compared to men in the aged category.

Earlier in our country there was prevalence of a joint family culture and older family members were taken care of within the family itself. Now in the changed social scene with nuclear families coming up, the aged have become more isolated and deprived. The traditional Indian family system taught respect and assigned an important role for the elderly in the family. However, now the changing life- style in today’s modernised society has changed the scenario.

Old-age Homes

OLD-AGE HOMEs are meant for senior citizens who are destitute or who have nowhere to go. They are mostly free for the old people and in few homes admission is made on payment basis. Old-age homes may be necessary in the present- day scenario but they should not be considered as the first option.

Government’s Efforts

ALREADY our government is putting in efforts to support the aged. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is working in the direction of right to live with dignity for our senior citizens. The government supports different programmes and schemes on this scene.

Policies/Schemes

THE old-age security programme is vital to take care of the elderly. Various steps have been initiated for the overall welfare of the senior citizens. The government came out with the National Policy for Older Persons in 1999, National Old Age Pension Scheme, Older Persons (Maintenance, Care and Protection) Bill 2005, Maintenance of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill 2007 to enlist a few of them.

All State Governments and Union Territories have their own schemes for old-age pension. There are many concessions and benefits available for senior citizens in our country. For instance, concession in travel fare for air/rail journey, income tax rebate etc.

There are many other concessions and benefits for the less privileged elders, for example, the ‘Annapurna’ scheme which aims at providing food security to senior citizens who have no income of their own and no one to take care of them in their village. The scheme is intended to provide ten kg of foodgrains per month free of cost to all indigent senior citizens who are eligible for old-age pension but are presently not receiving it and whose children are not residing in the same village.

Role of NGOs

PRESENTLY many NGOs are working in the direction of providing various services like old- age homes, day-care centres, mobile medical units etc. for the elderly in our society. These NGOs receive grants-in-aid from various sources and participate voluntarily to meet the needs of the older generation. They play a crucial role in providing support to the old people.

Role of Younger Generation

IN the Indian context the family support system is essential in providing old-age care to the elderly. Modernisation and globalisation have changed the scenario now. However, the younger population must be guided to follow old norms and cultural values in relation to giving respect and due importance to their parents as the family is still the most important unit of our lives.

REFERENCES

1. http://www.developments.org.uk/articles/india-facing-an-ageing-population/

2. http://www.harmonyindia.org/

3. Martin, Kavita, For the Welfare of Elders, Press Information Bureau, Government of India.

4. Mohapatra, Susmita, “Population Ageing: An Overview”, Viewpoint, August-December 2004.

Dr Monica Munjal is a Senior Research Fellow and Ms Poonam Kaushik is a Research Fellow at the Population Research Centre, Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), Chandigarh.

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