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Delhi deaf to needs of aged

New Delhi, Sept. 8: The Centre is refusing to heed repeated petitions for assistance by the Indian Association of Retired Persons, a Calcutta-based organisation that is trying to put in place a support system for the elderly.

The association’s move assumes significance as, at more than 18 million, India’s population of those above 65 years of age exceeds the total population of many European countries. The association, which has a membership of 3,000, has recently set up branches in Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad and plans to make a beginning in Delhi.

The organisation has a shoestring budget with no help from policymakers at the Centre. The ministry of social justice, despite its public commitments, has shown no signs of taking up the concerns of the elderly seriously. Even association president Sisir Dutta’s letter to the Prime Minister has failed to bear any fruit.

The letter written two years ago highlighted the national policy for senior citizens introduced by the Centre in 1997. “It would be wonderful if the unfinished agenda is completed under your inspiring leadership,” he had written.

A National Council for Older Persons was set up in 1999. “The then minister for social justice, Maneka Gandhi, called us to Delhi. But then the issue got bogged down in red tape. Aadhar, a voluntary organisation, was given charge of administrative matters,” said Dutta.

“Since then we have made several attempts to activate the council and Aadhar. But all our letters have gone unanswered,” he added.

The association has approached all political parties, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, to include the concerns facing senior citizens in their election manifestos. “Our political parties, unlike in the West where senior citizens are taken as an active votebank, are ignoring the old,” says the association.

As Union social justice minister, Maneka Gandhi put up a proposal for old-age social income security and sent it to the commerce ministry which “lost” the file, points out Dutta. When the ministry found it a couple of year later, the proposal was sent to the finance ministry where it received a quiet burial. By then the social justice ministry has changed hands and the association kept knocking on doors that refused to open.

Aadhar, the organisation that could have played a part in activating the council for the elderly, according to Dutta, has a “large budget” and, therefore, the financial means to deliver.

The association requested the social justice ministry to hold quarterly meetings. However, since the council for the elderly was set up three years ago, only one meeting was held.

The association demands that a compulsory social security tax be imposed.

“The young should pay for the wellbeing of the elderly,” says Dutta.

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