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Fair deal for aged & active

- Hidco’s Senior Citizen Mela

Retirement needn’t mean retiring from work. A Hidco-organised Senior Citizen Mela at New Town over the weekend aims to show how a second career beckons anyone above 60 and eager to be active and independent.

The four-day fair comes on the heels of a UN study in seven states that found elderly citizens in Bengal more financially dependent on others than their peers elsewhere.

The fair starting this Friday at Rabindra Tirtha, near Hidco Bhavan on Rajarhat Main Road, will include workshops to guide retired people towards gainful employment avenues such as catering from home, writing and publishing, handicrafts or even turning a vacant house into a home-stay facility.

The idea of organising an event exclusively for senior citizens apparently emerged from the response to previous fairs in New Town. “We found previous fairs teeming with elderly people. Salt Lake and New Town have a considerable population of elderly people who frequent these fairs,” said Debashis Sen, the chairman of Hidco.

There will also be sessions on how to deal with problems elderly people face. A battery of lawyers from Fox and Mandal, a legal firm that has been in business since 1896, will conduct a session to raise awareness about legal matters among the elderly. The team will focus on inheritance and succession laws in India, land-related legal problems and the salient features of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act.

“We will also talk about e-services that the elderly can use to avoid standing in long queues,” said Suman Mukhopadhyay, a lawyer with Fox and Mandal.

The National Insurance Company will hold a session on how to manage finances and highlight special offers that financial companies offer to senior citizens.

“Our fair aims to help retired people stay active through employment. Retired people starting to earn again could also contribute to GDP growth,” a Hidco official said. “Many of us have parents who are excellent cooks or make beautiful handicrafts. They can use this talent to earn after retirement.”

One of the proposed sessions is on home tourism, which should be of interest to elderly people who live in large houses and have rooms to spare.

“These rooms can be done up and rented out to tourists who want to enjoy the feel of the city, distinct from the four walls of a plush hotel room. Our session will be on how to run a background check on a potential guest and register with travel agencies for business,” the Hidco official said.

A 70-something resident of Salt Lake said any opportunity to be active and earn an income was welcome. “There are not many options for elderly people. We mostly spend time in the house or meet people of our age for a chat,” he said.

Metro has been highlighting how the exodus of young Calcuttans in the absence of employment opportunities at home has left the city’s elderly population lonely, vulnerable and in need of a support system.

According to the Report on the Status of Elderly in Select States of India, 2011, and the Status of Elderly in West Bengal, 2011, 59.8 per cent of the people surveyed in Bengal were found to be fully dependent on others, the highest among the seven states surveyed.

The United Nations Population Fund had conducted the survey in collaboration with the Institute for Social and Economic Change in Bangalore, the Institute for Economic Growth in Delhi and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai.

The survey also revealed that 47.4 per cent of the respondents in Bengal had no income. The corresponding figure is 32.5 per cent in Punjab and 39.6 per cent in Kerala. Research teams had interviewed 9,852 people across seven states to come up with the reports.

Apart from organising the Senior Citizen Mela, Hidco is building a Seniors’ Park in New Town for the elderly. It will have walkways with railings.

Mumbai has some parks designed for elderly people. Three of them are called Nana-Nani Park, all run by a private trust. “We provide tea free of cost and keep newspapers that the elderly can read when they visit our park. We also hold regular medical check-up camps,” said an official of the trust.

In Calcutta, Pronam is the most sought-after support group among the elderly and alone. This joint initiative by Calcutta police and The Bengal had stopped taking members in December but lifted the freeze within days of Metro highlighting the disappointment of those denied membership.