Uniform age across sectors for 'senior citizen' tag

NEW DELHI: The Centre unveiled its plan in the Supreme Court on Wednesday to replace a nearly two-decade old `national policy on older persons' with new norms that will keep the age uniform across sectors for persons to be counted as senior citizens to avail benefits under the government's social welfare schemes.

At present, the insurance sector recognises persons over 65 years as senior citizens, the railways offers con cessional tickets to men above 60 years and women over 58 years, income tax exemptions apply differently to persons over 60 years and 80 years, and old age pension is given at the rate of Rs 200 per month to those over 60 years and Rs 500 to those above 80 years.

Responding to a petition by former law minister Ashwani Kumar for all-round ameliorative measures for senior citi zens, additional solicitor general Pinky Anand informed a bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Abdul Nazeer that "as per departmental action plan on recommendations of group of secretaries, uniform adoption of age criteria for benefits to senior citizens (airlines, state governments, insurance companies, etc) is under consideration".

"The ministry of social justice and empowerment is in the process of suitably revising the National Policy on Older Persons, 1999, keeping in view the changing demographic pattern, socio-economic needs of senior citizens, social value system and advancement in the field of science and technology over the last decade and bringing out a National Policy for Senior Citizens," Anand said.

Importantly , the Centre said it was working on a mechanism to regulate home care services for elderly being offered by various private firms."Rating of organizations providing home care services is under consideration, as is the creation of regulatory mechanism to prescribe standards for establishing and providing quality services for senior ci tizens. The rating of facilities provided by home care services to senior citizens would enable them to make informed choices," she said.

Kumar alleged that successive governments have been planning and formulating schemes but nothing has reached the needy , who in the sunset years were leading a life in abject neglect and suffering."There are not even enough old age homes in the states," he said. The bench sought a status report on number of old age homes in states from the Centre and states.

The Centre said it was giving pension to over 55.5 lakh retired central government employees to help them lead a life with dignity . It said retired defence personnel constituted the bulk of them at 25 lakh, number of retired railways pensioners stood at 14.34 lakh, while retired civil pensioners were over 10.18 lakh.

Amicus curiae, NGO "Helpage India", requested the court to direct the Centre to increase the monthly old age pension from Rs 200 to Rs 2,000 as the present pension mocked the dignity of senior citizens. It said the increase could cost the government Rs 91,776 crore annually.

"There needs to be at least one old age home in each of the 707 districts to be able to house 1,06,050 older indigent persons. But, according to a WHO study , there will be 3,53,500 older indigent persons requiring high-level care and this will require at least four old age homes per district," it said.

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