The statements below are excerpts from the introduction of the ‘State Policy for Senior citizens’ published on the website of the Social Justice Department of Kerala.
‘The elderly population in Kerala is a fast growing phenomenon compared to other Indian states. The number of senior citizens above 60 years of age in the state during the last decade has shot up. It was 5.83 per cent of the total population in 1961, 8.81 per cent in 1991 and 9.79 per cent in 2001. The percentage has become 12.83 in 2011 and will be 16.63 per cent and 20 per cent in 2021 and 2026 respectively. That is, the rate of increase in the elderly population will be double in 25 years’.
Several discourses and studies have taken place across the world as part of the World Population Day observed on July 11 related to the subject. But the huge upsurge in the ratio of the senior citizens is something that should be seen with utmost seriousness during any discussion held in Kerala related to population. The state Social Welfare Department has acknowledged the gravity of the matter at least in theory. That is what is comprehended when one reads the state policy for senior citizens. At the same time, whether we are carrying out the necessary groundwork to overcome the social and economic repercussions it creates, should be contemplated seriously.
Persons above sixty years of age are technically considered as senior citizens. The elderly fall into an age category that has the least or zero productivity. Alongside, those belonging to this age group also require the assistance and support of others for their own survival. That is, economically speaking, a huge amount of money has to be spent on a section that lacks productivity. The budget share for welfare programs and health care facilities for the senior citizens will have to be increased according to the surge in their ratio. Since this will affect the economic planning and development, experts see it as an unhealthy population phenomenon. Increased lifespan as a result of modernization of health care facilities as well as their advancement is an important factor in the surge of ratio of senior citizens. At the same time, a widespread reduction in the number of children is the main reason for the imbalanced upsurge in the ratio of the aged population. It’s believed that the number of senior citizens will soon surpass that of children between 0-6 years of age in the state. It would then be an extremely imbalanced population phenomenon. The latest census reports show that there has been a reduction of 8.44 per cent in the number of children in the state. This trend is most likely to increase grow in coming times.
The protection of the elderly and the number of children lie interconnected. It is related to the natural and biological care and protection of the aged. That is, if there are children and grandchildren at home, an ambience that provides mental happiness and physical support to the elderly exists. However, when the number of children is less or they get settled far away or abroad for the sake of employment, they lose this potential care and protection. The potential support ratio (PSR) received by a senior citizen is very significant in population studies. Kerala has the lowest PSR in India. It’s because of this fact that Kerala turned into a state with the highest number of old age homes in the country. A reduction in the potential support ratio means that the government will have to spend a huge amount for the care and protection of the elderly. That is, setting up old age homes and managing their functioning will require the same attention and diligence on part of the government, as in the case of establishing anganwadis and schools for children. The protection of the elderly would have to be considered as part of the curriculum. The required human resource would have to be arranged for functioning in the field. With all said and done, protection of senior citizens is not an area that could be neglected. The demand will only be much higher for Kerala in future. Is the government vigilant in foreseeing these various aspects and initiating the required planning measures?