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With nearly 90 million people in the ranks of senior citizens in India, the government is looking at a policy for them that involves creation of geriatric wards in all hospitals and a statutory body with the powers of a judicial court to deal with matters related to the elderly.

‘A National Commission for Elderly should be created which will be a statutory body with powers of judicial court and authority to summon individuals. People can’t keep knocking on the doors of the ministry (of social and justice and empowerment),’ Mohini Giri, chairperson of the committee to review the National Policy for Old Persons (NPOP), told IANS.

She said the committee would also recommend the creation of geriatric wards with at least 10 beds in all hospitals in the country and giving specialised training to the police for care of senior citizens.

The population of the elderly has been growing in the country and the government in 1999 announced the setting up of NPOP to affirm its commitment for the well-being of senior citizens.

According to the 2001 census, the number of senior citizens (60 and above) in the country was 7.9 crore (79 mn) – 7.5 percent of the population – and the number is slated to grow substantially in the coming years with better quality of life and better medical services at least in the urban areas.

A study by the National Commission on Population projects that senior citizens will comprise 8.3 percent of the population by 2011, 9.3 percent by 2016, 10.7 percent by 2021 and 12.40 percent by 2026.

The review committee, constituted in January this year by the social justice and empowerment ministry, has been asked to draft a new policy for the old people in view of India’s emerging demographic, socio-economic and technology trends and assess the implementation of NPOP. The panel was given a six-month extension in May.

Giri, who has been a social activist for over four decades, said that NPOP was a well-intentioned policy, but its implementation had been lackadaisical.

‘The policy has not filtered down to the masses,’ she said, adding that healthcare and security were two major issues concerning the elderly.

‘Insurance agencies do not insure senior citizens citing one or more diseases they may have…The senior citizens are afraid even to go to police for fear that the information may be leaked. The police should be given geriatric training to know how to respond to a particular problem,’ she said.

Citing the example of Lotika Sarkar, a former professor of Delhi University’s law faculty who at 87 went through a legal battle to get custody of her own house following a controversial gift deed, Giri said people in old age become vulnerable to anyone who offers them help and their property should be safeguarded.

‘She (Lotika Sarkar) was my role model. I learnt law from her. It happened to her after all that knowledge,’ she said.

Giri, who heads the Guild of Service, an NGO working for the welfare of women, said society also has to play its role in ensuring the well-being of senior citizens.

Giri said she had formed four sub-committees on issues concerning the elderly and intends to submit the report to the government by October. The subcommittees have been asked to look into the issues concerning people over 80, security and health concerns of the elderly and issues relating to women.

She said the committee will have regional meetings and a national meeting later to give final shape to the recommendations.

Disagreeing with certain provisions of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, she said parents were extremely reluctant to complain against their children.

Wondering how many hospitals in the country had geriatric sections, she said the government has to find ways to take healthcare to the door step of the elderly. Giri said medical colleges should give importance to geriatrics as a branch of study.

She said the elderly in rural areas had lesser access to health facilities and the government should hold more medical camps.

Apart from activists and civil society members, the review committee includes officials from ministries of rural development, health and family welfare, finance, home and women and child development. It also has secretaries in charge of welfare of senior citizens from some states as members.

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