The Assam Assembly has set a precedent for the country by passing a first-of-its-kind bill aptly titled PRAM. Once it gets the Governor’s nod, Assam Employees’ Parents Responsibility and Norms for Accountability and Monitoring Bill-2017 will become law. It will authorise the government to deduct 10 percent from the salary of an employee not taking care of aged parents; similarly, 5 percent of salary will be deducted for differently-abled siblings condemned to neglect. The deducted amounts will be paid into the bank accounts of uncared for parents or divyang siblings. State Fince Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has said that the idea is to make parental care compulsory for employees, in case neglected parents complain to the government. He has added that a similar bill for employees of public sector undertakings (PSUs) and private companies will also be introduced. And in what can be termed as knee-jerk opposition to a socially well-intentioned and progressive bill, the Congress has termed it an ‘interference’ in the private lives of government servants and ‘insult’ to Assamese society ‘which already has its tradition of taking care of aged parents and siblings’. Well, it may have been a tradition once, but things are a-changing, sadly for the worse. There is a distressing rise in the number of cases of aged parents turned out of home and left to fend for themselves on the streets, as highlighted often in media here. Good Samaritans and charitable organisations rescue them and seek to house them in old age care homes, but what is the number and quality of such shelters in the State?
The fact is that while there is a lot of chest-thumping in India over its ‘demographic dividend’ — with a comfortable 60 percent of its population in working age — it is not a cushion that will last for very long. As per revised UN projections for 2017, 9 percent of the country’s population is in the age group of 60 plus years. However, this percentage would rise to 19 percent in 2050 and 34 percent by the end of the century. Since India will also be the world’s most populated country in five years, its elderly citizens will figure in far too large numbers to have their problems swept under the carpet. So far, this has been exactly the case despite the country having a Central law since 2007 that makes it legally obligatory for children and heirs to provide regular monthly maintence for aged parents. When Parliament ected the Maintence and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, it was widely welcomed for seeking to provide a simpler and speedier mechanism for protection of life and property of senior citizens — after all, the legal redress available for senior citizens under Indian Pel Code was too cumbrous. But the law in 2007 too has been subsequently criticised for being hard to implement, that the country is still not ‘culturally ready’ where parents take their children to court for being neglected. Questions have been asked whether the government can simply put the onus on children for maintence. In a country where jobless growth has been the norm and there is little security of employment, children may be willing to care for old parents but lack the resources to do so. Can the government then absolve itself of all responsibility like providing for pensions and old age homes to senior citizens? To be fair, governments at the Centre have been following up with a tiol programme for health care of the elderly, precursors for old age pension, and setting up a welfare fund for senior citizens. But their impact has been margil so far.
The government focus remains on giving employment to the working age population and raising its productivity; political parties meanwhile are going for youth power in a big way. Senior citizens are beginning to figure less and less in this picture. In several States including Delhi and Kerala, it is the start-ups that are establishing old age homes, providing care, companionship and specialised services to the elderly. All these come at a cost, so well-heeled children working and living far away are in better position to avail of it. It is debatable how far the PRAM legislation actually succeeds on ground in improving the lot of neglected parents in a fincially lagging State like Assam, but the Assembly deserves kudos for bringing this sensitive issue firmly into public consciousness. In coming days, the State government will need to consider what more it can do to improve the lives of senior citizens. But it also requires all of us to introspect on the reality that most parents actually throw away a secure future by sacrificing for their children’s cause — running down retirement savings to put children through school and college, forking up stiff sums for tuition and coaching, getting them married off, and supporting them well into adulthood as they look for jobs and try to get settled. It is upon the young to consider how best to repay their parents. They can take on part of the burden for repaying educatiol loans immediately after getting employed. The same willingness can be shown to shoulder their marriage expenses. If their parents are not saving enough or investing profitably, their fincial portfolio can be rejigged to ensure better returns. Health insurance cover for parents can be arranged and a part of the premium paid by children. There are many options that can be explored, what matters is taking responsibility.