While some states kick off celebrations for senior citizens’ week today, our home state is out saving a pretty penny by propping up 65 as the age that affirms senior citizenship, thus excusing itself from having to contribute toward concessions and allowances for citizens aged 60 and above.
The Maharashtra cabinet yesterday cleared a policy declaring that those who are 65 years of age will be treated as senior citizens. The definition saves the state the trouble to extend the same consideration to people aged 60 years - age limit the Centre adopts for doling out benefits.
The decision comes at a time, say sources in the cash-strapped Democratic Front government, when the state is unable to make financial provisions, across various sectors from transport to health, for people above 60 years.
Currently, the state foots a subsidy bill of Rs 350 crore redounding from the travel concession Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) accords to senior citizens.
While the state was chewing on the proposal to include those above 60 in the senior citizens’ category, the MSRTC demanded Rs 700 crore for the benefits it would have to hand out to an additional segment of the population.
The state, believe it, doesn’t have this kind of money to spare. On a fiscal leash, the state had to drop the proposal, said a senior government functionary.
A senior government official said, “The state was in no position to make an additional provision of Rs 350 crore to reimburse the MSRTC, which offers 50 per cent concession to ST bus commuters above 65 years of age. It’s an irony that the railways can offer 40 per cent concession to passengers above 60 years of age, but the state cannot extend the same privilege to commuters of this age.”
Another official pointed out, “The state could not even ask the BEST to give discounted tickets to the elderly in its buses. Currently, the transport body allows senior citizens to board buses from front doors and reserves two seats at the front for them.”
Similarly, when the public health department was asked whether senior citizens could get treatment at concessional rates in hospitals run by charitable trusts, no positive response was forthcoming.
There had once been the opinion that the government should bear 50 per cent of the expenditure incurred by senior citizens at such hospitals. But, for want of funds, it has now decided to appeal to private and philanthropic hospitals and doctors to offer 50 per cent concessions to seniors. This, obviously, is not binding on them.
The policy file on expenditure-related issues did the rounds, from one department to another, for the last seven years. “Each department raised its own bunch of queries about the financial burden and sought additional budgetary provisions, which could not be made due to financial constraints,” the official said.
Rs 350 cr
Money state wasn’t willing to spend on extending senior citizens’ benefits to people at 60
Rs 1 cr
No of citizens in the state who are 60 years of age and above (2011 Census; 47 % male)
The senior citizen policy, announced by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan at a cabinet meeting on Monday, is part two of the comprehensive policy. Part one, which dealt with matters not relating to expenditure, was announced by the state in 2004. “The Congress-led state government took nine years to announce the expenditure-realted aspect of the senior citizen policy, but it only contains guidelines and advisories for the departments concerned,” said a government official.