South Bengal State Transport Corporation, the state-owned passenger transport major, finally has terminated the controversial agency’s contract, accused of siphoning Rs 7.19cr from its e-ticketing system since 2014.
It is ironical that two reports in yesterday’s editions should have focused on separate aspects of the problems of the elderly in these troubled times. The first described a laudable initiative in Kolkata to take care of senior citizens who have been left on their own by serial lockdowns.
The second, a report published in Delhi, described the murder of a senior citizen, the second such incident in two days, while resisting robbers. The previous day, the 88-year-old wife of a retired official of the Ministry of External Affairs, was robbed and murdered.
As India’s elderly struggle to cope with the severe restrictions placed especially on them by the Covid-19 upsurge, and the enhanced risk of mortality that has frightened them into seclusion, not enough attention appears to have been given to their special circumstances and needs. It is not enough to say that those above 65 should not venture out of their homes.
Many elderly people live by themselves, with children having migrated either within the country or overseas. They do not have easy access to their finances; for while they may have found it possible to visit their bank or the nearest ATM in the past, they cannot do so now.
They may lack the skills required to order groceries and other essentials online, and would likely be the most vulnerable victims of the unavailability of domestic help, either because workers have migrated to their villages or find it difficult to commute.
Without discounting the presence of Good Samaritans, of whom there are many in every community, elderly persons are also most at risk from scamsters, thieves, robbers and murderers, as incidents in Delhi and elsewhere demonstrate. Recent data suggests that one of two elderly persons (49 per cent) lives only with his or her spouse.
Most have co-morbidities that could make a Covid infection fatal. Anxiety about their fate could accentuate some conditions and make the elderly even more vulnerable. Access to medical advice is more difficult than before. Even keeping prescriptions filled poses a challenge and the routine pathological tests that many require are not so easily available.
A beleaguered government struggling to cope with medical challenges posed by the epidemic, the downturn in the economy and the widely publicised plight of migrant workers, has little time to focus its attentions on elderly citizens. As is often the case, while the poor and the very rich find ways to cope, it is the middle-class that is left to its fate.
In 2007, the Government piously enacted the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act making it mandatory for children to provide maintenance and welfare facilities. But the legislation, besides bringing little change in the situation also did not clearly delineate the State’s responsibility towards elderly citizens.
These shortcomings are now becoming evident. In the absence of specific initiatives by state governments, it is important that society comes to their aid. For if there is one section of people that needs help, it is the elderly.