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Politics & Policy

Senior Citizens' Task Force


Politics & Piolicy 
Information Technology

It is really commendable that the present government has realized this social problem

From Shamim Ahmed Rizvi, Islamabad
Oct 09 - 15, 2000

To coincide with the UN Day of Elderly, observed on Oct. 1 throughout the world, Federal Minister for Social Welfare, Dr. Attiya Inayatullah has announced setting up of the Senior Citizens' Task Force to process various measures for the welfare of the aged people. Dr. Attiya briefed newsmen in Islamabad about the welfare package for the elderly, approved earlier at a meeting chaired by Chief Executive Gen. Pervez Musharraf which, inter alia, includes a senior Citizens' Talent Pool and Placement Service at the Federal, Provincial and District levels. A special Identity Card will also be issued to the senior citizens for their free admission to and use of public parks, museums and libraries. AGPR is being directed to prepare pension papers of government servants one month before their retirement, besides simplification of the pension process through computerisation.

The culture

We often boast of our eastern culture and its value system in which a lot of respect and affection is given to the elderly. We criticize the West for its practice of dumping senior citizens in old people's homes. But it is a fact that while in western societies the family system has little place for the old, they are provided many facilities and securities by the state. They are given discounts in travel and shopping. There are special seats and counters for them in public offices and places. They also have easy access to medical facilities. In short, they are made to feel valued — if not wanted — by the system.

Here, the elderly, despite being revered and respected in a family unit, do not have much to fall back on outside it. There are no state-sponsored facilities and advantages for them. They are at the mercy of their immediate families and are totally vulnerable when they are thrown out of this protective net. There are hardly any public institution for taking care of them, and the few that exists are dysfunctional.

It is really commendable that the present government has realized this social problem and initiated some action in this direction as announced by the Minister for Social Welfare.

A positive step

The measures approved by the Government certainly represent a positive step for the welfare of the senior citizens, who are often not treated fairly in the society after retirement. The setting up of the senior Citizens Task Force with the assignment to process various measures for the welfare of the aged persons is also a welcome development. It is, however, hoped that the Task Force will evaluate their problems with particular reference to the social and financial difficulties of the senior citizens and recommend suitable measures to obviate them. Health care is also the major problem at the old age. The Task Force will hopefully look into the problems comprehensively and come up with proposals to address them in line with the principles of social security. It is also good to provide special Identity Cards to the senior citizens, but the concessions, being contemplated therewith, are too meagre to be of any significant help to them. Facility of free access to the libraries or parks is simply amusing.

However the most serious problem being faced by the elderly retired people has escaped the attention of the government. That is the financial difficulties being faced by the senior citizens living on their savings and commuted pensions. The present government which has very rightly taken up the cause of senior citizens should also realise that its policies during the last one year has multiplied the financial difficulties of the retired senior citizens specially those who have served this nation honestly. Hundred of thousand such retired old people are living on the profits of their commuted pension and life long savings invested in government saving schemes. During the last six months the rate of profits on small savings have been reduced (in two instalments) by about 25 per cent from 17/18 to 12/13 per cent. As a result these people have been subjected to untold miseries as their income has fallen by about 25 per cent. While the cost of living particularly the cost of utilities like electricity, gas etc. are constantly on the rise.

If the government is really keen to do something for the welfare of the elderly people, it should first concentrate on their economic welfare. Even in our culture and social values only those people are revered and shown due respect in the joint family system who are financially independents. If they are a financial burden on their sons and daughters, in most of the cases, they slowly loose that reverence and respect.

Withholding tax

The task force should give top priority to this aspect. Besides increasing their pensions along with rise in salaries of serving officials they should at least be exempted from payment of withholding tax on the profits they earn on their savings. Even otherwise there seem no justification for tax deduction on profit of commutted pension invested. The facilities like free admission to public park and liberaries can be availed when senior citizens are free from worries of two proper meals a day.