India has often been called a young country and in living up to that touted phrase, we ignore the presence, struggles and lives of the aging populace. Dependency due to debilities, lack of awareness and financial dependence create a negative spiral. While states take up independent measures alongside Central schemes and policies like PM Vaya Vandana Scheme, National Old Age Pension Scheme and more, loopholes in terms of bridging the gender divide, digital literacy and access and abuse prevent adequate success.
Against this backdrop of a vortex of issues, the pandemic has only exacerbated the problems where cases of abject poverty, neglect and denial of medical attention came up. According to National Statistical Office’s Elderly in India Report 2021, India’s elderly population is projected to rise 41% over the next decade. The dependency ratio is also rising and a huge gender gap is seen in terms of literacy, with only 28% female elderly literate as against 59 % males. In rural areas, this divide is still higher.
To identify and assure a dignified life is an important area that is gradually being addressed through policy interventions and civil society action. Recognising this gap in delivery of social justice, the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Science & Technology; Minister of State (Independent Charge) Earth Sciences; MoS PMO, Personnel, Public Grievances, Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space, Dr. Jitendra Singh recently launched a unique Face Recognition Technology for Pensioners, stating that it would bring in ease of living for the retired and elderly citizens. This technology that expedites granting of Life Certificate has far-reaching benefits not just for the 68 Lakh Central government pensioners but also those of the states, Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation and more. The technology for the Department of Pension & Pensioners’ Welfare was devised by the National Infomatics Center (NIC), the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology as well as UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India). Prior to this, the elderly citizens had to circumvent hassles of travel, physical mobility and more. With the facial recognition technology, life has considerably become easier while larger questions are being continually taken up.
The Prime Minister has lauded the efforts of this Department in valuing the lives of the aged and the retired not just through this pathbreaking initiative but even during the pandemic, enabling sanctions of pensions. Other moves that have made ripples beyond the Digital life certificate include the software, “Bhavishya” that intelligently processes pension cases, the move towards issuing electronic PPOs and linking it up with the Digilocker have made the processes easier and more transparent for the aged sections of the society. E-booklets for awareness and campaigns being run on social media parallelly drive changes and conversations. The Department has further created a resource base portal called “Anubhav” chronicling the experience of retired officials. Pension adalats and the recently introduced Digital adalats through video-conferencing have made life easier for this section of our society.
The Department had further started registering Pensioners’ Associations in different cities with 46 registered associations, spreading awareness at the grassroots about Pension policy reforms, bringing out NPS service-related rules as well as gratuity rules for officials covered under the NPS. The herculean task of review and rationalisation of CCS(Pension) Rules, 1972 is currently underway and its findings are to be released soon.
While there are pressing issues yet to be checked, this move is promising in terms of the sheer commitment it showcases in recognising and valuing the lives of the elderly in the Indian society. Over and above the moves of the Government, the general ecosystem must also improve to ensure that they lead dignified and secure lives, while attempting to shift the narrative that would push people to retire from active life, enabling conversations to contribute through their ideas and experiences.