Revering Senior Citizens
Hira Bahadur Thapa
Finally, the Government of Nepal has decided to respect the senior citizens, who had been compelled to stage demonstrations to draw its attention to their plight and provide them relief in the form of concessions while travelling by bus or while undergoing medical treatment at discounted rates in selected hospitals in Kathmandu.
The exact data of the senior citizens in the country is not available, albeit the number of such people is on the rise due to improved living standards, which has expanded their life span. The poverty level of the country may not have gone down as claimed by the concerned agencies of the government, but still the average life span of the Nepalese has widened because the rural folk have also been able to earn better comparatively due to foreign employment. We have been better off than our parents in terms of our access to education and other beneficial opportunities.
For long, the government was confused about the right age at which one could be considered a senior citizen. In terms of providing old age allowances there is a separate regulation determining the age of the recipients of such financial support. These regulations differentiate between males and females, and apparently this has been practised considering the difference of longevity enjoyed by men and women in Nepal. Males are living longer than their female counterparts as the government-released data reveal.
Senior citizens, as defined by the latest related Act, are those who have completed 60 years of age. Based on this provision all those who were born before 2013 B.S. would be eligible for receiving the Senior Citizen Identity Cards now being distributed among them throughout the country in the concerned district offices of Women and Children Development.
This scribe was one of those lucky senior citizens, who having learnt about the distribution of the above mentioned identity card, rushed to the Dilli Bazaar (the office is located in the area between Ghatte Kulo and Pipal Bot, Dilli Bazaar) office of Women and Children Development and enquired about the requirements. The lady present at the office on the ground floor (all documents are screened and cards are distributed on this floor for the benefit of senior citizens, who are generally physically weak) was very frank and courteous in answering my queries, and she assured me that I would be issued the card the next day if I could present a photocopy of my citizenship certificate and two auto size photographs backed by one application.
Accordingly, I went to the office and presented the necessary documents, and amazingly they handed me a Senior Citizen Identity Card within half an hour. There was no crowd as we had just started applying for the cards though the distribution had understandably begun a few months back. Delivering the card, the office lady also informed me that there would be some changes in the contents of the card in the near future, and I am curious to know what they are.
As one of the possessors of the card, I have a few suggestions, which if implemented (in my opinion these are doable) can make huge improvements that would better facilitate the services due to the card holders.
- Let the card be printed, not hand-written, similar to the former civil servants’ identity cards, with an English version of the useful contents so that we could be favourably treated abroad as well, especially in India, where majority of the senior citizens prefer to take pilgrimage.
- The card must not miss the address, telephone and name of the person to be informed of should an emergency occur to the senior citizen, many of whom are under one or other form of medication.
- As mentioned above, the card’s quality has to be as good as that of the retired civil servant’s identity card, which also mentions the citizenship certificate number and is technology-friendly (which could be swiped for verification as machine readable passports).
- As I peruse the current card, I find that there are contents which, though necessary, are not duly filled up either due to non-availability of information or negligence on the part of the office-bearers. The needed information can be collected from the applicants while they submit an application, asking them to give the details to the extent possible. There may be exceptions, but not all senior citizens are incapable of furnishing the details.
- More importantly, the provision of facility extendable to the card holders is incomplete, and the language is vague subject to varied interpretations. For example, under the title of discount and facilities, it mentions medical treatment and transportation, and this has caused confusion among the transport entrepreneurs, who are traditionally against giving concessions to the passengers in the Nepalese context, where the bus syndicate has become a malaise. Let it be clearly written that there is a 50% discount in medical treatment and transportation.
The above are not the only measures to improve the card, but as time passes and we face new problems, policy makers would be required to be open to new suggestions.
I have not been constrained to approach hospitals for giving me discount in treatment owing to God’s grace, but I am a very frequent traveller on the bus from Kathmandu to Kusma in west Nepal almost monthly, and the last time I bought a ticket on that route was just a fortnight ago after possessing the senior citizen identity card.
I as a law-abiding citizen of this country produced my card while purchasing the bus ticket, and reluctantly they agreed to give me a discount but not as much I was entitled to. Upon my resistance, they finally charged me only half of the bus fare.
Surprisingly, while returning from Kusma to Kathmandu on Baisakh 18 (April 30), the employee of Bus Transportation Entrepreneurs, Parbat flatly refused to offer me discounted fare, explaining that their organisation has not implemented the government decision.
When I showed them the bus ticket from Kathmandu to Kusma that displayed the discounted fare, I got the facility, but only after a long heated argument. How many of us can pick up a legal fight with rude employees of the transportation sector? The government has the moral obligation to get its decision implemented.
Therefore, I humbly appeal to the government to give necessary directions to the concerned agencies, the traffic police in particular, so that the senior citizens are not deprived of their rights when travelling by bus within Nepal.