Senior Citizens’ Plight : Hira Bahadur Thapa
As the country advances in development with increasing opportunities in areas like health and education, the population of senior citizens goes up. This has been a trend all over the world. Nepal’s population of this group has been on the rise, which indicates that life expectancy of the Nepali people has gone up.
Seen against the progress made by the Nepal government in achieving the UN Millennium Goals (2000-15), our records in the area of health, maternal health in particular, is considered worthy of mention compared to many other developing countries in Asia and Africa.
Senior citizens have been defined differently for various purposes. The government has made provision for old age allowance, and to be eligible for the privilege, one (if the person is a male) has to be 70 years or older. But for the concessional fares in public conveyances like buses and taxis, anyone who has completed 60 years is eligible.
Regarding the particular age bar for claiming to be a senior citizen, there is a clear provision that one becomes a senior citizen if one is 60 or older. To prove one’s identity, the concerned person has to produce his or her paper issued by the government. In this regard, evidence can be in the form of one's citizenship certificate, voter identity card, driving license, pension book or any other document issued by the government, which displays the photo and the date of birth.
In connection with the senior citizens’ welfare scheme, the government has to do a lot, though the recent arrangement of offering discounts on the fares of public transportation should be applauded. While welcoming the decision to do some favours to the respected elders of the society, whose experience, skills and knowledge can be much more effectively utilised, initiatives should be taken to create a congenial atmosphere, because, regretfully, sometimes good policies and decisions are not implemented in time.
Only a few days ago, this scribe, who is also a senior citizen as per the definition of the government, had an argument with a staff of a micro bus plying between Sundhara and Balaju concerning the concessional fare. All of us inside the bus were amazed at the observation of the driver, who not only flatly refused to abide by the new decision to grant the discount for the seniors but also said that the discounted rates were applicable only to those above 80. His response sounded silly, but considering the misbehavior we all are frequently subjected to in the public conveyances in Kathmandu, it did not surprise many.
I was excited to see at least two seats allocated to senior citizens in that bus, and my friendly co-passengers were considerate to vacate one of them. Frankly speaking, I was the happiest person that day having been privileged to occupy a seat in a crowded bus because of a government regulation to allocate seats to senior citizens. This kind of provision in the public buses has been in vogue for female passengers for some years.
Regarding the seats for females, I must admit that has been a commendable step. We must teach courtesies to our young sisters and daughters who decline to offer the female seats to the very weak, old and other women with babies in their hands. I am ashamed to see aging mothers standing while teen-agers proudly occupy the female seats, playing games on the smart phones.
During my short but tense trip to Balaju in the public bus, whose driver was accusing us of not willingly paying higher fares when petrol prices were hitting more than Rs. 105 per litre, I appealed for help from the young co-passengers to speak on behalf of the seniors to persuade the staff to give the reasonable concession. One passenger, who was claiming a student concession, asked the driver to abide by the regulations of the government. In fact, I was demanding a concessional fare on the basis of my government-issued photo identity card, which clearly mentions my birth date.
Upon my arrival in front of the Jan Maitri Hospital at Balaju, I was not sure if the bus staff would respond to my appeal. Despite that uncertainty, I handed over a ten rupee note to the bus staff, though legally speaking I was supposed to pay only seven rupees, which is 50 % off the total fare. The assistant to the driver accepted the fare with a lot of grumbling.
I am sure the bus personnel would have picked up a quarrel with me, had I not been supported by one of the student co-passengers while travelling from Sundhara. While I was raising the issue of discount for the seniors, some of the passengers who were my contemporaries were helpless because they had not carried with them proper government-issued identification cards. Therefore, the government authority should make public what documents could be produced to claim senior citizens’ discounted fares and ensure that deserving citizens are issued necessary documents without unnecessary delay.
Moreover, the traffic police will have to do a little extra duty to randomly check whether senior citizens have been denied concessional fares in public buses despite their possession of credible identity cards.
No seat allocation
There is no provision of allocation of seats for senior citizens in many buses, including those of Nepal Yatayat, which monopolises the routes covering Koteswore-Baneswore-Anamnagar-Putli Sadak-Hattisar-Naxal-Maharajgunj and so on. This is one of the busiest routes in Kathmandu. The government should promptly implement the decision of concessional bus fares for senior citizens by mobilising its authority so that it is no more accused of facing a deepening crisis of governance.
The taxis too are a means of public transport and hence should offer discounts if the rider is a senior citizen. But this is an area where most of the passengers get harassed and cheated. Can the Koirala government listen to the legitimate grievances of the elders, who have a reservoir of experience that can be productively utilised for the welfare of the community?