Honouring The Senior Citizens
Hira Bahadur Thapa
The recent observance of International Senior Citizens Day has brought the issue of senior citizens to the limelight again. Senior citizens indeed need and deserve special care and help from the government because they have already spent prime time of their life in the service of the community they live in. In the past we didn’t find the issue of senior citizens being given its due importance by the government, especially in Nepal for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons for this was that the number of senior citizens was not significantly high. With a limited number and also being not so aware enough of their own rights and privileges, the Nepali senior citizens could not impress upon the government about their problems so that its attention could be drawn properly.
Indeed the special needs of senior citizens, which deserve serious consideration, were highlighted once the then government led by late Man Mohan Adhikary took an initiative of supporting their lives with an allowance of few hundred rupees on a monthly basis. This was the first example of governmental assistance provided to help senior citizens maintain their livelihood though the amount was small considering the price inflation prevailing at that point of time.
Over the time since Adhikary-led government, which could not last even for one year in 2051 BS, senior citizens’ allowance has gone up. But here one must overlook the fact that such elderly citizens have been forced to continue agitating peacefully to convince the government to fulfil their various demands, including the revision in their monthly allowances, known as Briddha Bhatta. Their protests are still continuing because some of their demands like 5,000 rupees monthly allowance, among others, have not been met by the Nepal government.
However, it must be admitted that some of the demands of senior citizens have been fulfilled due to persistent efforts made by the Senior Citizens Samaj and this organisation truly deserves credit for it. A few of these demands are related to health benefits like 50 per cent discount to lab tests and even in transport sector senior citizens are provided discounted fares in public conveyances like buses.
One of the praiseworthy steps taken by the government in the field of providing services to the senior citizens is the issuance of Senior Citizen Identity Card by the Ministry of Children, Women, and Social Welfare. This card has helped the senior citizens claim their facilities in the hospitals. Their claims for discounted fares in public buses especially in long routes are hardly honoured, which is an insult to the senior citizens. Here comes the role of the government agencies, like the Transport Management Department and traffic police to enforce the regulations so that senior citizens enjoy benefits due to them.
The plight of the senior citizens is that they cannot argue with the bus staff who most of the times decline to abide by the government regulations and deny the concessions to the elderly people despite their possession of senior citizen cards. A few of them would, of course, refuse to pay the full fare because they don’t have to as the government has made an arrangement for them to be given tickets in buses at concessional rates. These smart senior citizens are limited in number and they too have to face harassment before they finally win over the argument with the bus personnel, many of whom are notoriously rude and do not hesitate to misbehave the card holders.
As the time passes and more and more senior citizens become aware of the facilities due to their age, gradually things are getting settled down and in public service areas, like the hospitals, they are given priority when there is a queue. Such elderly people are not required to be in the long queue for registering names, filling up lab test forms and paying the bills. They are permitted to consult the doctors even without being asked to wait long if they can produce their senior citizen cards.
This is a good start for the elderly people to be treated respectfully at least in some hospitals, like Civil Service Hospital in Baneshwor but such provision needs to be extended to other places as well where there is significant crowd of outdoor patients. This scribe had a chance of visiting a senior administrative staff member of Til Ganga Eye Hospital in Kathmandu following eye check-up at that hospital a few weeks earlier. Then I tried to draw his attention the fact that their management team should make regulations and display notices informing the patients that senior citizens have a different queue, if their number is large. Such senior citizens may be allowed to have access to hospital services without having to follow the lines when the number of elderly patients is insignificant.
During pre Dashain period when bank customers’ crowd becomes almost chaotic and queues are comparatively longer than other times, the senior citizens should be provided services without asking them to form lines. Upon my visits to some of the banks like Global IME BANK and Nepal Bangladesh Bank on the eve of Dashain vacation, I was fortunate to be given access to services of the bank, in particular, cashing the cheques without waiting in the line, a facility provided to people like myself, who would produce senior citizen cards to the security guards managing the lines before the counters.
Those are some of the commendable measures undertaken by some of the hospitals and banks, which have benefited the elderly people, whose welfare is guaranteed under the provisions of the present constitution of Nepal. As per the census of 2068 BS, there are 22 hundred thousand senior citizens in Nepal. The country can too take advantage of the rich experience, skills and knowledge of such citizens. They need avenues or forums to share such valuable asset and it is the duty of the government to create congenial atmosphere for them to serve their communities.
If one is to recall the messages delivered by none others than the Head of the State and the Head of the Government on the occasion of International Day of Senior Citizens on 1st October 2017, there is hope that the senior citizens will have better prospects in future. There can be win-win situation for both the government and the senior citizens, if unutilised experience and skills possessed by the elderly people can be harnessed with appropriate government policies.