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Since March last year, around 30 senior citizens have been staging a sit-in protest on the premises of the Department of Transport Management (DoTM), first at Koteshwor and now at defunct trolley bus station in Minbhawan in the Capital, demanding a blanket 50 percent discount for the elderly in public transport. The government, however, has been callous in its response. The Senior Citizens Act 2006 stipulates that every public vehicle reserve two seats for people over the age of 60 and grant them 50 percent concession in fare. Accordingly in April 2011, the Supreme Court issued a mandate to the government to ensure the implementation of the Act. Unfortunately, the provision has been interpreted differently by different readers. The members of the Struggle Committee and managers at Sajha Yatayat believe that two seats should be reserved for the elderly while giving fare discount to all above the age of 60. The government and the rest of the transport committees, on the other hand, believe that both seat reservation and fare discount apply to only two senior citizens. In its working procedure, drafted after the start of the sitin protest, to ensure fare discount for the elderly, the government keeps to its interpretation. “This misinterpretation of the provision has only created a divide among the elderly. When five elderly walk inside a bus and only two are allowed a fare discount, who is to say who pays in full and who pays in half. This is not respect, this is discrimination,” says 65-year-old Maha Prasad Parajuli, chair of the Struggle Committee. The government, however, is unwilling to budge. “We’ve already given 50 percent discount to two senior citizens travelling on a public vehicle. We don’t own public transport to grant concessions to all above the age of 60,” said Mukti Bahadur KC, a director at DoTM. The Struggle Committee vows to continue the sit-in until its demands are met. Their other demands include free medical treatment for the elderly and an increment in the oldage allowance from Rs 500 to Rs 3,000 a month.

Source: The Kathmandu Post, (January 6th, 2014)
Compiled by: Janu Rai

 Proof of citizenship has become key; yet, vulnerable groups are struggling to get their citizenship cards

Political talk in Nepal is ubiquitous at the moment. Whether at home or in tea shops, whether the interlocutors are young or old, no conversation is completed without discussing which party will win the election and what will happen next. Many anticipate that the first priority will be the constitution.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time in an old age home a few minutes from where I live, talking to its founder and the elderly women who reside there. Already thrilled to be talking to the few grandmothers who were vocal and expressive with their views about the elections and the constitution, my interest escalated when the conversation shifted towards the citizenship issue, old age allowance and its links to the constitution. These women hoped that the to-be-written constitution will have clear provisions for elderly people and that the old age allowance will be given to any elderly person without age bias or other similar limitations.

Rs 500 a month

The sad reality is that out of the eight elderly women, only two have been receiving allowances, while the rest expressed their disappointment in not receiving anything despite being eligible. One main reason was that they did not have citizenship. It then occurred to me that they would not have been able to vote. I was previously unaware of this situation.

Here is a little background about the role of citizenship and old age allowance. The universal old age allowance in Nepal is defined as such: applicable to Dalits who are of 60 years and above, and 70 years and above for other social groups. Every eligible elderly citizen is entitled to Rs 500 per month. To be eligible, each person must undergo a registration process, which requires the citizenship card as proof of identity. Without citizenship, one cannot start the process. In fact, one cannot start any process, not even for a voter card.

When I inquired whether anything had been done to begin the process for these elderly women to acquire their citizenship, the lady who runs the home replied that despite trying many times, making frequent trips to respective places and even visiting the close relatives of these elderly, it was all in vain. “One elderly who lives here has been abandoned by her family members. She is old enough to acquire benefits. I made many trips to her place to talk about the citizenship issue and see if they could help with the process, but I failed,” she said.

Deprived of benefits

The other elderly women were brought in directly from the streets or rescued from difficult situations and given shelter at the home. Such scenarios, where it is no one’s fault that they don’t possess citizenship, leave these elderly people deprived of the benefits and rights they are entitled to. I also found out that a few elderly women had died without getting a chance to enjoy the benefits provided by the state, something they lamented till their very last breath. Moreover, they expressed bitterness and helplessness that despite efforts, officials could not modify the laws regarding citizenship requirements.

This brings us to loopholes within the social protection mechanism that the state has for the ageing population and it reminds us of how obscure this mechanism is. Despite previous research highlighting how elderly men and women have to walk for hours in order to obtain the allowance or how they have to face untimely distributions of allowances, I feel the issue of citizenship is a more serious and contentious one. To be recognised as a senior citizen, there is no way around getting a citizenship card. There are senior citizens who have gone on for years without ever having to show any proof of their citizenship. However, times have changed and identification has become key to all rights, and yet, the most vulnerable groups have been left out.

Categorization helps

If identification is as crucial as it seems to be, why are these elderly people not able to receive it and what can be done to help them? The question in the policy debate points again to whether the elderly people need to be categorized based on their individual situations. For example, as those living with family members, who are supported in every step of their lives; those living alone without the support of family members; those abandoned and living on the streets or in old age homes; and those living with disabilities. Furthermore, such categories can help identify the most vulnerable people so that support can be provided. Moreover, it is also important to understand the role of citizenship in the lives of these elders. That these elderly women were not able to vote in the election as they did not have citizenship is a huge concern, as they are certainly entitled to the right to vote.

For elderly people living in old age homes, the people running the home are like their family. Hence, instead of having to locate a family member or a place where they originally came from as criteria to obtain citizenship, I believe that the state should be able to provide them with citizenship under the name of their foster caretaker. Such a provision can be abused if not handled well, due to duplication and other forms of fraud, but an alternative solution to the one where a family member has to be located needs to exist. If not, with the increasing ageing population, a majority will suffer and be deprived of their rights to social security benefits.

One elderly woman from the home who receives the allowance stated, “I want the constitution to be written and I wish that my friends who are not getting the allowance will get it under the new government.” The voice of senior citizens calls for the writing of the constitution and their hopes are pinned on a new and committed government. The debate between owning a citizenship card as proof of identity as opposed to calling oneself a citizen of a certain country without having a form of evidence is food for thought.

With Nepal’s ageing population on the rise, elderly people form a crucial segment of our communities. Now is a golden opportunity for elected politicians to prove that they have given thought to these sensitive issues and demonstrate that they can solve this problem.

KC is a researcher for Livelihoods, Basic Services and Social Protection at the Nepal Centre for Contemporary

 Research: SONY KC

Source: The Kathmandu Post, (November 22, 2013)

 

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