The Economic survey 2018-19 released a day prior to the India Budget has dealt the issue of ageing in India in detail. In its report “India’s Demography at 2040”, the survey brings out the following observations:

  • India is set to witness a sharp slowdown in population growth in the next two decades. Although the country as a whole will enjoy the “demographic dividend” phase, some states will start transitioning to an ageing society by the 2030s.
  • It is estimated that by 2041, the population would touch 151 crores, of which about 24 crores would be 60 and above (~16%). Healthy life expectancy at the age of 60 now stands at 12.9 years (12.5 years for males; 13.3 years for females), and it is lower than that of other major developed and emerging economies
  • At the other end of the age scale, policy makers need to prepare for ageing. This will need investments in health care as well as a plan for increasing the retirement age in a phased manner.
  • The projected population and age-structure over the next two decades has several implications for policy, inter-alia for the provision of health care, provision of old-age care, provision of school facilities, access to retirement related financial services, public pension funding, income tax revenues, labour force and labour participation rates, and retirement age.

With this context, I was eager to understand the direction the Government is planning to pursue via the policy reforms and allocations. The budget 2019-20 that was tabled on 5th July 2019 by the Hon’ble Finance Minister was a let down and not much thought has gone in to address this key issue.

Not yet a Priority

To begin with, the budget speech had dedicated sections dealing with Youth, Women “Naari Tu Narayani” apart from other sectoral discussions but does not have a section or meaningful reference to “Seniors” clearly showing lack of priority to this demographic issue staring at us not far away from now. Considering the fact that the Economic Survey has dealt with this subject in detail, one would have expected fair representation of the subject in the budget.

There is no mention of policy direction towards increasing the retirement age as has been done in other countries which are moving towards aged population. Establishment of dedicated rural geriatric care centers thru PPP model (there has been an increased allocation towards National Health Mission, how this is utilised remains to be seen) , incentivizing children & institutions in encouraging them to obtain medical insurance cover to the aged parents, easing the reverse mortgage norms to help ‘asset rich cash poor’ category of seniors embrace retirement communities are some of the initiative that could have been made thru this budget.

Impetus has been provided in this budget to both builders and buyers in the case of Affordable housing. However, housing for seniors has not found mention herein. It is high time that the Government promotes the retirement and senior living facility concept (both stand alone or as integrated) considering the increased demand, changes in social fabric and long gestation of these projects.

Tax Proposals_Hardship for seniors

While there are some marginal changes to the tax slab rates, some of the provisions included through the budget amendments may cause hardship to seniors unless clarified in the coming days. Filing of tax returns is made mandatory for persons who has undertaken a foreign travel exceeding Rs.2 lacs for himself or others. Many seniors with their children living abroad travel to these places frequently, may not otherwise be obligated to file a return, because of this provision may need to have the annual ritual of filing tax return included in their list adding to the burden & anxiety. Further, the Government has proposed to tax gifts made by persons resident in India to a person resident outside India as income deemed to accrue or arise in India. Many seniors would now need to be cautious of this provision & clarity required whether there would be exemptions for gifts made within family.

Much to be done

Policy makers could have used this opportunity to make a beginning and prepare for ageing. It is inevitable that sooner or later a larger blue-print need to be prepared & it may be worthwhile to consider a dedicated ministry to deal with Ageing. Industry bodies have a larger role to play and must support the Government in addressing this phenomenon.

[The author is Co-founder & Chief Executive of KITES Senior Care, a geriatrics & senior care brand, based out of Bengaluru. He can be reached at raj@kitesseniorcare.com]