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India

Top court orders pandemic focus on India's elderly

Church welcomes apex court's directive to ensure well-being of senior citizens as Covid-19 cases rise

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Top court orders pandemic focus on India's elderly

Youths walk past a mural dedicated to frontline workers fighting the spread of Covid-19 in Chennai on Aug. 6. (Photo: AFP)

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The Supreme Court of India has directed the federal government to take steps to ensure that senior citizens are well taken care of during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The apex court in its directions on Aug. 4 said the elderly should be regularly paid pensions and given medicines, masks, sanitizers and other essential goods in the wake of the coronavirus.

“As we all know that children and senior citizens are vulnerable to disease as they have less immunity, the highest court’s directive is well appreciated,” Father Julius Amla, secretary of the Indian Catholic Bishops’ Conference’s office of health, told UCA News.

“How and when this order will be implemented is a big question because many times, due to manpower or other logistics, a scheme remains only on paper or too little is done.

“Generally, many people don’t pay much attention to our senior citizens due to negligence or other issues, so when the world is fighting this pandemic, the Supreme Court’s directive is the need of the hour.” 

The Supreme Court was responding to a plea made by former federal minister Ashwani Kumar and senior advocate Sanjeeb Panigrahi last month.

Kumar sought directions with regard to senior citizens, saying they need more care and protection during the pandemic.

The court said it recognized the obligation of the government to protect the elderly who live alone and ensure essential goods and services are provided to them.

It also directed the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to make sure that pensions continued to be paid to senior citizens on time.

Delivering the direction, Justices Ashok Bhushan and R. Subhash Reddy said at a time of the pandemic senior citizens should be given priority in admissions to government hospitals.

“In the event of any complaint, the hospital administration must take immediate steps to remedy their grievances,” the judges said.

In a December 2018 verdict, the Supreme Court said the statutory rights of over 100,000 million senior citizens in India must be recognized and implemented.

It said the federal government must obtain information from all states and union territories about the number of homes for the elderly and also suggested a re-examination of the pension scheme.

The court emphasized that the state is obligated to ensure that the rights to live with dignity, shelter and health of citizens, including the elderly, are not only protected but enforced.

“Those who are in old age home are well taken care of, but what about senior citizens living with their families and even alone? I hope they are taken care of by the authorities,” said Bhopinder Singh, president of Aashirwad Old Age Home in East Delhi.

“Often they are left alone by their families and authorities to take care of themselves and risk their lives. That is the reality and a very unfortunate thing to happen."

According to the United Nations Population Fund, India's population in 2019 stood at 1.36 billion, with 6 percent of the population aged 65 and above.

Meanwhile, according to the Health Ministry, the tally of Covid-19 infections reached 1.96 million on Aug. 6 after more than 56,000 fresh cases were reported within a span of 24 hours. As of Aug. 7, the death toll had reached almost 40,100.

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