Unable to afford expensive homes run by the NGOs, a large number of senior citizens in Delhi are queuing up to get admission at government-run shelters for the elderly. But more often, they end up disappointed as there is a huge gap between the supply and demand for space at government-run old-age homes.
The Delhi government runs one old-age home in southwest Delhi’s Bindapur, while a second home is run by an NGO. The capacity of these homes, which have all basic facilities such as bedding, washing machines, four air conditioners and roti makers, is quite low. These homes prove to be grossly inadequate to meet the demand of housing Delhi’s senior citizens who are unable to support themselves financially or are no longer living with their children.
In most developing countries, the government collects high taxes from people. The money collected is used to ensure that senior citizens live a life of dignity in their old age. Most of them are provided with state-of-the-art old age centres with all kinds of facilities.
According to a senior Delhi government official, getting land for construction of old age homes is a big challenge. It often takes years to get one old-age home sanctioned.
A government official said the social welfare department of the state has allocated a budget of Rs 2,348 crore for social welfare for 2015- 16 and finalised 11 old age homes — one for each district of the national capital.
“Land is finally being allotted by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) after a long time and we will speed up the work. We already have got building plans sanctioned for two of the old-age homes. These homes will have a capacity of 50-60 people and will be able to cater to the rising demand,” said a senior Delhi government official.
Officials said that land has been identified at CR Park, Rohini, Paschim Vihar, Chattarpur among other places.
Many senior citizens — thrown out of their homes and unable to afford the privately run homes for the elderly — often stay in shelters for the homeless that provide accommodation for free.
Senior Delhi government officials said they received a number of representations from various Resident Welfare Associations to increase the number of recreation centres that are provided grants by the government.
The AAP government has decided to increase the number of such recreation centres from 102 to 140, making it two for each constituency in the city.
HL Ghai, 85, led a lavish life before age caught up with him and he found himself at one of Delhi government’s old-age homes. He has now been living in old-age facilities for a little over 15 years.
The manager of a top hotel in Kolkata, Ghai shifted to Delhi in 1978 to become the manager of a posh club here. Thirty-seven years later, living in a government old-age home, Ghai now says that the facility has managed to take care of him better than he himself ever could.
“I have three kids, two daughters and a son. They keep asking me to move in with them. But I didn’t want to be a burden on my family members. The facility now has become my home. I get good three meals a day, we have regular sightseeing tours and I get to meet my kids once in a while whenever they come,” Ghai said in fluent English.
He added that while new members can take some time to adjust to the facility, all the people who lived in the home were well taken care of.
Prakash Bharti, the oldest admitted member at 89 years, says he has worked for the poor and aged all his life. And then with a hint of sorrow in his eyes, he wishes he could have done more.
Bharti, a retired official from the union human resources development department, also says a lot has changed ever since he started living in the Delhi government-run old-age facility. Things have improved, he says, but much can be done still.
“I have been in government-run facilities for the past two decades. I didn’t have a family so there was no one to leave behind. We did however own a small ashram, where we used to take care of the old and the poor. I had to give that up and was shifted to this facility,” said Bharti.
Bharati says the government should take into account the large population of elderly people who are forced to live on the streets and increase space to accomodate more elderly people. He also said that the need of the hour was to come up with more old-age homes.
“I didn’t have any other option. It was either this or living on the streets,” said Banarsi, a 78-year-old former businessman.
Banarsi said he has been living at the Bindapur old-age home for the past 18 months now after going to the place on the suggestion of a friend.
“I have three sons, all of who are doing very well in their respective businesses. But none of them have place for me in their homes,” said Banarsi. “Had it not been for this facility, I would have still been living on the footpath and begging,” he added.
Life, Banarsi said, has been a rollercoaster ride for him so far, from a house in east Delhi’s Gandhi Nagar to the streets (almost). This facility has now given him hope to continue living his life.
“I have made new friends. We have TV, get food on time. But I still miss home at times. I am still lonely though and I wish I get to meet my family once sometime,” he said.
Krishna Devi, 70, has two kids — a son and a daughter. She, however, has not seen either of them for over seven years now. But she says it’s ‘probably for the best’.
Krishna, who has partial visibility in her left eye, claims that while the decision to come to the old-age home was hers, it is not something she regrets.
“I had married my daughter off sometime ago and my son suffers from a chronic disease which requires constant medical attention,” she said. She adds that most of her life’s saving was spent on her son’s treatment.
The last time she met them, Krishna said, her son was living with her sister. “He cannot take care of himself, leave alone taking care of me. I had written to the government asking to be admitted to the facility and within 15 days I received a letter of approval,” said Krishna.
She added that she had undergone seven surgeries on her left eye to date, which might not have been possible had she not been in the facility.