OLD’S OWN COUN­TRY

The state re­alises the flip­side of progress as the rise of a grey­ing pop­u­la­tion leads to a new eco­nomic cri­sis

India Today - - NATION - by M.G. Rad­hakr­ish­nan

Near-re­place­ment level fer­til­ity over decades and a longer life ex­pectancy may be in­di­ca­tors of so­cial progress. But the surge in the pop­u­la­tion of the el­derly in Ker­ala has brought in its wake many crises, in­clud­ing an acute labour short­age ex­ac­er­bated by large-scale mi­gra­tion and a ris­ing pen­sion bill for the state govern­ment.

Peo­ple above 60 con­sti­tute 13 per cent of the state’s pop­u­la­tion of 3.34 crore com­pared to the national fig­ure of 8.2 per cent, ac­cord­ing to the 2011 Cen­sus. While In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion grew by 17.6 per cent dur­ing the past decade, Ker­ala’s growth rate was merely 4.6 per cent. For the first time, a district, Pathanamthitta, reg­is­tered a neg­a­tive pop­u­la­tion growth.

“The famed Ker­ala model of de­vel­op­ment with em­pha­sis on pub­lic health gave peo­ple longer lives. But it has failed in pro­vid­ing qual­ity lives,” says de­mog­ra­pher S. Iru­daya Ra­jan. The pro­por­tion of the el­derly de­pen­dent pop­u­la­tion in the state is 57.8 per cent, and 35.1 per cent of the aged pos­sess no prop­erty. At Rs 7,311 crore, the an­nual out­go­ing from the ex­che­quer for pen­sions is more than 35 per cent of the to­tal tax re­ceipts.

With re­mit­tances touch­ing Rs 43,288 crore in 2008, Ker­ala’s econ­omy has pros­pered. But there is an acute short­age of labour­ers. The short­age, cou­pled with high min­i­mum wages, has at­tracted a huge in­flux of mi­grant labour from Bi­har, West Bengal and the North-east.

With vir­tu­ally one in ev­ery four Ker­ala fam­i­lies hav­ing a mem­ber work­ing abroad, the num­ber of non­res­i­dent Ker­alites has risen to 33.5 lakh in 2008. Old age homes have mush­roomed, from less than 150 in 2000 to nearly 300 now. “Yet there is a huge wait­ing list,” says K. Ananda Ku­mar of Sai Or­phan­age Trust which runs the Sai Gra­mam old age home in Thon­nakkal. “Even well-off peo­ple want to send their aged par­ents to old age homes,” he says.

C SHANKAR

IN­MATES ATTHE SAI GRA­MAM OLD AGE HOME IN THON­NAKKAL

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