OLD’S OWN COUNTRY
The state realises the flipside of progress as the rise of a greying population leads to a new economic crisis
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.
INMATES ATTHE SAI GRAMAM OLD AGE HOME IN THONNAKKAL