AS senior citizens in Pakistan were beginning to get preference on Bank queues, complimentary travel and hospital amenities, one had started feeling that this country was coming of age in recognizing its social responsibilities to the ageing population otherwise seen as already consigned to the grave, which in developed countries was considered a reservoir of knowledge and experience. But that no longer; as hedging behind Corona the Government hospitals have closed down their OPDs denying regular treatment to bulk of the population, and the Pakistan Railways has suspended free travel for Senior Citizens; not knowing what the Bill proposed by Shirin Mazari holds for the lot, considering the way they have been apathetically treated by successive governments in the past.
A senior citizen’s woes reveal his appalling discrimination at the hands of the Federal Government Employees Foundation established in the late eighties with the noble objective to provide shelter upon retirement to public servants. Rules were so bent that while officers in other Government departments with almost 10 years still left in service received allotments, he was denied allotment in 4 successive draws by which time he had retired as a Corporate Public employee along with his wife who had also applied as a retired Federal Government teacher for the fourth draw. The fact that his wife was subsequently approached by some agent/front man with an offer of one million rupees in lieu of signing away her right to allotment which she refused, clearly indicates that a lot of foul play has crept into the system frustrating the very purpose of the scheme for a shelter to public servants by retirement. And grappling with day to day ordeals, as this relatively older senior citizen living in Islamabad was forced into a scramble to evaluate his resources to meet the ever-rising recurring costs of living, he received a water charges bill of Rs 4806/= for two quarters (up to June 2020 including arrears for Jan-March for which no Bill was initiated). This averaged out to Rs 2403/= per Qtr.; a raise by 438% from the last year which was RS 548/= for a quarter until December of 2019.
This Senior Citizen who had erred not even opting for a pension upon retirement 20 years back, feels that he has been robbed of the only legitimate source he was left to feed his posterity with dignity; namely the country’s National Savings Schemes with concurrent decrease in the margin of dividend under its various investment offerings, tagging it with commercial Bank Interest rates; again favouring the business class rather than the common man.
As if an almost 55% devaluation of the Pak Rupee allowed by the Government was not enough to break his back; his precious little savings devaluing instantly by the same margin, it is appalling that instead of automatically raising the tax exemption limit by the same margin i.e., roughly RS 650,000/=from the RS 400,000/= which was last fixed several years back, the Tax wizards of this country did not bother. Let us be fair that even at the proposed raise of exemption limit where gross income comes to barely RS 54,166/= per month; one cannot pay house rent, hefty utility bills, feed a family and also pay tax, leave alone do so out of Rs 33,333/= per month with the current exemption. “While I am forced to somehow cough out an average electricity bill per month of Rs 20,000/= plus with a fridge and an odd A/C functioning intermittently when guests arrive in sweltering weather,” he says, he is being made to endure another shocking raise in gas prices by Rs 623/= per MMBTU with the winters still months away, which the Government is reportedly imposing, besides reversing the hogwash momentarily lowered gas and petrol price at which it was hardly available; add to it the ever-increasing and uncontrolled prices of consumables.
“I next await tax on the atmospheric oxygen i consume in order to breath. With my feet in the grave at 80, I would have endured all this with pride had my future generations been left with a flicker of genuine hope in lieu of our sacrifices,” says the Senior Citizen, but Mr Khan! Do you honestly think you can run the country by feeding on the corpses of a dying generation in a nation whose productivity despite Nature’s infinite bounties, the Government has not even started exploring when you are already half way through your tenure! It is a matter for deep preponderance that an agrarian country like Pakistan which only years back was a wheat-surplus nation, should instead be importing the staple food of the country further consuming the elusive Foreign Exchange; Another scandal like that of sugar and wheat flour brewing, the common man’s problem nevertheless not being scandals but the already mounted price of wheat flour and sugar with the rulers merely holding out warnings against price hikes, which the consumer in the absence of enforcement considers a cruel joke. Only the other day, the Government took cover behind Corona and not just froze Government Salaries and pensions of Senior Citizens but also any raise for the daily wagers for whom this Government has always clamoured to care for. The nation was promised pouring in of billions of dollars from expatriates besides the pledge to bring back looted billions. While not a dime has been repatriated, Foreign Exchange Reserves are at their lowest with foreign debt mounting and the Pakistani currency not worth the paper it is written on. For all one knows, this Government will also vanish leaving future generations hostage to the burgeoning debt at further cost to nation’s sovereignty and self-respect; if any of it is left by then.
—The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran ex Director Programmes.