Plight and predicament of senior citizens

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Zaheer Bhatti

ELSEWHERE in the civilized world, Senior Citizens are a precious human commodity, where they are not just respected and honoured but are given preferable treatment and their talent and experience put to use; scores of rulers and heads of governments being in their seventies if not eighties. In Pakistan barring some preference in banks and government hospitals, and the promised free rail journey one has still to experience, the plight and predicament of senior citizens is most deplorable. It is not my wish to spoil the Prime Minister’s spell of ecstasy after his just concluded successful journey to the US, but to put to him just one area of human neglect back home namely the Godforsaken senior citizen in Pakistan who amid his Government’s yearning for human resource development in the country, is being given a raw deal in virtually all spheres of life and considered dead and gone after their age of superannuation.
The senior citizen in Pakistan despite his limited resources has to cater the most for family chores such as Eid, marriages of grand children, marking their achievements, meeting sacrificial obligations, Khairaat, Zakaat, Sadqaat and providing subsistence to the needy relations and the deserving etc. You can lend dignity to this senior citizen by rationalizing tariffs for those who have given their life to public service, not to talk of those teaming millions who would have reached that stage in life without a job or at best earned their living by sheer physical labourer odd engagement. Among countless areas if one may start with Taxation which though rightly on top priority of the Government, needs rationalization to bring this segment into its fold and not by coercion through unjustified tariffs.
This segment of the society being bracketed for purposes of tax assessment with business Individuals and AOPs (whatever it means) is grossly unjust because these are mostly individuals who manage to save their life-long earnings from vultures in private businesses such as phony real estate enterprises besides other clandestine luring businesses, and invest in the safety of national savings for a reasonable dividend since everything is documented, and in the worst of situations their hard-earned savings are protected. They are not businessmen by any stretch of imagination. It is patently unjust for national savings, firstly to straightaway deduct tax from the monthly dividend earned by senior citizen at a heavy 10% where deduction if any should start after the gross dividend crosses the tax free limit or on assessment of annual earnings, and then not to adjust this already deducted tax against the payable total tax. Worst still, the FBR eventually also taxes Pension and Behbood accounts of senior citizens; having initially projected it as relief for them with no deductions at source.
This segment of the society needs to be saved from speculative investments by inducing them to put their precious little in the safety of national savings on encouraging terms which serve both the national as well as the individual’s cause. The Prime Minister is urged to direct the FBR to exempt both Pension and Behbood Senior Citizen Accounts from tax assessing all their earnings from national savings against the regular income bracket of salaried individuals and adjust the tax deducted at source which should not be more than 5%, because what they receive is no more than a drastically reduced salary in terms of Pakistan’s highly demonetised currency with its buying power already down by 40%.
Shelter, the other priority sector is State responsibility but successive governments have failed to acquire and develop housing sectors and instead involved real estate which is the most undocumented business in Pakistan prone to phenomenal corruption besides fleecing innocent investors. Private housing societies emerging as a consequence, in order to cover up and justify their own pace of development or lack of it, conveniently quote failure of Government authorities to develop various allotted housing sectors despite lapse of over 30 years. This is besides projects like the Asif Zardari-sponsored Islamabad New City launched in the nineties under CDA with some Singapore Consortium, in which several individuals nearing Senior citizen age drowned their seed money and heard nothing ever since.
Worst offenders to senior citizens have been the Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation created in the eighties with the objective of affording a plot of land to Federal Public Servants for posterity as they reach retirement. But resorting to balloting instead of following seniority of service leading to manipulation, luck eluded a senior citizen at the first three draws, though his name being on seniority list for the next draw at No 30 plus he was sure to be allotted a plot. But rules were so twisted that while officers with 10 years of service still remaining were allotted plots, he having already retired by then and needing shelter the most, was dumped as a corporate employee with only 5% quota (whatever the logic of that discrimination) and considered not only retired but practically dead and gone.
Worth a probe is the fact that some sleuth last year approached that senior citizen and his wife a retired teacher having also applied in Phase-4 against the reserved lot in Sector G-14 in Islamabad, and offered them ten lac rupees each in lieu of surrendering their rights to allotment, but disappeared after some probing questioning. This clearly indicates that a racket exists in the foundation which manipulates allotments. Senior citizens are handed a raw deal by the land mafia personified by Riaz Malik whose Free food for millions across the country is quoted for his philanthropy, but he stands to answer in the Hereafter why his Bahria Town converted the 3-marla Awami Villas offered in 2006 into flats and discriminated by asking for additional development charges from the rest; having allotted Villas to several applicants of same batch through manipulated draws. Malik Riaz must remember that with injustice to a single individual, God can undo all his good deeds.
—The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran ex Director Programmes.

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