William Shatner of ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Boston Legal’ fame is all set at ninety years of age to make a trip to space. Amitabh Bachchan, just a couple of years short of eighty, continues indefatigably to take his career to greater heights. Of course, the gold standard in this regard is Clint Eastwood, who at 91 continues to make an impact on the film world that is the envy of those one-third his age. The number of such ‘senior citizens’ that are living active and productive lives is booming worldwide. In many places, this fact is being recognised, and policies restructured to accommodate the reality. The old ‘retirement policies’ are not only depriving society of valuable talent, but also unnecessarily increasing the burden on social welfare systems.
India laments the shortage of judges but retires them when most are at the peak of their powers. In contrast, the US Supreme Court judges remain in harness all their lives (unless rendered ineffective due to illness). The argument that keeping people employed for longer reduces the number of job opportunities does not wash in sectors where there is a dismal shortage of skilled people. India does not produce enough doctors to meet its needs and, yet, experienced government doctors are made to retire. They go on to serve the private sector. The UP Government’s recent decision to increase their retirement age to 70 from 65 is a step in the right direction.
The increasing longevity of retired personnel has become a financial challenge for the Armed Forces, taking precious funds away from modernisation and weapons purchase. It becomes imperative that, in an age when mere physical prowess has less to do with combat effectiveness, the whole policy of putting personnel out to pasture at the peak of their powers should be reconsidered. Also, this highly skilled human resource should be laterally adjusted in the administrative services so that it does not go to waste.
In this context, the initiative of the Union Government to establish a job portal for senior citizens (Senior Able Citizens for Re Employment in Dignity – SACRED) is a step in the right direction. It will put job seekers and providers on the same platform. Even in areas where there are a lot of young people seeking jobs, their skills do not match the requirements. Here, too, experienced ‘elders’ from all fields can be put to use in teaching and mentoring youngsters from the school level, itself. Why is not a retired senior executive from a top multi-national not invited by the neighbourhood school to coach the students? This would be only one of the many ways in which this vast resource can be used for the betterment of society.