‘Aasra’, a welfare programme launched exclusively for senior citizens in distress, has been abruptly scrapped thanks to the indifference of the authorities towards the elderly sections.

Secondary Education Minister K. Parthasaradhy launched ‘Aasra’ on March 13 in 2011, a helpline service in joint partnership of the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation (VMC) and HelpAge India, a non-profitable charity organisation working to ensure equal rights and dignity to elders.

A room on the premises of CVR Municipal High School opposite civil courts was used as ‘Aasra’ office occupied by two employees of HelpAge India. “After Hyderabad, Vijayawada was the second city in Andhra Pradesh where the programme was implemented. We tie up with local municipal authorities, which extend funds for a series of activities taken up to develop solidarity among senior citizens and to create a platform to discuss issues related to their welfare,” says B. Ravi Bhaskar, the helpline counsellor at Aasra.

Issue of identity cards, conducting health camps, awareness sessions on existing laws related to senior citizens and legal issues and aging problems were some of the activities taken up.

“We saw a ray of hope in ‘Aasra’ as a number of key issues pertaining to the elders came to the centrestage when the scheme was active. But the VMC abruptly scrapped it giving a rude jolt to the beneficiaries,” rues B. Mukunda Rao, president of the Krishna District Senior Citizens Welfare Association.

A toll-free number 1,253 was given to enable senior citizens in distress to call and seek help. The helpline was managed by HelpAge India.

Aasara is a three-year project and during this period, HelpAge India trains members of the local Senior Citizen’s Associations for sustenance of the programme before moving on to its next destination.

“In Vijayawada, the VMC funded the programme only for the first year. We tried continuing it by spending HelpAge India funds for the next one year after which, we were forced to wind up for want of funds,” explains Mr. Bhaskar.

‘Aasra’ was shelved during May-end this year. “It is a fact that the VMC abruptly stopped releasing funds probably because it wasn’t going the way the Municipal Commissioner wanted it to go or perhaps, dearth of funds could be the reason,” admits K. Siva Sankara, the MEPMA (Mission for Elimination of Poverty in Municipal Areas) Project Officer in VMC.

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