Sixty-six-year-old S. Gopal has not yet thought of retiring from his job as a watchman. He is forced to make that meagre sum to pay debts taken for family needs.

The escalating cost of essential commodities has put them beyond the reach of senior citizens, particularly those without pension.

“I pay a chunk of my salary of Rs.3,300 towards rent and groceries. Transport is also another major expense,” he said. He manages with items bought from a fair price shop and low-quality vegetables bought for Rs.5 from the neighbouring shops. Mr.Gopal said he had been unable to save for the past one year and the situation turns grimmer when there is a medical emergency.

Many senior citizens have begun depending on others to meet part of their expense. N. Lalitha aged 60, who lives with her mother in Anna Nagar West, said, “I manage to curtail my expenditure with the pension that I get. My siblings chip in for my mother’s health care.”

For M. Siraj (70) of Vallalar Nagar, the skyrocketing prices have meant cuts on meat and dairy products and entertainment. “The cost of everything has doubled, be it rate of pulses, house rent or healthcare. Staple vegetables that were sold for Rs.10 until a few years ago now cost up to Rs.30. My grocery bill has jumped by 50 per cent over the past one year,” said Mr.Siraj who is a retired Southern Railway employee.

Many pensioners complained that though the pension increased as per the recommendations of Sixth Pay Commission, it was not proportionate to the rising cost of the commodities. Some of them have started withdrawing from their savings to meet their daily needs.

S. M. Chellaswamy, general secretary of Federation of Senior Citizens Associations of Tamil Nadu, said there are nearly six lakh senior citizens across the state. Of this, 10 per cent are in Chennai. Pensioners form only 2 per cent of the senior citizen population.

Medical care accounted for 20 per cent of their expenditure. The pharmacies must provide 20 per cent concession in medical bills for elderly, as done in some States, including Maharashtra, he said.