Located on the foothills of the Western Ghats, Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu is a pensioner’s paradise. It is the first city in the country to have a ‘retirement community’ set up way back in the late 1990s. Today it has numerous senior citizen homes run by private players.
There is a difference between ‘old age homes’ and ‘senior citizen homes’. While the former are run by the state governments and NGOs for destitute senior citizens, the latter are managed by private entities — mostly charity trusts or foundations — and take payment. Outright sale, lease and rental are the three kinds of models promoted by the realtors in this sector.
Retirees invest a large share of their emoluments in buying a house in a retirement village within a gated complex developed by real estate promoters. Each complex has around 50-60 houses. They share a common kitchen and have facilities like parking and walking ramps. “Cooking becomes additional work for many of the seniors like me so we share a common kitchen,” says Ranganathan, a resident of a retirement home complex.
Many of these houses are amidst greenery, either owned or given for lease for a maximum period of 20 years. Some of these complexes have 24-hour medical facilities, live-in nurses and ambulances. But others do not.
A cause for concern
Superficially, these senior citizen homes may look like paradise. But they have innate problems and many property developers and promoters gradually turn into predators.
Take the instance of 83-year-old S Krishnamurthy, an Air India veteran, who bought a retirement home in 2003 at a senior citizens complex developed by a promoter in Coimbatore.
Initially it was all well and good. But over time the promoter, who doubled as the service provider (as in many cases), hiked food prices without consultation and other maintenance issues cropped up. The residents tried to bring in a ‘sharing system’ to cover food and other maintenance costs but the promoter rejected their plea. When the senior citizens objected and asked to see the accounts, the promoters stopped giving food to these rebellious voices.
“Most of the seniors here have health issues. How can the promoter withdraw food and water for those who are dissenting?” asks Krishnamurthy, who earned the wrath of the promoters and was not given food and other housekeeping services for some time.
The promoter had developed the property without proper financial backing. “He (promoter) started collecting funds from us, then developed this property and resold or leased it to us. We came to know about this scam after filing an RTI in 2008,” says Krishnamurthy.
Krishnamurthy approached the Madras High Court with a public interest litigation in 2015, seeking a regulatory authority for paid senior citizen homes. Hearing the petition, the then Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kayla and Justice TS Sivagnanam ordered the Tamil Nadu government to come up with a regulatory mechanism.
The state issued a government order in 2016 fixing revised minimum and essential standards for paid senior citizen homes. “There are already acts and rules for the welfare of senior citizens. For example, the Central government enacted the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. Based on the act, the Tamil Nadu government formulated the Tamil Nadu Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Rules in 2009. But those acts and rules do not address the issues of paid senior citizen homes,” says Krishnamurthy.
Most of the rules listed in the order are not implemented. The residents seek to implement at least one cardinal rule, called ‘IX (i)’. The rule says: ‘Management should be broad based with majority of elected representatives of the Fund Providers, with transparency in financial matters.’
Generally, the paid senior citizen complex is developed by a charitable trust or foundation, which is called a ‘mother society.’ The members of the society should be derived both from the trust and the residents, with the latter in the majority. These resident members must be elected, usually from a residents welfare association.
“But in many cases, the promoters don’t allow the residents to form welfare associations. Even if they are formed, the promoters are not ready to appoint the residents in the mother society. If we, the fund providers, are appointed as members in the mother society, half the problems will be solved,” Krishnamurthy says.
Since the rules were not implemented, he filed a contempt petition in 2018 and is waiting for a second hearing.
Amidst day-to-day maintenance issues, problems of home registration stress the seniors the most. It has been reported that many of the paid senior citizen complexes in the city are not registered with the District Social Welfare Officer since the homes come under the purview of the Department of Social Welfare.
Sachdeva Kumar, a resident of Tapovan, a senior citizen complex in Coimbatore, says that most of the complexes were and are developed on agricultural land. “Most of the senior citizen complexes across the city do not have Directorate of Town and City Planning (DTCP) registrations. The lease agreement and resale options are tedious legal procedures. At this age, we are made to run from pillar to post to get proper registrations,” he says.
Those who own a house in a complex have some relief. It is the people who take a lease that face many problems. For example, if a senior citizen takes a house for lease, they should pay a refundable deposit, which will be returned deducting 10 per cent when they move out. Generally a lease period is for 20 years and can be renewed after that. Within 20 years, there is a ‘lock in’ period, in which the senior citizen should stay for a particular period of time. If not, their deposit will not be returned.
“Earlier the lock-in period was five years. Now it has been extended to 10 years. In these years, the residents are pushed to accept all the norms and conditions prescribed by the service providers, who are usually the promoters. If they dissent, they will be intimidated and facilities will not be provided. Since many of the residents are dependent on their children for funds, they remain silent,” says Kumar.