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‘MoU on Azadi Cards for elderly to be signed within a month’

The Social Welfare Department will execute a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the registration and processing of the Azadi Cards with the National Database & Registration Authority (Nadra) after the approval of the Senior Citizens Council within a month, the chief secretary assured the Sindh High Court (SHC) on Wednesday.

Hearing a petition seeking the enforcement of a law under which the elderly will get a 25 per cent concession in medical treatment at private hospitals, an SHC division bench headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar asked the CS about compliance with the court’s directives with regard to the issuance of the health cards.

The CS said that the Social Welfare Department will place a draft of an MoU before the Senior Citizens Council for their approval, adding that once the terms and conditions of the agreement are negotiated and approved, the same will be executed with Nadra.

He said that the entire process will be completed within a month, adding that according to Nadra, the estimated cost of the Azadi Cards will be Rs250 per health card. The court said that the Senior Citizens Welfare Fund is to be set up in accordance with Section 12 of the Sindh Senior Citizens Welfare Act.

The bench asked the CS to explore the possibility of the department paying the fees of the Azadi Cards from the Senior Citizens Welfare Fund to accommodate the elderly who may not be able to afford the fees.

The CS assured the court that the draft rules prepared pursuant to Section 19 of the Senior Citizens Welfare Act will be placed before the next cabinet meeting for approval, following which the rules will also be notified for the information of the general public.

The bench said it is responsibility of the government under Section 8 of the Act to establish and maintain such a number of old-age homes at accessible places that at least one is found in each district to accommodate the indigent elderly.

Replying to a query about old-age homes in the province, the CS said that one home is being constructed in Korangi. The court directed him to devise a proposal and place it before the cabinet in the next meeting for complying with Section 8 of the Act.

The bench said that it is the responsibility of the Senior Citizens Council under Section 5 of the Act to take such measures and perform such functions as may be necessary for the welfare of the elderly and for improving their well-being, and in order to effectively implement these benefits and the undertakings, some proactive approach is required.

The CS assured the SHC that once the rules are framed, the implementation of the senior citizens law will be easier for the council and the government. The bench told the CS and the social welfare secretary to oversee the process, and in case of any deficiency in the draft rules, ensure that the necessary condition is incorporated in the rules to cater to the basic needs and requirements of Section 5 of the Act.

The Legal Aid Society had said in their petition that the Sindh Senior Citizens Welfare Act had been promulgated in 2014, and according to its Section 5(f), the Senior Citizens Council will provide free geriatric, medical and health services to the elderly with free medicines as provided by the respective government hospital medical officers and a 25 per cent concession at all

private hospitals, medical centres and clinics.

The petitioner’s counsel said that during the prevalent pandemic, private hospitals have been overcharging Covid-19 patients, and it is very difficult for the patients, especially the elderly, to bear the medical expenses at private health facilities.

He said that private hospitals have been exploiting the elderly and making a fortune from their miseries by charging Rs50,000 to Rs150,000 a day for treatment in their general wards and intensive care units.

The lawyer said that due to the lack of cost regulation in the country, private hospitals have been capitalising on the plight of the patients, particularly the elderly, and making exorbitant profits. He said the SHC had already ordered the enforcement and implementation of the Sindh Senior Citizens Welfare Act, and requested the court to direct the provincial government to ensure the implementation of the law, especially its Section 5(f).

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