Saturday, June 24, 2006

How Old Is Old?

LOOKING FOR a confused man? You don't have to look far: take the case of Padmanabha Iyer and his wife, Kamala.

For quite some time, Iyer has been enjoying the benefit of half per cent additional interest, applicable to senior citizens, on his deposits with the bank he patronises. Having superannuated four years ago, he has all along been certain that he is a senior citizen. Now, he is not as sure as he was.

The Iyers first flew down from Delhi to Hyderabad where their son had set up a business. A fortnight later, they took a train to Bangalore where their married daughter lived. After 10 days, they took a flight to Thiruvananthapuram.

The first lap of the journey was by Sahara Airlines. The couple was told that as senior citizens, they would be offered 50 per cent concession. At the reservation counter, however, it was a different story: the two were treated differently by the airline. Iyer who had turned 64 in April last was entitled to the concession, but the girl at the desk explained that Mrs. Iyer, who will be 62 February next, would not be. You have to have completed 62 years to be eligible for it. So, Kamala told her spouse, "I am still young, you are not."

The tables were turned during the train journey from Hyderabad to Bangalore. Iyer was told that as he is not 65 yet, he was not entitled to any concession. However, Kamala, being a woman above 60, need pay only 70 per cent. Mrs. Iyer was a senior citizen, but Iyer was not!

The man from Jet Airways, Bangalore was all smiles, though helpless. "Neither of you is 65 yet and hence I cannot offer any concession; the rules do not permit it." Iyer went to the Indian Airlines counter and received the same response; both had to pay the full fare for the last lap.

"This is funny," Mrs. Iyer observes. "I was travelling by bus in Punjab last year and was told that the Government would pay for the journeys of all women above 60." Says Iyer, "There are various welfare societies and organisations in Delhi working for the benefit of the elderly citizens and their rules stipulate that to qualify as elderly citizens, one must be above 55, 58 or at worst 60." And he proves his point by quoting the Life Insurance Corporation of India whose

Varishtha Pension Bima Yojna is open to senior citizens (defined as those over 55 years of age). However, the confusion is compounded by the newly introduced Dada-Dadi bond that is offered only to those above 60.

Tax consultant Suresh Kumar cautions, "Greater confusion awaits you when it comes to income tax." Nothing could be truer, for, a man can claim to be a senior citizen and claim tax rebate up to Rs. 20,000 under Section 88B only if he is above 65 years. Women taxpayers get the special rebate up to Rs. 5,000 out of the tax payable by them, but this rebate is not available to women above 65 who get senior citizen rebate.

Iyer has propounded what he plans to call Iyer's Axiom: Whether you are a senior citizen or not depends on whether you are travelling by train or by air or by bus, what your gender is and whether you are buying insurance, depositing money in a bank or filing your income tax return! By now, you must be as confused as Iyer!