Five states with no more than 32% of India’s population of senior citizens (aged 60 and above) cornered 71% of the funds provided by the Centre for maintenance of old-age homes over the past four years, according to an analysis of government data.

India is known for its demographic dividend, but the country is ageing, its elderly population rising 36% over 10 years. The skewed funding of a centrally run elderly care programme indicates that some states are better prepared than others – the poorest and most ill-managed are worst off – to navigate the formidable bureaucracy that sanctions grants to NGOs.

Out of a total funding of of Rs 34 crore, 71%, or Rs 24 crore, went to Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and West Bengal, states that are home to one-third of India’s senior citizens, revealed an IndiaSpend analysis of data from the ministry of social justice and empowerment.

The data includes the number of old-age homes assisted, funds granted and beneficiaries targeted under the Integrated Programme for Older Persons – a government scheme to improve the quality of life of the elderly – over four financial years, 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 (as on November 26).

Government funding through the Integrated Programme for Older Persons covers 90% of costs of building and maintaining old-age homes, day-care centres and mobile medicare units for indigent senior citizens. It is managed by the social defence bureau of the social justice ministry.

India had 103.8 million citizens above the age of 60 at the end of 2011, up from 77 million in 2001, the rising numbers a result of the decreasing fertility rate and growing life expectancy, IndiaSpend reported in May 2016.

An increase in elderly population implies greater responsibility for the government and civil society organisations in providing shelter, food and healthcare for the aged. However, the skewed disbursal of funds indicates inadequate attention to this.

The imbalances

Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, has more people above 60 than any other state (15 million or 14.86%), but it got no more than 3.22% of central funds to maintain old-age homes. With 7.97% of senior citizens (8 million), pre-bifurcation Andhra Pradesh (the data includes Telangana) got almost eight times as much money as Uttar Pradesh.

With 20.77% of India’s above-60 population, three southern states – Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu – cornered 52.16% of funding under Integrated Programme for Older Persons over four years.

Andhra also has the most beneficiaries of the scheme nationwide, at 5,100, six times more than Uttar Pradesh's 700. The anomalies affect the poorest and most-populous states.

Bihar, home to seven million senior citizens, has the fifth-largest population of elderly people, but it received 0.70% of national funding; Rajasthan, home to five million senior citizens, got 1.1%.

“Any budgetary proposal under the scheme goes through numerous desks between the district, state and central governments, which causes inordinate delays, diluting the government’s purpose of helping the voluntary sector with timely funds,” said Balakrishna Moorthy, general secretary of People’s Action for Social Service, an NGO that runs two old-age homes and one mobile medicare unit for elderly persons in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh.

Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have similar proportions of people above 60 – 5.57% and 5.50%, respectively – but Karnataka, with 13.88% of funds under the Integrated Programme for Older Persons, got 13 times as much funding as Madhya Pradesh over the last four financial years, during which Madhya Pradesh had 1.25% of beneficiaries of the scheme compared to Karnataka’s 12%.

Some states got zero funds

Odisha, which is not even among the top 10 states in terms of population of senior citizens, received 12.53% of the funds granted to old-age homes over four years and ranks second in both beneficiaries targeted and old-age homes funded.

Among the top-10 funded states are Assam and Manipur, which collectively got 10.59% of funds but are home to only 2.18% of India’s elderly population.

With four million elderly persons, Gujarat ranks 10th on the list of senior citizens, but it received no elderly care funding over the last four financial years, the data shows. Kerala, which ranks 11th, received no funding in 2012-13 and 2014-15.

A newly introduced online grant-in-aid application mechanism does not cut paperwork, said experts, and has introduced potential intermediaries in a process already described as "tedious”.

“I receive a constant barrage of emails and phone calls from consultancy firms that offer to file my applications online and lobby for my proposal at various levels of bureaucracy,” said Sukhwinder Singh, manager of Gyandeep Shiksha Samiti that runs a day-care centre for senior citizens in Bhatinda, Punjab.

The number of old-age homes supported under the scheme has declined over the last few years: 269 were funded by the central government in 2012-13, declining to 207 in 2013-14 and 187 in 2014-15.

The Supreme Court, in April 2016, issued a notice to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in response to a public interest litigation filed by former law minister Ashwani Kumar, who insisted that while there were enough laws and policies for the elderly, they were improperly implemented.

This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.