Maintenance and Welfare of Senior Citizens in India

Vidhi Agarwal

“Behind every young child who believe in himself is a parent who believed first”

In India, parents were regarded next to gods. For every mistake you do or sin you commit, you could resort to the arms of your parents. They are someone who knows your original potential and are the ones who exposed you to the world. However, there has been a wave of attitudinal changes in children.

Children are losing respect for their parents and leaving them in old age homes or even abandoning them. They find it difficult to spend time with their parents and forget the fact that all they will be left with in future are their memories.

In Hinduism, the services rendered to parents are regarded as the best services and is called “pita-rin” which means a loan from parents the repayment of which is the prior duty of every child. Providing services to parents, according to manusmriti, are important for attaining truthful and a successful life.

THE INDIAN ASPECT

In India, the rise in population is the result of increase in birth rates as well as decrease in death rates. The reduction in death has increased the number of aged people in our country and whose protection and welfare has become of utmost importance.

Due to the adaptation of westernization, our aged parents are left alone by their children helplessly. The aged parents suffer from loneliness, non-maintenance and torture in the hands of their own children. India was ranked at 71 out of 96 nations by the Global Age Watch Index (GAWI), which rates countries by how well their older populations are doing. In the health domain, India ranks lowest (87).

The latest outbreak of the pandemic of corona virus has also contributed to the elderly population’s hardships, exposing them to alarming health threats. The elderly population is at an elevated threat of COVID-19 infection due to reduced immunity and body reserves, according to an advisory for the elderly population issued by the Union Health Minister.

In addition, numerous related co-morbidities such as diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease and chronic pulmonary disease contribute to their vulnerability. In an effort to promote the constitutional mandate of safeguarding the wellbeing of the elderly under Article 41 of the Constitution of India, the Government of India enacted the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007.

WHAT IS ARTICLE 41 OF THE CONSTITUTION?

The article states that-“the State shall within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want.”

It intends to protect the right to jobs, education and public assistance of persons in cases of unemployment, old age, illness, disability and undeserved desire. Though this is not judicially enforceable since it is a directive principle, however, the government decided to uphold the interests of aged people and hence enacted Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007.

WHAT IS MAINTENANCE AND WELFARE OF PARENTS AND SENIOR CITIZENS ACT, 2007?

The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 is a law enacted by the Government of India’s Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment to provide more efficient arrangements for parents and senior citizens’ maintenance and welfare. It makes a legal duty, by monthly allowance, for children and heirs to provide maintenance for senior citizens and parents.

It also offers an easy, speedy and inexpensive mechanism for the safety of elderly people’s lives and property. The purpose of the act is to provide an affordable and speedy mechanism for parents and senior citizens to demand monthly maintenance. This act imposes duties on children to hold their parents/grandparents and also to retain those senior citizens by the relatives of the senior citizens.

Provisions to protect the lives and property of such individuals are the main features of this act. This Act also accounts for the creation of old age homes for indigent senior citizens and parents to ensure maintenance. This Act encompasses the entire of India. A senior citizen, including a parent unable to keep himself out of his own earnings or out of the property he owns, is authorised under this Act to receive relief.

Children/grand children are obligated to keep either father, mother or both of their parents. Similarly, a senior citizen’s relative is also obligated to look after the senior citizen. If such children or relatives do not respectively maintain their parents or senior citizens, then the parents/senior citizen may seek assistance from the Tribunal established under this Act to implement the maintenance relief.

Such parents or senior citizens may submit an appeal before the Tribunal, as the case may be, asserting maintenance and other relief from their children/relatives. Such a request for maintenance may be made either by a senior citizen or by a parent himself, or, if that person is incapable of doing so, by any other person or by any certified organisation designated by him.

CASE RULINGS

The protection is granted to the elderly citizens under the 2007 Act, which are of considerable modern relevance especially, since the Delhi High Court recently took judicial note of the dramatic rise in domestic violence cases in India during the government’s national lockdown.

In addition, in Vinay Verma v Kanika Pasricha and Another, the Delhi High Court formerly acknowledged in terms of the meaning and balance between the 2007 Act and the Protection of Women from Domestic Abuse Act, 2005. Tensions between parents and their children have arisen dramatically and have posed complicated legal issues. In cases of conflict between parents (or parents-in-law) and children, the elderly will be associated with the serene satisfaction of their property or, in other cases, expect their relatives to pay a reasonable amount for a reasonable livelihood.

It was concluded in Sandeep Gulati v. Divisional Commissioner that the simple evidence that children do not want their parents to remain with them is sufficient to activate the Act and the Laws, and there is no stringent prerequisite to show that he/she requires maintenance (in order to obtain an eviction order); it has been maintained in various rulings as cited in Vinay Verma that even daughters-in-law may be evacuated

The above judgments clearly indicate that while reading the 2007 Act, the Delhi High Court has adopted a liberal perspective and a disenfranchised elderly person can be automatically granted a remedy for eviction/maintenance.

The Supreme Court issued distinct directives to the central and state governments in the Ashwani Kumar case, claiming non-compliance with the requirements of the 2007 Act. They include that the Union of India was required to obtain the requisite statistics of elderly homes in each district of the country from all state governments and union territories and to file a progress update in this regard. The Union of India was further instructed to obtain the medical and geriatric care services accessible to senior citizens in each district from all state governments and to register a Status Report in this respect.

A plan of action should be planned on the analysis of the knowledge obtained by the Union of India, as outlined in the Status Reports, in order to publicise the provisions of the 2007 Act and to make senior citizens conscious of the parameters of that Act. Now it is upon the government to follow these guidelines in this pandemic age.

Changes proposed in the existing act for better welfare of senior citizens and aged people

The Maintenance and Welfare of Senior Citizen and Aged People (Amendment) Bill, 2019 has been initiated for the betterment of the parental generation. Under the classification of children, the Bill includes stepchildren, adoptive children, children-in-law, and legal guardians of minor children.

Under the Act, Maintenance Tribunals can order children to pay their parents a maximum of Rs 10,000 per month as a maintenance fee. This upper cap on the maintenance fee is eliminated by the Bill. The Act allows for senior citizens to question the Maintenance Tribunal’s judgments. The Bill also allows children and relatives to challenge the Tribunal’s decisions.

The Bill provides that the Tribunal can impose a warrant to charge the due sum if the children or relatives refuse to cooperate with maintenance orders. Failure to pay such a fine can result in up to one month’s incarceration, or until payments are made. The Bill accounts for the oversight of senior citizens’ private care-homes and home-care services institutions.

It also introduces police provisions for senior citizens. It states that to cope with problems relating to parents and senior citizens, each police station must have at least one officer (not below the rank of Assistant Sub-Inspector). In every district, state governments must establish a special police unit for senior citizens. A police officer not under the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police will lead the unit. Moreover, it specifies that the health care workers should be certified and registered with appropriate authority.

CONCLUSION

It can be inferred or rather summarized by stating that the issue of the elderly must be treated with the utmost concern and urgency. It is imperative that the Constitution be revised to provide a special provision for the security of the elderly and move it to the threshold of fundamental law.

With the degradation of joint family system, dislocation of familiar ties and lack of respect for the aged individual, the family in modern times should not be considered to be a safe place for them. The Statutory responsibility of the State should therefore be to establish an Act for the health and extra care of the elderly, including palliative care.

For India’s elderly population, the shortage of sufficient social security or retirement pension is a subject of significant worry and deserves the requisite intervention of our policymakers and hence the New Bill should be dealt with urgency.