- Terming the rights of the rising elderly population of the country an “emerging situation” not envisaged even in the Constitution, the Supreme Court said the government could not tighten its finances in the name of “economic budgeting” to explain the inadequate welfare provided to senior citizens and the aged.
- The court said it was a statutory right of every aged person under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act of 2007 to be provided dignity, health and shelter.
- All the three are important components which make the fundamental right to life under Article 21.
- It observed that in the absence of a suitable number of old age homes, and homes as per their status, they are left to fend for themselves making them vulnerable to mishaps and other unforeseen events.
- The apex court ordered the Centre to obtain details from the States about the medical and geriatric care facilities available to senior citizens in each district.
- The court directed that the Centre should prepare a plan of action for giving publicity to the provisions of 2007 Act and ensure that the State governments carry out and execute the provisions of the law.
- The Centre also noted that there had been a steady rise in the population of senior citizens in India. It submitted in court that the number of elderly persons had increased from 1.98 crore in 1951 to 7.6 crore in 2001 and 10.38 crore in 2011. It is projected that the number of 60+ in India would increase to 14.3 crore in 2021 and 17.3 crore in 2026.
Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007
- The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill, 2007 seeks to make it a legal obligation for children and heirs to provide maintenance to senior citizens. It also permits state governments to establish old age homes in every district.
- Senior citizens who are unable to maintain themselves shall have the right to apply to a maintenance tribunal seeking a monthly allowance from their children or heirs.
- State governments may set up maintenance tribunals in every sub-division to decide the level of maintenance. Appellate tribunals may be established at the district level.
- State governments shall set the maximum monthly maintenance allowance. The Bill caps the maximum monthly allowance at Rs 10,000 per month.
- Punishment for not paying the required monthly allowance shall be Rs 5,000 or up to three months imprisonment or both.
- Maintenance is defined in the Act as including “provision for food, clothing, residence and medical attendance and treatment”.
Who is Legally Obligated to Pay Maintenance?
- Adult Children and adult grandchildren, both male and female, are responsible for paying maintenance to parents and grandparents. An application can be filed against any one or more of them.
- Senior citizens who do not have children or grandchildren can claim maintenance from a relative who is either possessing their property or who will inherit their property of the senior citizen after their death.
Key Issues and Analysis
- It is unclear whether the creation of maintenance tribunals will ensure financial independence for senior citizens, or whether parents will likely take their children to court to obtain a maintenance allowance from them.
- The definition of senior citizen includes both Indian citizens aged over 60 years, and all parents irrespective of age. Also, the Bill does not address the needs of senior citizens who do not have children or property.
Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizen Draft Bill, 2018
- Amendments are under consideration in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Major amendments proposed in the existing Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 comprise:
- The Bill expands the definition of children, which currently refers to only biological children and grandchildren, to include daughter-in-law and son-in-law and also adopted/step-children.
- It extends the definition of maintenance beyond provision of food, clothing, housing, health care to include “safety and security” of the parent.
- Removal of maximum ceiling of maintenance allowance; extension of right to appeal to the respondents also; extension of benefit of revocation of transfer of property to parents also; reckoning of time limit for disposal of applications by the Tribunal from the date of receipt of application etc.
- Jail term for those who abandon their parents : They shall be punishable with imprisonment of not less than three months which may be extended to six months or fine up to Rupees Ten Thousand or both.
- It will require the government to establish and run at least one Senior Citizen Care Home in every district in the country.
- Currently, various government and private schemes for insurance/health, housing and travel, have varied cut-off age for offering benefits meant for senior citizens. The Bill mandates the uniform age across schemes should be 60 years.
- It states that if parents transfer property to their children on the condition that they take care of them, and this clause is breached, the transfer of property will be deemed to be “made by fraud or coercion or under undue influence” and a tribunal can order it to be transferred back to the parent.