In India as in other societies, ageing population and the kind of legislative and social interventions required to address concerns peculiar to senior citizens pose a stiff challenge for policymakers. In India, it is particularly difficult, given the sheer bulk of numbers and vast socio-economic divide.
According to a report published in February 2016 by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, the number of senior citizens in the country – those above the age of 60 – has gone up from 7.6 crore in 2001 to 10.3 crore in 2011, a massive 35.5% jump.
In our cities in particular, as the social fabric itself undergoes a sea change with greater migration and more nuclear families, the problems and insecurities faced by senior citizens are especially acute. Reports of physical and financial abuse, neglect and even abandonment make headlines in news media every once in a while.
Under the prevailing demographic and social scenario, it becomes particularly relevant to highlight the kind of legislative support that may be available to the elderly and the rights that they are entitled to claim under such law.
In 2007, India enacted The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, with a view to ensure need-based maintenance for parents and senior citizens and their welfare. On Tuesday, January 31 2017, Silver Talkies, an online publication for Senior Citizens in the city of Bangalore, held a workshop to educate seniors in the city about their rights to claim maintenance for their welfare in old age under the Act. Shiv Kumar, a seasoned lawyer with more than 40 years of experience in the Karnataka High Court, was the guest speaker.
Based on the information shared by the lawyer, here are some of the salient provisions of the Act that senior citizens in the country must be made aware of.
The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007
This Act is superior to every other act and has overriding effect on every other law for senior citizens.
Whom does the Act apply to?
- Senior Citizens – over 60 years of age
- Parents – Mother/Father/Stepfather/Stepmother of any age
Who are Children and Relatives?
- Children could refer to any adult son/daughter and also grandson/daughter
- Relatives – If the senior citizen has no children, his legal heir, that is one who is either in possession of the property of the senior citizen or would inherit it.
It may be noted here that children have a right to implead other children. This is intended to prevent senior citizens from accusing and placing the burden on their children selectively, whether the reasons are emotional, cultural, etc. All children are liable to provide Maintenance for their parents.
What is Property?
- Movable or immovable property
- Tangible or intangible property
- Ancestral property as well as self-acquired
- Rights or Interests in such property
What this means is that ancestral property, on which multiple claims may exist, can no longer be used as a loophole or an excuse to avoid provision of maintenance for seniors entitled to it.
What is Maintenance?
- Medical Attendance – the right to have nurses or helpers at home
- Medical Treatment.
Maintenance is the sum of money that a senior citizen gets to ensure his welfare. The maximum amount which may be ordered for maintenance of a senior citizen shall be prescribed by the State Government and shall not exceed Rs. 10,000/- per month.
What is Welfare?
- Provision for food
- Recreation centres and other amenities necessary for the senior citizens
What are the conditions for a Senior Citizen to claim maintenance?
A senior citizen can only claim maintenance if she/he is unable to maintain himself/herself from property owned or from own earning.
Such claims can be made upon
- One or more children or grandchildren, who are not minors.
- In case of a childless senior citizen, a relative as defined above
Apart from vesting ‘rights’ in elders, the law casts an ‘obligation’ on the child or relative, extending to the ‘needs’ of the senior citizens, as required for them to lead a normal life.
Who can apply for maintenance?
- The senior citizen himself
- Any other person or registered voluntary organisation authorised by him/her
- The Tribunal itself can initiate an enquiry
Where does one file this application?
The application for maintenance may either be filed in the district where the senior citizen stays or last stayed, or in the district where the child or relative stays.
What is the procedure involved?
Once the application for maintenance under Section 4 has been submitted,
- The Tribunal will issue a notice to the children
- They will have the opportunity of being heard
- The application must be disposed of within 90 days, with an extension of 30 days under extreme circumstances that need to be recorded in writing. This, however, is rare as the Assistant Commissioner at the head of the Tribunal has multiple responsibilities. He has to split his time between these different duties, in addition to dealing with pressure from superiors, and this inevitably causes delays.
- The Tribunal shall determine the amount to be paid, subject to a maximum of Rs.10,000
- Amount to be paid from date of order
When should maintenance be paid?
Children are liable to start paying legal costs as well as Maintenance from the day of the order, or if so ordered by the Tribunal, from the day that the application was filed.
Upon the death of one child, other children continue to be liable. If one of the children die, their portion of the maintenance must be taken care of by the remaining children.
Failure to comply with the order of the Tribunal is punishable with levy of fines, or even imprisonment for up to a month.
Having said so, however, lawyer Shiv Kumar raised a question for the audience. He asked, “How many of you would want your children to go to jail, for Rs. 10,000?” Kumar says that he receives multiple calls on the Elders Helpline from senior citizens who say, “We will beg, we will borrow, we will starve, but we will not have a situation where my children will go to jail.”
That, now, is a conundrum for society to heed and solve.