Senior Citizens: Legal framework for helping the elderly
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Backdrop:

One of the main areas of concern for senior citizens has been their financial safety and security when they become old and have no adequate means of their own. There are many cases where children have neglected and abandoned their parents. Unfortunately, various governments since independence have not paid due attention to this crucial aspect of providing minimum social / financial security to elderly people who had contributed to GDP and growth of the country while they were young.

There are only 3 ways elderly people can maintain in old age:

a. Own sources

b. Government support

c. Support from children

In absence of first 2 support lines, the 3rd one becomes crucial but nothing can happen without a supportive legal framework, if the children are not willing to support. Need of the hour was to enact a proper, exhaustive yet simple legal framework that can enable elderly to live a life of dignity as enshrined in the Constitution.

Framing of Law:

Under the above context, The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 came into existence. Primary objective of the Act is to provide effective remedies for maintenance support and welfare of parents and senior citizens.

According to the Act, parents mean biological, adoptive, and stepparents, and age of parents is irrelevant to claim maintenance. This means that benefits of maintenance are available to all parents irrespective of age. Adult children and adult grandchildren are legally obligated to pay maintenance; the amount is determined by claimant's needs so that the older person can lead an everyday life. If children intentionally abandon the senior citizen completely, they are liable to pay a fine of Rs. 5,000/- or face imprisonment for three months or both.

Further, if children or relatives are not maintaining their parents or senior citizen, they can seek assistance of the Tribunal constituted under this Act to enforce remedy of maintenance. Such parents / senior citizens can apply to the Tribunal, claiming maintenance and other reliefs from their children / relatives. If the Tribunal is satisfied that there is neglect, it may order the children / relative to give a monthly allowance of up to Rs10,000/-. A childless senior can claim the same against his relatives, who inherits his property.

The Act also directs state government to establish old age homes in every district at those places where it deems necessary. State governments are also provided with the power to make schemes for management of old age homes, such as standards and various types of essential services including medical care and entertainment. Besides maintenance, the Act provides for care, welfare and protection of elderly people, which are more essential during this age. The Act ensures security of health, life, person, and property of the aged. The legislation is a comprehensive law and directs to address grievances of the old-aged persons.

Problems in Implementation and Challenges:

1. Lack of awareness: There is complete lack of awareness of the Act and its provisions amidst elderly people. Many elderly people are not even aware of existence of such an Act.

2. Needed simplification of procedure: State governments are expected to set up maintenance tribunals in each of the subdivisions or so. No details of such authorities are available with even with many of the senior citizen associations. Elderly people are not aware of ways and means to approach the tribunals or other legal recourse for seeking justice under the Act.

3. Non implementation: Some of the provisions of the Act yet to be implemented, in full, by many state governments. For example, the Act says that state governments will set up old age homes in each district of the state. It is doubtful if it has been implemented in many of the states.

Suggested Steps in Future and Conclusion:

This is a good Act to begin with noble intention. However, there are several issues in its path of proper implementation. Some of the steps suggested for successful implementation of the Act are:

1. Provisions of the Act should be should be widely notified by state governments in print / social media to make senior citizens / parents aware of the same.

2. Senior citizen associations should run awareness programs for its members to make members know about the Act and its provisions.

3. There should be a full course on the Act, its implementation and case laws in the course on Geriatric Counselling.

4. Governments should conduct an audit of implementation of various provisions of the Act and its implementation till date.

The amended law (2019) is still pending before the Parliament that tries to strengthen provisions of the Act. Let us all hope the senior citizens and parents will take benefit of the Act and it will result a better dignified life for elderly.

Dr A K Sen Gupta is Co-Founder and Chief Trustee of My Retired Life Foundation (MRLF). He may be contacted at aksengupta51@gmail.com or 9821128103.

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