The share of senior citizens among the population is expected to increase in most countries in the coming years. Various countries have enacted laws to promote welfare of senior citizens. We look at the status of the ‘Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act’ in India.
According to the 2011 Census, nearly 8.6% of India’s population, including 8.2% males and 9% females, were senior citizens or those who were of age 60 years and above. With significant strides in improved life expectancy over the years, the senior citizen population is expected to further increase in the future. Not just in India, population aging is an ongoing phenomenon even globally. It has been projected that in 2030, older persons (above 60 years old) will outnumber the children under the age of 10 years, and by 2050, the number of older persons will cross 2 billion and will outnumber adolescents and youth aged 10 to 24 years, according to a 2017 UN report on ‘World Population Ageing’.
With increasing age, older persons become dependent. In addition to the health issues, they are also subjected to different forms of abuse like emotional, physiological, financial, and verbal. Instances of children and relatives mistreating the elderly and depriving them of food and healthcare are also being reported from different parts of the country. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data reveals that incidences of reported crimes against senior citizens has also been on a rise, from 18,714 in 2014 to 27,696 in 2019, an increase of 48%. Gradual breakdown of joint family system in the society is cited as the reason by the government, behind the rising number of cases of neglect, crime, exploitation, and abandonment of parents and senior citizens.
Filial support laws which make it the duty of adult children to support their parents who are unable to maintain themselves have been in place since the mid 1990-s in China, Bangladesh, Singapore, and India. Taiwan, USA, Germany, and France also have similar statutes.
MWPSC Act was enacted to ensure parents and senior citizens are given basic amenities
Multiple schemes and legal statutes are being implemented in India to offer support and protection to senior citizens in order to ensure that they are taken care of. One such important legislation is the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 (MWPSC Act) which was brought in to ensure need based maintenance for parents and senior citizens and their welfare. The Act defines maintenance as including provision for food, clothing, residence, medical attendance, and treatment. Unlike claiming for maintenance under Section 125 of CrPC wherein the senior citizen will have to approach the Court bearing expenses to file and litigate suit and spend a lot of time, under MWPSC Act, the process was made simple. Parents and senior citizens may claim for maintenance only under one of these statutes.
Maintenance for parents and senior citizens is made mandatory by the law
The Act makes it mandatory for children or legal heirs to provide the basic amenities to their parents or grandparents (or senior citizens). Maintenance Tribunals have been established to ensure the implementation of the law. Monthly maintenance of up to Rs. 10,000 can be awarded and the children or relative should deposit this within 30 days from the day of the order by the tribunal. Senior citizens can also revoke transfer of property in case of negligence by relatives. The failure to comply with the maintenance orders issued by the Tribunal can also attract imprisonment. Section 17 of the Act states that no party to a proceeding should be represented by a lawyer while parents or senior citizens may avail the services of the Maintenance Officer appointed by the State Government.
State governments have been entrusted with the responsibility to ensure that every district has at least one old age home for destitute senior citizens. Adequate medical facilities as well as security for senior citizens must be ensured. Special arrangements like separate queues and beds in hospitals, must also be provided.
Former Law Minister, Dr. Ashwani Kumar had filed a petition on the issue of rights of the elderly following which a Supreme Court bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta in December 2018 issued some directions for enforcing the rights of senior citizens. Emphasizing on social justice, the bench stated that right to live with dignity, shelter, and health of citizens, including the elderly, must be ensured by states. The right of senior citizens to live with dignity has also been mentioned in Senior Citizen Welfare Organization & another v. State of Uttarakhand & Anr., in June 2018. The Uttarakhand High Court issued a slew of mandatory directions for the state following its failure to maintain the required number of old age homes. The directions include establishment of old age homes across all districts and provision of facilities for senior citizens ensuring their safety and welfare.
SC directed the Central Government to ensure proper implementation
The SC, in Dr. Ashwani Kumar v. Union of India & Ors. asked the government to obtain information about the number of old age homes, medical and geriatric care facilities in each district from state governments and union territories, and file status reports. It was further highlighted that the elderly was not aware of their human rights guaranteed by the Constitution and State Governments. The Central Government can devise plans for the State Governments to execute the various provisions of the Act. The SC directed the Centre to prepare a plan of action for giving publicity to the various provisions of the MWPSC Act and the other statutory rights of the elderly. Further, the Central government was asked to conduct a review to monitor the progress in implementation of the Act by the State Governments. The apex court also noted that some of the schemes were outdated and asked the Centre to relook at them. The Center directed that the Pension amount was to be revised in order to make it more ‘realistic’. The last revision in pension was done in 2007.
All these directions by courts imply that the implementation of the Act is not satisfactory. Studies have also pointed out that the lack of awareness of rights among elderly is a major reason for the ineffective implementation of the legislation. Emotional attachment to children, physical weakness to fight a case, and social stigma with respect to living in old age homes are some of the other reasons behind parents/ senior citizens not opting the legal route to claim maintenance.
MWPSC Amendment Bill, 2019 has been referred to Standing Committee
An amendment bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2019 to make changes to the MWPSC Act. The bill was referred to the Standing Committee and might come up for discussion in the upcoming parliament session. The Bill has been introduced following various High Courts’ orders to review the Act’s provisions. The Bill proposes to bring daughter-in-law or son–in-law, adopted or step-children under the definition of children. Further, it proposes to remove the upper limit in maintenance.