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Every Senior Citizen has Right to Live with Dignity

Every Senior Citizen has Right to Live with Dignity: A brief Assessment of the Legal provisions for the maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens Act, 2007 and Amendment bill, 2019

"After a lifetime of working, raising families, and contributing to the success of this nation in countless other ways, senior citizens deserved to retire with dignity".- Charlie Gonzalez[1]

Introduction
Human life is blessed by God with numerous surprises. Yes, it's true from simple egg and sperm complex human body will be formed and men need to cross several stages in his life cycle from infancy to old age. Old age is an indispensable stage of life which a man cannot escape unless untimely death occurs. During old age men needs more attention and with increasing age, an aged person becomes dependent and faces a lot of problems due to several reasons like physical, mental, health etc.

Because of which society has developed a moral obligation on every children to maintain old aged parents. In fact traditionally parents are treated as a pious form of God and children feel that maintenance of their parents as contribution to God. It is the general notion and has been acknowledged universally. However, it is the notable point that the ethical obligation under moral law to maintain parents, is accepted by all while, the degree of such duty varies from society to society.

So, in India where people gives more priority to traditional values, ethics, morals, religious faith etc elders have been accorded a high status and a symbol of reverence and parents viewed by children as true images of God. There are so many examples one can find in Indian epics. Unfortunately, the winds of change are blowing all around the world, and new situations are arising.

World has been witnessing social, political, economical changes like disintegration of joint family system, importance to nuclear family structure, population growth, poverty, unemployment, industrialization, globalization, modernization ….. and so on. All these are resulted for degenerating traditional values, Intergenerational ties that were once the hallmark of the traditional family system have broken down.

So, horrific instances of neglect, exploitation, crime, abandonment, grabbing and thrown out from properties with utmost apathy of parents and senior citizens gradually increasing day by day. Moreover, the younger generation is considering that the senior citizens are limiting theirindependence and subject them to neglect - almost every day. Stories of elderly people from well-to-do families, living on the streets after being ill-treated by their children, have become common. In the so-called modern society, the economically inactive old person is treated as a burden on the limited resources of the family.

This kind of Parents and senior citizens were increasingly oppressed has emerged as an important issue in India and necessitated for legal control for social challenge. Therefore a new legislation The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act (MWPSCA) came into existence in the year 2007 to provide care and maintenance support to elderly parents and senior citizens as a benevolent law that safeguards elders.

Problems has been Facing by Senior Citizens and Aged Parents

It is fact that during old age men needs more attention and with increasing age, an aged person becomes dependent and faces a lot of problems like:
  1. Financial problems include evils like income deficiency, unemployment, and monetary insecurity.
  2. Physical as well as physiological troubles count on physical condition and medicinal matters, mala-nutrition, and inadequate housing etc.
  3. Legal problems which covers follows pressures and fear of following offences being faced during the prolonged legal proceeding resulting mental Harassment, Defamation, Assault, Criminal intimidation, wrongful restraint, Breach of trust, fraud, mischief, nuisance, criminal misappropriation like if a senior citizen proceed to take his property back from disobedient son and daughter, then Daughter-in law misuse the provisions of Domestic Violence Act, Wrongfully removing and disposing the property of the senior citizens, illiteracy towards their rights are among the other problem.
  4. Psycho-social problem includes problems like social maladjustment and psychological in addition to the issues of elder abuse etc.

The International Endeavour's for Protection of Senior Citizens

The topic of ageing was first addressed at the United Nations in 1948, following Argentina's invitation. In 1969, the issue was brought up again in Malta for discussion. In 1971, the United Nations General Assembly asked the Secretary-General to prepare a detailed report on the elderly and to develop guidelines for national and international cooperation. In the year 1978, the Assembly decided to support a World Conference on Aging.

As a result, in July and August of 1982, the World Assembly on Aging was held in Vienna, where an International Plan of Action on Aging was adopted. The Plan's aim was to strengthen countries' ability to deal effectively with the issue while also promoting social and financial stability. Later, the Assembly encouraged the Secretary-General to continue working to ensure that the Plan is implemented effectively.

After this in 1992, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution declaring 1999 to be the International Year of the Elderly. More over to draw the attention of the world regarding problems and safeguards about senior citizens the International Day for the Elderly was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on October 1st.

Statutory Provisions under Indian Laws
Even though in traditional society the moral duty of maintenance of parents and elders were complied by people in strict manner, in modern era because of several reasons the steady decline in compliance with this moral duty one can find. So the legal provisions were added for the protection of parents under different laws.
  1. Constitutional Safeguard
    The Indian Constitution stipulated thatThe State shall, within the limits of its economic ability and growth, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education, and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, illness and disablement, and other cases of undeserved want.[2] And constitutional makers also suggested to governments thatState should work for promotion of the educational and economic interests of....... and other weaker sections:
    The State shall promote with particular attention the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people.....and shall protect them from social inequality and other types of exploitation[3]. However, these provisions are included in Chapter IV of the Indian Constitution, titled Directive Principles of State Policy. It is well known that the Directive Principles states that no court of law will enforce them. Directive Principles, on the other hand, place constructive responsibilities on the state.[4]
     
  2. Under Personal Laws

    1. The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956

      Under this Act tt is clear thatA Hindu male or female is bound to maintain his or her legitimate/illegitimate minor children and aged/infirm parents. Aged or infirm parent (which includes childless stepmother) or unmarried daughters have to be maintained if they are unable to maintain themselves.[5] Moreover, under this Act, even the heirs of a deceased Hindu are bound to maintain his/her “dependants out of his/her estate inherited by them.[6]
       
    2. Islamic Law

      In Muslim law, the word "maintenance" is referred to as "nafaqa," which means "what a person spends over his family." Hedaya describes 'maintenance' as all that is needed to sustain life, such as food, clothing, and lodging.

      There are three reasons why one person must preserve the other:
      1. marriage,
      2. friendship, and
      3. land.
      The highest level of obligation arises from marriage; the second level arises when one person has means and the other is indigent. It is true that the responsibility to care for one's children is a personal one. The duty to care for one's elderly and infirm parents occurs only when one is in good financial standing and the parents are poor.

      The duty to retain other relationships occurs only when one is in easy circumstances and the ties are weak, and it only applies to those relations who are beyond the degree of prohibited relationship, and then only in proportion to the share one will inherit from them upon their death.
       
    3. Maintenance Obligation under Christian and Parsi Law

      There are no personal laws requiring Christians and Parsis to provide maintenance to their parents. Parents seeking maintenance from their children must file a complaint with the court under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
       
  3. The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

    A secular clause was provided under section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. It says that:
    Magistrate may order a person to make monthly allowance for maintenance in a case where any person who despite having sufficient means neglects or refuses to maintain
    1. His legitimate or illegitimate minor child who is unable to maintain itself; or
    2. Legitimate or illegitimate major child (not being a married daughter) unable to maintain itself due to any physical or mental abnormality/injury; or
    3. Married daughter till she attains majority if her husband is not able to maintain her; or
    4. His/her father or mother who are unable to maintain themselves.
This section also makes a provision for maintenance during the pendency of proceedings regarding monthly allowance for maintenance. Also, application for interim maintenance during pending proceedings is to be decided by the Magistrate, as far as possible, within sixty days of the date of service of notice of application to such person.

A person who fails to comply with the order of the Magistrate without showing sufficient cause may also be sent to prison. But here it is also a notable point that the order of maintenance passed under section 125 may be altered by the Magistrate on proof of change in circumstances.[7] It is notable point hear that by the judicial interpretation It holds that people of all faiths, including unmarried and married daughters along with a son under section 125 CrPC responsible for their parents' upkeep who are unable to maintain themselves.[8]

Non Statutory - National Efforts
For the Welfare and Protection of Senior Citizens Indian nation has provided different policies. They are:
  1. On January 13, 1999, the Government of India approved the National Policy for Older Persons in order to expedite welfare initiatives and motivate the elderly in ways that are beneficial to them.
    The following major measures were included in this policy:
    • Establishment of a pension fund to provide security to those who have worked in the unorganised sector;
    • Every 3-4 districts will have old age homes and day care centres built.
    • Resource centres and re-employment bureaus for people over the age of 60,
    • Concessional rail/air fares for travel within and between cities, e.g., a 30% train discount and a 50% Indian Airlines discount.
    • Enacting legislation requiring all public hospitals to have mandatory geriatric treatment.
       
  2. The Ministry of Justice and Empowerment has announced the creation of the age-well Foundation, a National Council for Older People. It will seek the opinions of the elderly on steps to make their lives easier.
     
  3. Aims to teach schoolchildren about the value of living and working with the elderly. The establishment of a 24-hour support line and the prevention of social ostracism of the elderly are being pursued.
     
  4. Government policy promotes the timely payment of pensions, provident funds (PF), gratuities, and other benefits to save superannuated people from financial hardship. It also supports the creation of tax policies that are responsive to the needs of the elderly.
     
  5. Their health care needs are also given top priority in the policy.
     
  6. The elderly are eligible for tax breaks under Sections 88-B, 88-D, and 88-DDB of the Income Tax Act.
     
  7. The Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) has a number of schemes for senior citizens, including Jeevan Dhara Yojana, Jeevan Akshay Yojana, Senior Citizen Unit Yojana, and Medical Insurance Yojana.
     
  8. Former Prime Minister A.B. Bajpai launched the 'Annapurana Yojana' to help the elderly. Unattended elderly people are given 10 kg of food every month as part of this yojana.
     
  9. It is suggested that 10% of the houses built under government schemes for the urban and rural low-income segments be made available to the elderly on a low-interest loan.[9]

Need for the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007


From the above one can understand that there are so many non statutory efforts for welfare of elders and statutory provisions providing parents/ elders the right to get maintenance from children/legal heirs but the procedural ladder is tiresome and slow. Moreover, It is surprising to see that, after so many provisions, the issue remains unaddressed.

Taking into account the above harsh realities, lawmakers have solemnly endeavoured to pass the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007(MWPSCA), in order to make the process simpler and less costly.

In 2007, MWPSCA came to existence to provide maintenance support to elderly parents and senior citizens. The Act contains 7 chapters and 32 sections. The Act helps cater to their basic needs, adjudication, and disposal of matters in their best interest, establishment, and management of institutions and services and for the rights guaranteed and recognized under the constitution and for matters connected therewith.

However, for more effective implementation of the Act in the year 2019 in the Lok Sabha an amendment bill proposed by the government but because of the two waves of Covid -19 pandemic in the country the bill is yet to be cleared by the Parliament. The bill introduces some major amendments to the Act with an intention to provide for the maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens ensuring their overall physical and mental wellbeing.

Salient features of the MWPSCA

The Senior Citizens Maintenance and Welfare Act of 2007 along with the amendment bill:
  • The Concept of Maintenance means "food, clothes, residence, and medical attendance and care."[10] Under new bill the termmaintenance has been defined as provision for food, clothing, housing, safety and security, medical attendance, healthcare and treatment necessary for the parents to lead a life of dignity.
     
  • The word welfare refers to the provision of food, health care, and other necessities for senior citizens.[11]
     
  • Parent refers to a maternal, adoptive, or stepfather or stepmother, depending on the situation, whether or not the father or mother is a senior citizen.[12] Under new bill the definition of parent would now include biological and adoptive father and mother, grandparents, father-in-law and mother-in-law as well.
     
  • Children includes son, daughter, grandson and grand - daughter but does not include a minor.[13] But under the new bill, the definition of the children has been expanded to include biological and adopted sons, daughters, step children, son-in-law and daughter-in-law, grandson, granddaughter and legal guardian of minor children.
     
  • Any Indian citizen who has reached the age of sixty years or more is referred to as a senior citizen.[14]
     
  • A relative is described as any legal heir of a childless senior citizen who is not a minor and is in possession of or will inherit his property after his death.[15]
     
  • Who Can Make an Application?
    Under section 4 of the Act, 2007:
    1. the parents or senior citizens who is unable to maintain themselves from their own earning or out of property owned by them, shall be entitled to make an application against their one or more of his children who is not a minor or against, in case of senior citizens, his relative.
    2. In case, where senior citizens or parents are unable to file a case, they can authorize any other person or organization to file the case or
    3. the Tribunal itself may take the case as suo moto.[16]
    However, to make the application under this section, the applicant has to prove any one of the two essential conditions. i.e., (i) unable to maintain themselves from their own earning or (ii) unable to maintain themselves out of property owned by them.
     
  • The application filed under this section 4 must be decided within sixty days of the date of service of notice of the application to that individual. In extraordinary circumstances, the Tribunal can extend this sixty-day period up to one more thirty-day period for reasons to be stated in writing.[17]
     
  • While the 2007 act requires the children to pay the maintenance amount within 30 days of the order by the tribunal, the current amendment bill seeks to reduce that time limit to 15 days.
     
  • Non-compliance with the order If any person ordered to pay maintenance or expenses of the proceeding fails to comply with the order without reasonable reason, the Tribunal may issue a warrant for levying the amount ordered and may sentence the defaulter for the entire or any part of each month's allowance for maintenance or expenses of the proceeding that remains unpaid.[18]

    The important thing to remember is that in order for the warrant to be issued under this clause, an application to the Tribunal to levy the amount must be submitted within three months of the date on which the amount becomes due.[19]
     
  • This Act Applicable to Persons/Relatives Who Live Outside of India's Territory?
    • Subsection (2) of Section 1 of Chapter I declares that this Act also applies to Indian citizens living outside of India.
    • Section 6 (5) also addresses the summons service process.Where the children or relative resides outside India, the Tribunal shall serve the summons by such authority as the Central Government specifies in this regard, it says. The Tribunal is created.
    • The Tribunal is presided over by an officer not lower than the rank of Sub Divisional Officer of a State, as per Section 7(2) of the Act, 2007.
    • The Tribunal has the power to order maintenance in the sum of Rs.10,000/- every month.[20] By the new amendment bill seeks to remove the upper limit of ₹10,000 as the monthly maintenance amount. If the amendment bill is passed and becomes a law, senior citizens might receive more than the amount of ₹10,000. However, the tribunal to look after these affairs, would consider the standard of living of the parent or the senior citizen, their earnings and also the earnings of the children or the person responsible.
    • Any senior citizen or parent who is dissatisfied with a Tribunal's decision may file an appeal with the Appellate Authority within sixty days of the date of the decision.[21] An officer with the rank of District Magistrate or higher shall preside over the Appellate Tribunal.[22]
       
  • Transfer of Property to be Void in Certain Circumstances
    Under this Act where any senior citizen has transferred his property by way of gift or otherwise after the commencement of this Act, subject to the condition that the transferee shall provide the basic amenities and basic physical needs of the transferor. In certain situations, there is a maintenance option also is there.[23]
     
  • New amendment bill 2019 proposed for:
    • Establish registration and minimum requirements for Senior Citizens' Care Homes, Multi-Service Day Care Centers for Senior Citizens, and Institutions offering Homecare Services for Senior Citizens;
    • Creates a Special Police Unit for Senior Citizens in each district and select Senior Citizens Nodal Officers in each Police Station;
    • Maintain a Senior Citizen Helpline;
    • Offenses and penalties (impose harsh penalties on those who neglect or abandon parents or senior citizens):
      Abandonment of a senior citizen or parent is punishable by up to three months in jail or a fine of up to Rs 5,000, or both, under the Act. The bill increases the punishment to three to six months in jail, a fine of up to Rs 10,000, or both. If the children or relatives do not comply with the maintenance order, the Tribunal may issue a warrant to levy the due sum. Failure to pay the fine could result in a one-month jail sentence, or until the fine is paid, whichever comes first.

Judicial Contributions
In recent cases Sunny Paul & Anr. v. State NCT of Delhi[24] the High Court of Delhi & Ors. And in Dattatrey Shivaji Mane v. Lilabai Shivaji Mane & ors.[25] the Bombay High Court while highlighting the object of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 (Senior Citizen Act) held that the Act permits a senior citizen including parent who is unable to maintain himself from his earning or out of property owned by him and if such senior citizen is unable to lead a normal life to apply for such relief i.e. eviction under Section 4 of the Act not only against his children but also the grandchildren. It means it recognized the right of the senior citizens to evict children from their home.

In Pramod Ranjankar & Anr. v. Arunashankar & ors.[26] The High Court of Chhattisgarh recognized the right of senior citizen over immovable property and eviction of abusive children.

In Senior Citizen Welfare Organization & another v. State of Uttarakhand & others[27] The High Court of Uttarakhand while recognizing the failure of State to maintain adequate old age homes for the senior citizens in the State has issued a slew of mandatory directions and recognized every Senor Citizen has Right to Live with Dignity.

Conclusion
Maintenance And Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizen Act 2007 was passed not only with the aim to protect the maintenance rights of old parents and senior citizens but also to provide them with a better life so that they are able to live their life with dignity. This Act not only talks about the maintenance rights of old parents and senior citizens but also proposes the provision like establishing the old age home for abandoned parents, providing better medical facilities to them etc. The 2019 Amendment made the Act stronger to protect the life and dignity of old parents and senior citizens.

So, Respect your Elders Learn From the people who have walked the path before you. Respect them, because someday and sooner than you could ever imagine you are going to be old, too.

End-Notes:
  1. https://www.quotemaster.org/Senior+Citizen
  2. Art. 41, the Constitution of India, 1950.
  3. Art. 46, The Constitution of India, 1950.
  4. Art. 37, The Constitution of India, 1950.
  5. Section 20 of Hindu adoption and maintenance Act, 1956.
  6. Section 22 of Hindu adoption and maintenance Act, 1956.
  7. Section 127 of the Criminal procedure code, 1973.
  8. In Vijaya Manohar Arbat v. Kashirao Rajaram Sawai, (1987) 2 SCC 278.
  9. Available at https://doi.org/10.11114/ijlpa.v4i1.5201 (Visited on 3rd November 2021
  10. Section 2(b) of the Act 2007.
  11. Section 2(k) of the Act, 2007.
  12. Section 2(d) of the Act, 2007.
  13. Section 2(a) of the Act, 2007.
  14. Section 2(h) of the Act, 2007.
  15. Section 2(g) of the Act, 2007.
  16. Section 5 of the Act, 2007.
  17. Section 4(4) of the Act, 2007
  18. Section 5(8) of the Act, 2007.
  19. Proviso to section 5 (8) of the Act, 2007.
  20. Section 9(2) of the Act, 2007.
  21. Section 16(1) of the Act, 2007.
  22. Section 15(2) of the Act, 2007.
  23. Section 23(1) of the Act, 2007.
  24. 2017 SCC OnLine Del 7451
  25. Writ Petition No. 10611 of 2018, Decided On, 26 June 2018
  26. 2018 SCC OnLine Chh 548.
  27. Writ Petition (PIL) No. 52 of 2013
Written By: Dr.Koneru Anuradha, B.A., LL.B, ML, Ph.D, M.Sc. Psychology., Presently working as Assistant Professor in Law, SVD Siddhartha Law College, Kanuru, Vijayawada, Krishna DT, AP State, India. Pin code: 52007.
[Authored on November 20, 2021]

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