4 Oct 2009

Law empowering elderly comes into force

The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 has been brought into force from this October. Enacted with a view to effectively provide for the 'maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens', the law empowers any 'parent or grand-parent' or a 'childless senior citizen' "unable to maintain himself from his own earning or out of the property owned by him" to make an application to the Tribunal for directing the children or relatives to provide for their maintenance. It is simultaneously made an obligation for the children and relatives to provide for the maintenance and welfare of the parents and such related citizens.

'Maintenance' has been defined widely to include 'provision for food, clothing, residence, medical attendance and treatment' and 'welfare' means provisioning for food, health care, recreation centres and other necessary amenities. The law would operate against children and relatives, which  include all those kin who would are in possession of the applicant's property or would inherit it upon his death. 

The law envisages the Tribunal to hear the applicant and the other side and thereupon pass such orders directing for maintenance for the parents and senior citizens such that they are able to live a normal life. Now what is normal has not been particularly defined in the law but one would anticipate what applies to other parents and senior citizens would be extended to the applicants. The law even provides a mechanism to enforce the obligations of the children and kin living outside India. 

The Tribunals would be opened in all sub-divisions of India (except Jammu and Kashmir) and would be headed atleast by a Sub-Divisional officer of the State. These tribunals would have certain powers of the Courts to ensure attendance of people before it, determination of rights etc. It is provided that "if the children or relatives neglect or refuse to maintain a senior citizen being unable to maintain himself, the Tribunal may, on being satisfied of such neglect or refusal, order such children or relative to make a monthly allowance at such monthly rate for the maintenance of such senior citizen, as the Tribunal may deem fit and to pay the same to such senior citizen from time to time". The maximum allowance, however, can at best be ten thousand rupees a month.

It is noteworthy that all fees and expenses of these proceedings before the Tribunal shall be borne by the person against whom the order to pay maintenance is passed. However, it maintenance is claimed under this law, it would not be available under the Criminal Procedure Code, which also provides for similar maintenance. What is also to be noted is that the law provides that no party before the Tribunal can be represented by a legal practitioner. 

Separate provisions are also made for establishment of old-age homes; medical support for senior citizens; protection of life and property of senior citizens; etc., the burden of all of which has been affixed on the respective State Governments. 

Thus it can be seen that the duty concept to provide for elderly and others, have now been enacted as a right concept wherein the parents and relatives earlier were only dependents on the moral obligation of their children and relatives to maintain them can now claim provision for maintenance from their children and relatives. Its really a shame for India that we require such a law and cannot continue to live on the traditional values which ought such children and relatives but then hard factual realities indeed require such a law. Nonetheless, let us hope the plight of the senior citizens and the parents would now be stand reduced and they would be able to pass on their older days in a better and comfortable living.  

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