March - April 2011
Between the Lines & What Lies Beneat
By Floyd Gracias.
The senior citizens saw a new ray of hope in December 2007, when the central government passed legislation , called the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act.
The Act, for sure, came with noble intentions a trend in recent legislation. However, the crux of the matter is the underlying implications of the Act, which will be discussed in subsequent paragraphs.
"An Act to provide for the more effective provisions for the maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens guaranteed and recognized under the Constitution and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto", came into force in December 2007 with a few interesting, but to some, scary definitions to begin with. The Act had to be enforced by each state, and for Maharashtra, it has come into force with effect of its notification dated 23 June 2010 and the tribunals were established vide its notification dated 29 September 2010 in the Maharashtra Gazette.
- It defines parents as parents, irrespective of age and include adoptive and step parents.
- Senior Citizen is any citizen who has attained the age of 60 years.
- Relative means any person who is entitled to receive the property on the death of the senior citizen.
The maximum maintenance payable is 10,000 rupees. The Act however, fails to state whether that's the maximum payable by a person, or the maximum receivable by a parent or senior citizen. This makes the Act really interesting for parents but surely scary for children.
For example, if a person was born when his parents were around 25 years of age, he is liable to pay them maintenance by the time they are 43. Now if he has maternal and paternal grandparents who should be in their late 60's or 70's and he has to maintain all of them, the underlying question here is how much compensation is he going to shell out a month. And after that, how much will he get to keep himself. Otherwise, "why work?" will be the pertinent question of any young office-goer. How is he to pay up so much? May be he could try Bollywood for some time, then poli-wood (I mean actors moving to politics). After all, where else does the money lie?
Another important fact to be noted, a ground for creation of speculation and doubt, is the fact that the old provisions under the Criminal Procedure Code have not been abolished. So Sec 125 of the Code shall run parallel to this new Act. And what's more is that they use the provisions of the Code for punishment and enforcement. Other than the fact that children are made more liable and the compensation is increased, there is nothing new in the Act.
Now when we look at the Code of Criminal Procedure along-side the Act, it may be pointed out that the maintenance is substantially higher. While the Code sets it at a meagre rupees 1,000, (varies subject to state amendments), the Ac t has set a max imum maintenance of up to 10,000 rupees. While this sure has come as a relief to many a senior citizen, what may be of concern to the common citizen (who is liable to pay maintenance under this Act) is the extent to which he/she will be subjected to.
Sec. 17 of the Act prohibits legal representation and insists that the filing of the complaint has to be done by the applicant or by some person or NGO on behalf of the applicant. This would seek to make the process straight-forward and cost effective.
The Act further provides for the rescission of contracts of transfer of property made with the intention that the transferee shall maintain the transferor, if the transferee fails to do so. This is a brilliant tool in the hands of senior citizens who get duped by unscrupulous children or relatives. This would serve to protect the Rights of the Senior Citizen and uphold his/her interest.
Abandonment and Wilful Neglect is made a punishable offence under this Act. However, the need of the hour is that the term abandonment should apply to construct and partial abandonment; e. g: If a patient with Alzheimer's is allowed to walk alone and unescorted on the road, it should be sufficient to constitute neglect and abandonment as such act is hazardous and likely to jeopardize the life and person of the Senior.
Old age homes and medical benefits which are to be provided by the state are made simply obligatory, clearly making it optional on the state to take up these measures at their discretion. What about the socialist democratic India? What happened to the Directive Principles of State Policy? (Articles 39 and 41). Good governance would play a key role here and the results would vary from State to State.
The Act has also laid responsibility on the Police of the State and the Municipal Authorities to provide aid and assistance to seniors. This could be an additional responsibility on an overburdened force and infrastructure. However, from cases that have been referred to me, the Senior Citizen Helpline of the Mumbai Police has provided speedy and apt relief to several distressed seniors. The State in conjunction with the Police and the Municipal Authorities are required to frame a policy for seniors under the Act and the Rules thereto.
The final question that each one of us needs to bear, is "How does this Act impact our lives whether senior citizens or children?"
This question has to be answered by each and every one of us as citizens first and as human beings.
So what can you do? Help those in your jurisdiction. Or simply send in your suggestions and feedback to me at :
email@example.com om. This is a helpline address for senior citizens, governmental authorities, NGOs and all others who work in the field.