Commanding over twenty years of experience as a practicing Corporate Advocate, Adv. Aazmeen Kasad also shares her expertise as a Professor of Law, for fifteen years now. She looks forward to answering any of your legal queries (firstname.lastname@example.org). Follow her legal updates on Twitter @Aazmeen.
A Chinese proverb states, “If you have an old person in your family, you have a jewel.” ‘Parents do not expect much. They just expect that the loan of love which we borrowed from them in our childhood, be returned in their old age.’ How true! Is it too much to ask for? Regrettably today, many children forget their duty towards their parents, especially when they’re most needed – during their sunset years. Instead of receiving compassionate care, many senior citizens have been abandoned and neglected… some even left bereft of their own wealth by their own children, while some were subject to domestic violence if their property and wealth was not handed over to the children when demanded by them. Given all this, India recognised a need for a specific law to benefit Senior Citizens while casting an obligation on their children or relatives to look after them.
On December 30, 2007, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 was notified in the Official Gazette of India. First, let’s understand that the Act covers ‘Parents’ and ‘Senior Citizens’. While a Senior Citizen is defined as an Indian citizen who is 60 years old and above, a Parent could be a father or mother (biological, adoptive or step-parent) immaterial of age. (Given this, the Punjab and Haryana High Court held that the jurisdiction of the Senior Citizens Maintenance Tribunal cannot be invoked when a Complainant woman was less than 58 years.)
What Are The Benefits Offered Under This Law? This law enables parents and senior citizens to seek (i) maintenance; and (ii) welfare benefits from their children (son, daughter, grandson and grand-daughter who is not a minor) or relative (any legal heir of the childless senior citizen who is not a minor and is in possession of or would inherit his / her property after his / her death) where they do not have children. Maintenance includes provision for food, clothing, residence and medical attendance and treatment. On the other hand, welfare means provision for food, health care, recreation centres and other amenities necessary for the senior citizens.
How Can One Seek The Benefits Under The Act? Senior citizens and / or parents who are unable to maintain themselves from their own earnings or owned property, shall be entitled to make an application for maintenance of the needs of the senior citizen / parent through one or more of their children / relatives (as the case may be), so that the senior citizen / parent may lead a normal life. There are 2 conditions attached to naming a relative in the application: (1) the relative of a senior citizen should have sufficient means to maintain such senior citizen; and (ii) the relative should be in possession of the property of such senior citizen or he / she would inherit the property of such senior citizen. Where there are more than one relatives entitled to inherit the property of the senior citizen, the said relatives shall maintain the senior citizen in proportion to the inheritance of the senior citizen’s property. For eg., if a senior citizen is bequeathing his property amongst 2 relatives in the ratio 3:2; then the maintenance of the said relatives shall also be borne in the same ratio.
Making The Application: The application should be made in writing either by (i) the senior citizen / parent, or (ii) any other person / organisation (a registered voluntary association / NGO) authorised by either of them if they are incapable of making the application; or (iii) by the Tribunal itself. After filing the application, the Tribunal will send a notice to the children/relatives offering them a hearing, after which it will hold an enquiry for determining the amount of maintenance.
What Happens When The Children/Relatives Avoid Adhering To The Notice Or Neglect Attending The Tribunal Or Are Based Abroad? If the Tribunal is satisfied that the children/relative against whom an order for payment of maintenance is proposed to be made, are wilfully avoiding service or neglecting to attend the Tribunal, the Tribunal may proceed to hear and determine the case ex-parte (in their absence). Where the children/relatives are residing abroad, the Tribunal serves the summons through such authority specified by the Central Government in the official Gazette.
How Long Does It Take For The Tribunal To Dispose Applications? Tribunals are expected to dispose of applications within 90 to a maximum of 120 days from the date of service of notice to the children/relatives of the parent/senior citizen. When an order is made by the Tribunal, the children/relative shall deposit the entire amount, ordered in such manner as the Tribunal may direct, within thirty days of the date of announcing the order. The Tribunal may also direct simple interest @ 5-18% to be paid, in addition to the amount of maintenance.
Are Any Interim Reliefs Available To The Applicants? The Tribunal may order such children/relatives to make a payment of a monthly allowance for the interim maintenance of such senior citizens/parents.
What If The Children/Relatives Cannot Maintain The Senior Citizen? If the children/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/relatives 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. The maximum maintenance allowance which may be ordered by such Tribunal is Rupees Ten thousand per month. Such orders can be revised by the Tribunal on change of the circumstances of any of the parties or on proof of any misrepresentation or mistake of fact being provided.
What Happens If The Children / Relatives Don’t Comply With The Order? If, the children/relative so ordered, fail without sufficient cause, to comply with the order, the Tribunal may, (i) issue a warrant for levying the amount due, and (ii) sentence such person to imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month or until payment, if sooner made, whichever is earlier. For the Tribunal to issue a warrant for recovery of unpaid maintenance, the senior citizen/parent should make an application to the Tribunal within three months from the date on which the sums were due.
Are Other Benefits Also Provided Under The Act? Under this law, State governments are directed to set up at least one old-age home (replete with medical care and entertainment facilities) per district, which can accommodate at least 150 indigent senior citizens. The state government will also ensure that (i) government hospitals provide beds for senior citizens; (ii) separate queues be arranged; (iii) expand facilities for treatment of chronic, terminal and degenerative diseases for senior citizens; (iv) expand research activities for chronic elderly diseases and ageing; (v) there are earmarked facilities for geriatric patients in every district hospital, headed by a medical officer with experience in geriatric care.
What Recourse Do Senior Citizen Have If They Have Transferred Their Property And The Transferee Refuses Or Fails To Look After Their Needs, Subsequently? After the commencement of this Act, where a senior citizen has transferred his/her property, subject to the condition that the transferee shall provide the basic amenities and basic physical needs for them; and such transferee then refuses or fails to provide such amenities and physical needs, then the said transfer of property shall be deemed to have been made by fraud or coercion or under undue influence and shall, at the option of the senior citizen, be declared void by the Tribunal.
Does The Act Provide For Any Consequences For Abandonment Of A Senior Citizen? The Act states that if the person(s) having the care or protection of a senior citizen, leaves them in any place with the intention of wholly abandoning the senior citizen, such person shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term up to three months or fine, which may extend to five thousand rupees or with both.
While the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has provided for legal provisions against children / relatives who fail to perform their duties towards their parents / senior citizens, this New Year, let every individual introspect and be compassionate towards their elders and take care of them out of a sense of love, responsibility and duty, following the tenets of our religion, ‘Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds’. Saal Mubarak!