India has a glorious past. Divine Souls have lived on this land. From Shravan Kumar to Lord Rama or to name a few, Indians have always exemplified their respect towards their elders. They have strong morals and ethics which are not easily moldable. They have a righteous demeanour because of which India has left a footprint highlighting its regard towards the elderly. In every era, children out of love and respect have sacrificed their lives for the glory and pride of their parents.
However, in contemporary times, the image is actually the opposite. Almost in every part of our country now has old age homes and patrons are aiding the senior citizens considering this as their responsibility. We are so egoistic and busy that we overlook our responsibility towards our parents and elders and because of this, someone else is fulfilling our duty.
With the advancement in technology, society has witnessed a deterioration in morals and ethics. The fast-moving lives have now witnessed the wide gap between the generations. Joint Families are now obsolete and nuclear families are in trend. Because of this, parents and elders are compelled to live alone. Through different sources, we hear, that the elderly are abused, assaulted and deprived of the basic facilities or they are sent to the old age homes by their children.
This is the misery of parents and our elders; and to overcome this situation, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, enacted The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. The act is the accomplishment of Article 41 (Directive Principles of State Policy) of the Indian Constitution. The act extends to the whole nation and is also applicable to those Indians too who are residing outside India.
In furtherance to this act, recently, The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill, 2019 was tabled in Lok Sabha by Mr Thawarchand Gehlot, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment. This bill, if passed, would be the first major amendment to the act formulated in 2007.
The bill proposes to refer the term ‘children’ as children and grand-children excluding minors; children would include step-children, adoptive children, children in law and the legal guardian of minor children. This means that sons in law and daughters in law could also be penalized for negligence and non-maintenance of their parents. The parents here would include parents, grandparents and parents in law. The bill expands the definition of maintenance and suggests including medical help, security and safety for parents and or senior citizens besides food, clothing and residence. This is all ensured by our elders so that they can live a dignified life.
According to the bill, the applications of senior citizens aged above 80 years would be prioritized if they file a complaint of non-payment of maintenance and neglect on the part of their children.
Further, the bill proposes to remove the upper limit of ₹ 10000 on the maintenance fee. This means that the maintenance would be in proportion to the income of the children. The maintenance tribunals, proposed to be established in the bill, would decide this limit by taking into cognizance:
In these tribunals, the senior citizens would be represented by the maintenance officer and the officers need to ensure compliance with the orders on maintenance payments; and act as a liaison for the elderly. If children do not comply with the order of the tribunal, then the tribunal may issue a warrant to levy the dues. The bill also focuses to increase the penalty of deserting the elderly. Currently, the punishment is imprisonment up to three months or fine up to ₹5000 or both but if this bill is passed by the Parliament then the punishment would increase to imprisonment between three and six months or fine up to ₹10000 or both.
In accordance to the bill, there shall be a nodal officer at each police station, not below the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), to deal with the problems of senior citizens. Also, the bill proposes an exclusive helpline number in every state so that the senior’s citizens can convey their problems.
The bill also eliminates the provision of old age homes and provides for the establishment of senior citizen care homes. The minimum standards prescribed for these homes are food, infrastructure and health facilities. These kinds of homes can be set up by the government or private organizations at the condition that these be registered with the state registration authority.
The bill has tried to remove various shortcomings. However, still, there are some glitches in the amendment. In the bill, the definition of grandchildren is ambiguous. In Indian society, patriarchy is practised. Maternal grandparents are slightly connected to their grandchildren. The 2007 act stated of the appellate right but neither the act nor the bill states the appellate authority. Moreover, this act is regarding the family problem and punishment in the act involves imprisonment. This may aggravate the issue.
The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 was formulated by the parliament approximately a decade ago with the intention and aim to provide a better and dignified life to the elderly. Despite this, the occurrences of abuse and ignorance of the parents and senior citizens are on an increase. The State Government duties with respect to the homes for the elderly should be mandatory. The fine on the defaulters should be more rigid. Besides this, the State government should make diligent efforts to make people aware of their duties and responsibilities towards their parents. The contribution made by the elderly is also very important in the development process. The sacrifice made by the elders cannot be reciprocated by any means except the affection, devotion and regard from their children.
Nevertheless, the government has taken a constructive step through the bill. Hoping that it is soon passed by the Parliament and it brings a positive change in the society.