THE LEGAL ASPECT OF SENIOR CITIZEN RIGHT
– Puja Khetrapal *
Every one has a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himselfand family, including food, clothing, housing and medicalcare,socialsecurity in theevent ofunemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old-age or other lack of livelihood in the circumstances beyond his control. Article 21 of the Constitution of India also echoes the same. It says, “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. Further Article 39(a) of the Constitution of India says, “the State shall, in particular direct its policy towards securing (a) that the citizen, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood”. Article 41 of the Indian Constitution enjoins upon the Stateto makeeffective provisions for publicassistance, within the limits of its economic capacity and development,in cases of unemployment, old-age, sickness and disablement and in other cases of undeserved want.
The population of senior citizens, aged sixty and above, in India has increased from 42.5 million in 1981 to 55 million in 1991, and is now placed at 70.6 million in the 2001 census. They comprise about 6.9 per cent of the total population. There is greater life expectancy of citizens at birth and the life expectancy at age sixty is also increasing.
The breaking up of traditionaljoint families into nuclear families has resulted not only in the separation of families butalso in the severance of family ties. Many senior citizens no longer have the same role in their families as was traditionally played. While it is inevitable in the current scenario that thefamily unitwill remain nuclear, this should not result in the breaking of ties and family responsibilities. Efforts must be made to retain traditionalvalues in this regard despite modernization of society.
Due to the shortage of space in dwellings in urban areas and high rents, persons migrating to urban areas prefer to leave their parents in their nativeplace. These changes have led to anumber ofsenior citizens being left to live alone, with insufficient resources to meet even their most basic requirements of food, clothing, housing and medical care. Lack of social support, breaking up of the joint family system and changing lifestyles aggravate the health and nutritional problems of the elderly. Thus, there is need for making provisions to ensure that the basic requirements of senior citizens are met and that they can enjoy their right to live with dignity as is envisaged by Article 21.
Across the globe, steps have been taken by various countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Germany to provide social security systems for the elderly and other disadvantaged groups. Such systems ensure that senior citizens are not deprived oftheir most basic needs when they lack the resources to fulfilthem. In India, provisions has been made under legislation’s such as the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and the Hindu Adoption and MaintenanceActto enable aged-parents, with insufficient resources to meet their needs.
Necessity : Over the years it has been noticed that a scene of financial and socialinsecurity is growing large with the oldercitizens. The present Act “The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007” is a welcome step and is a must because of the following reasons :-
* Rise in life expectancy.
* Breaking of joint family system.
* Rise in cost of living.
* Blind copying ofWestern culture.
* Lack of education to respect elders and erosion of traditional values.
* Financialand Socialinsecurity of older person.
Need for legislation : Concerned studies shows that number of 60+ in India willincrease to 10 crore in 2013 and to almost double or 19.8 crore in 2030. The traditional norms and values of the Indian society laid stress on showing respect and providing care for the aged. The elders are now exposed to emotionalneglect and to lack of physical and financialsupport. They are facing alot of problems in the absence of adequate social security.
This clearly reveals that ageing has became a major social challenge and financial support, care and treatment are required for the older persons. Unfortunately, the time has come when the moral obligation of children to look after their parents in their old age has to be backed by a legal obligation.
Present Act and Criminal Procedure Code : Though a provision already exists under the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973(Section 125) for maintenance of parents, the procedure ofgoing through the Court is both timeconsuming and cumbersome in addition to being expensive.
The main focus of the presentAct is to first resolve the disputes and differences between parents and children amicably by referring the case to a Conciliation Officer. In case of failure of these efforts only,
the Tribunal willtake action. There is no such provision under Cr.P.C., Section 125.
THE MAINTENANCE AND WELFARE OF PARENTS AND SENIOR CITIZENS ACT, 2007 :
Statement of Objects and Reasons : Traditional norms and values of the Indian society laid stress on providing care for the elderly. Howeverdue to withering of the jointfamily system, a large number of elderly are notbeing looked after by their family. Consequently, many older persons, particularly widowed women are now forced to spend their twilight years allalone and are exposed to emotionalneglect and to lack of physicaland financialsupport. This clearly reveals that ageing has become a major social challenge and there is a need to give more attention to the care and protection for the older persons. Though the parents can claim maintenance under theCode of CriminalProcedure, 1973, the procedure is both time-consuming as well as expensive. Hence,there is need to have simple,inexpensive and speedy provisions to claim maintenance for parents.
This Act provide for :-
(a) appropriate mechanism to be set up to provide need-based maintenanceto the parents and senior citizens;
(b) providingbetter medicalfacilities to senior citizens;
(c) forinstitutionalisation ofa suitablemechanism for protection of life and property of older persons; and
(d) setting up of oldage homes in every district. The Act seeks to achieve the above objectives.
Conclusion : India’s success in increasing life expectancy has led to a larger number of the elderly in the country. The Registrar General of India forecasts the share of older persons (age 60 year and above) in the total population to rise from 6.9% in 2001 to 12.4% in 2026. Issues related to the financial and social security of older people will become increasingly important. Indeed, the National Policy on Older Persons states,”Some areas of concern in thesituations of older persons willalso emerge, signs of which are already evident, resultingin pressures in living arrangements for older persons.”
This Act seeks to make it a legal obligation for children and heirs to provide sufficientmaintenance to senior citizens, and proposes to make provisions for State Governments to establish old age homes in every district.
• S.N. Mahajan —-Law of maintenance.
• Kesari——-Hindu Law.