The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved a bill to amend a law that governs the welfare of senior citizens. The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill, 2019 provides for the basic needs, safety and security of senior citizens.
The bill, which seeks to amend the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, proposes registration and maintenance of minimum standards for senior citizens' care homes, besides registration of home care service agencies.
Highlights of the bill (according to PRS Legislative Research)
- Children and heirs are legally obligated to provide maintenance to senior citizens.
- State governments are permitted to establish old age homes in every district.
- Senior citizens, who are unable to maintain themselves, shall have the right to apply to a maintenance tribunal seeking a monthly allowance from their children or heirs.
- State governments are to set up maintenance tribunals in every subdivision to decide the level of maintenance.
- Appellate tribunals are to be established at the district level.
- State governments shall set the maximum monthly maintenance allowance. The Bill caps the maximum monthly allowance at Rs 10,000 per month.
- Punishment for not paying the required monthly allowance shall be Rs 5,000 or up to three months imprisonment or both.
The proposed amendments
- Definition of ‘children’ and ‘parents’ has been expanded
- Definition of ‘maintenance’ and ‘welfare’ has been expanded.
- Mode of submission of application for maintenance has been enlarged.
- Preference to dispose of applications of senior citizens, above 80 years of age, early has been included.
- Registration of Senior Citizens Care Homes/Homecare Service Agencies etc. have been included.
- Minimum standards for senior citizen care homes have been included.
- Appointment of Nodal Police Officers for senior citizens in every police station and district level Special Police Units for senior citizens has been included.
- Maintenance of helpline for senior citizens has been included.
Offences and penalties
- On failure to comply with the maintenance fee, the tribunal may issue a warrant for collection within three months of the due date. Should the fee remain unpaid, the accused may be imprisoned for up to one month or until payment, whichever is earlier.
- Punishment for abandoning a senior citizen shall include imprisonment of up to three months or fine of up to Rs 5,000, or both.
- The tribunal can declare a transfer of property (as a gift or otherwise) from a senior citizen to a transferee as void if the transfer was made under the condition of maintenance, and the transferee neglects the agreement.
- A registered voluntary organization may take action on behalf of the senior citizen if he or she is unable to enforce these rights.
The key issues
- The bill does not clarify whether the creation of maintenance tribunals will ensure financial independence for senior citizens, or if parents will likely take their children to court to obtain a maintenance allowance from them.
- The definition of senior citizen includes both Indian citizens aged over 60 years, and all parents irrespective of age. However, the Bill does not address the needs of senior citizens who do not have children or property.
- The relatives are obliged to provide maintenance to childless senior citizens. The Bill defines 'relative' as a person in possession of or would inherit a senior citizen's property. As wills are changeable, it is unclear how one would determine who would inherit the property after death.
- Only parents may appeal against the decision of the maintenance tribunal. Neither childless senior citizens nor children are permitted to appeal.
- State governments may establish old age homes and prescribe standards for services provided by them. However, the Bill does not require them to do so.