The maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens bill, 2019 was introduced in Lok Sabha by the minister of social justice and empowerment, Mr Thawarchand Gahlot. The bill amends the maintenance and welfare of senior citizens and parents including biological, adoptive and step-parents.
It ensures their basic needs, safety and security, establishment, management and regulation of institutions and services and rights guaranteed under the constitution. It also offers registration of senior citizens care homes and other such agencies, ensuring minimum standards.
The bill provides for the establishment of a tribunal for senior citizens to file claims related to maintenance, assistance and other such applications. The claims from those above 80 years old should be disposed of within 60 days. Violators of the law could be punished with a minimum fine of Rs 5,000 or three months of jail or both.
Definitions Under The Act
- Children: Under the act, the term children had been referred to children and grandchildren. Minors do not fall under this category instead, their legal guardians do. The bill also adds stepchildren, adoptive children and children in-laws.
- Parents: All sorts of parents – biological, adoptive, step fall under this definition of the bill. The definition is further expanded to both in-law and grandparents whether senior citizens yet or not.
- Relatives: Relatives are defined as the heir of a childless senior citizen, excluding the minors. The heir is the candidate who would eventually inherit or possess the citizen’s property after his death.
- Abuse: The Maintenance and Welfare Of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill defines “abuse” as physical, verbal, emotional and economic abuse. It also expanded it further to neglect, abandonment, causing assault, injury or sort of suffering.
- Maintenance Fee: The state government announced maintenance tribunals under which the children and relatives are obliged to pay a monthly maintenance fee of up to Rs 10,000 to their parents or senior citizens. To make matters convenient, the fee is decided by the tribunal after considering two important things:
- The standard of living and earnings of the parents or senior citizen.
- The earnings of the children or relative.
- Appeals: The bill allows all the members – Senior citizens, Parents, Children and Relatives to appeal decisions of the tribunal.
- Care-homes: The bill offers registration of senior citizens care homes and or other such agencies in every district, under this act. The state government will register these care homes with prescribed minimum standards such as food, infrastructure and medical facilities.
- Maintenance Officer: During proceedings of the tribunal, a maintenance officer is to be provided for the parent. The maintenance officer is required to ensure the monthly payments and deal with the issues related to parent and senior citizens. The officer has to ensure the implementation of the order of maintenance and coordinate with the representatives.
Health and Welfare
- Healthcare: The bill provides for certain facilities such as separate queues and beds for senior citizens in government hospitals and private organisations. For those with disabilities, home care facilities are to be provided.
- Welfare: This ensures all the necessities for senior citizens for their well-being. These requirements include –provision for food, healthcare, housing, clothing, safety. This bill adds healthcare, safety, security for parents and senior citizens and ensures a life of dignity.
- Protection: The bill assigns every police station to appoint at least one nodal officer to deal with the issues related to parents and senior citizen. This officer should be above the rank of Assistant Sub-Inspector. The state government must also develop a special police unit along with a helpline number for parents and senior citizens in every district. This unit shall be headed by a police officer who is above the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
Offences and Penalties
- In case the children or relatives failed to pay the maintenance fee without an appropriate reason and violate the bill, the tribunal has the power to issue a warrant for collection within 3 months of the due date. If the fee still remains unpaid, the accused will be sentenced to imprisonment for up to one month or until the maintenance payment is cleared, whichever is earlier. The application for a no-maintenance fee must be filed within three months from the due date or it shall be dismissed.
- On abusing a senior citizen, punishment will include imprisonment for up to six months or a fine up to Rs 10,000 or both. For abandoning a senior citizen, the punishment fine can be up to Rs 5,000 and imprisonment of three months or both.
- The bill includes both senior citizens aged above 60 years and all parents regardless of their age. However, it does not provide any provisions for seniors with no children, relatives, property or source of income.
- The bill does not provide any support from the state in the form of pension, healthcare or free senior homes. As a result, seniors with no relatives or property will have nowhere to go.
- Even though the state government had set up registered care homes for senior citizens with prescribed minimum standards, these standards are not yet defined.
- Despite the rising awareness around mental health, the bill does not address mental health issues like depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s among older adults.