HELPING THE ELDERLY AGE GRACEFULLY IN INDIA
Author: Aditi Sharma, III year of B.B.A.,LL.B., Himachal Pradesh National Law University
With a population of more than 62% in the age group of 15-59years India is one of the youngest countries in the world. However, one cannot neglect the fact that India has more than 104 million elderly people and the number is expected to increase exponentially in a few years.[i]
In the Indian context, a person becomes an elder as soon as he crosses the age of 60years. This is also the time when the working class retires and most of them desperately want to spend time with their family members. In earlier times when we had the joint-family system the elderly (who acted as the family’s KARTA) had power and control on the whole family. But as we are shifting towards the nuclear family system the elders have no say in the family. Also, this shift has prompted them to depend on their children not only physically but financially too. In particular, this financial dependence has made some of the younger ones indifferent towards their parent’s needs. Unfortunately, some children also resort to inhuman behaviour, thus, abusing and torturing their parents physically. There are a whole lot of people who throw their parents out of the houses. This is why a considerable number of elderly are seen doing menial jobs like cooking on the road-side or working as a coolie. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to address this draconian problem.
With the said situation on the rise, we are shamelessly infringing the fundamental rights of the elderly which have been provided under Articles 19, 21, 41, 46 of the Indian constitution. The very moment we stop our elders from presenting their viewpoint we infringe their right to free speech and expression and when they are isolated and side cornered that is where their right to live with dignity and liberty is finished. In most of the families, this is not done expressly but it does have an effect which is slow yet impactful.
It impacts both physical and mental health. The problem is severe nonetheless the only solution available is AWARENESS. The elders must be educated about various government schemes available for them so that they can also lead a life of dignity. India is part of several international treaties that cover the rights of the elderly like the International Plan of Action on Ageing Vienna, 1982[ii], and the Madrid Plan of Action, 2002[iii]. Furthermore, India has formulated legislatures to help elderly people. These include National Programme for Healthcare of Elderly[iv], Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 (Sections 20, 23)[v], and also Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) (S.125) according to which the aged parents can file a case in the court for maintenance against their children in case they fail to maintain them. The latest development towards finding the solution is The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007[vi], further amended in 2019[vii], which casts several duties on the family members and the state as well like establishing at least one old-age home (now called as Senior Citizens Care Homes) in each district and for making the process feasible and fast working of Maintenance Tribunals.
According to the Act, a parent or a grandparent can ask for maintenance against their adult children, adult grandchildren or even their relative who will be their legal heir on fulfilment of only one condition that they should not be in a condition to maintain themselves out of their earning or the property owned by them. Thus, parents can get the maintenance amount that shall be determined according to the needs of the senior citizens. Parents also have an option of revocation of the transfer of property made to their children or legal heirs.
The application of the Act was seen in the case of ‘Shri Santosh Surendra Patil v. Shri Surendra Narasgonda Patil’[viii] where father was bed-ridden due to leg operation and was not receiving any pension, only the mother was getting a pension of Rs. 13,000 most of which got used for the medical expenses. They had 2 sons who instead of taking care of their ailing parents would inflict atrocities on their parents and had also tried to grab the property as well. The parents then applied first with the Collector of Pune under the ‘Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizen Act, 2007’ which was later on filed as a criminal writ petition in the court. The court passed an order that directed the sons to evict the premises and also directed the elder son to pay a cost of Rupees 25,000 to the parents for litigation expenses. The court also directed both the sons to pay Rs. 2000, per month to the parents.
One crucial amendment made in the Act was the introduction of psychological aspects as loneliness is directly related to depression in old age when the elderly either live alone or when their spouse dies. On seeing the wider picture it is evident that elders can feel lonely even when they are in a family as the younger generation has become materialistic, therefore, they have developed an indifferent attitude towards their family and the society as a whole. One thing to note is that if the senior citizen files for maintenance under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizen Act they cannot file for maintenance under Section 125 of CrPC parallelly.
Apart from the family and legal heirs, the government also must endow the elderly with financial aid so that they can lead a life of dignity as has been laid down in the case ‘Francis Coralie Mullin v. Administrator, Union of India’ [ix]. It is a case where the scope of the meaning of Article 21 was expanded and the right to live with dignity was added hence. It was held that the elderly people have a right to have a dignified life with proper food, shelter and clothing for which a person must be financially sound. Therefore, the government helps the economically weaker elders with the help of various pension schemes like National Pension Scheme, Atal Pension Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Vaya Vandana Yojana, Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, Employee Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS), etc.
Varishtha Pension Bima Yojana is also an important pension scheme that offers income security along with the guaranteed rate of return of 8% per annum for 10 years. This scheme has been implemented through LIC (Life Insurance Corporation of India) where the elderly are provided with annuity payouts.[x] However the problem with the government schemes are that only a few of them are non-contributing schemes like IGNOAPS, Rashtriya Vayoshri Yojana (only for the below poverty line elders).
Most of the elders do not invest in these schemes due to unawareness or even when they believe that their children would take care of them in future. The problem with these pension schemes is that the amount given through these to the elderly varies from Rs. 1000 to 10,000 which is a meagre amount for an ailing person with no other support system.
Elderly people already have a high risk of health issues. It is our prime duty as the younger generation to come up in solidarity and take care of their well-being as old age is the time when they should experience all the happiness and joy, the children should not turn this time into misery for them. Educating the elderly and the younger ones at the right age is the key for helping them to have an appropriate mindset towards each other where the children respect and care for their parents and the family lives together without any resistance. The society must also make sure that the elderly living alone must not feel lonely and vulnerable. The government can play a significant role in building up a society where elders enjoy the well-deserved rest, respect, happiness and peace, by making more strict laws for punishing the defaulters.
[ix] 1981 SCR (2) 51, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/78536/