By Suhasini Srinivasan, Army Institute Of Law, Mohali.

“The joys of parents are secret; and so are their griefs and fears.”- Francis Bacon

“Indian culture seems too distant and fragile to sustain old age. A sense of tragedy haunts the future.” One is forced to ask ‘what is the use of the ideas of India; of all our pride in our culture; when the old are left to die or live in indifference?’.

India maintains a population structure that is far more ‘pyramid-shaped’ than those of developed countries. The effects of aging, as well as the welfare policy for senior citizens, are important issues not only in developed countries where aging has taken place rapidly, but also in developing countries. The sustainability of pension systems is a serious concern at the global level (World Bank, 1994; 2005), and India is no exception.[1] It is only a matter of time before senior citizens in India face greater problems than they do now, as the country’s social security is inadequate, while a departure from the country’s traditional value system and the transformation of the family structure – especially in urban areas – have been occurring. India’s population size of 1.2 billion people adds more weight to the approaching problems. [2]

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The government of India is aware of the huge magnitude of these problems, making it necessary to be responsive to the economic, health and emotional needs of senior citizens, and to ensure that the social environment is sensitive to their needs. The old age social and income security institutions for senior citizens in India can be described as follows:

The government has taken initiatives to deal with factors such as pensions, health care, insurance, care services, old age homes, etc. However, their coverage is greatly limited in that, with the exception of health care, less than 10 to 20 percent of the population can access these services.[3] Quasi-governmental initiatives also exist, as well as activities and initiatives by voluntary, non-governmental and/or non-profit organizations that are complementary to or substitute the government initiative. These initiatives and activities are not confined to serving only destitute people; there are also some especially aimed at affluent people.

  • A critique of the Maintenance of Parents Bill of 2007:

On May 8, 2007, the Indian Express carried a critique of the UPA government’s Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill 2007, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha in March. M. R. Madhavan, who works with the PRS Legislative Research at the Center for Policy Research focuses on larger policy problems with the Bill, while also zeroing in on specific provisions that arouse his concern: The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill, 2007, which was introduced in Lok Sabha in March, aims “to provide for more effective provisions for the maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens guaranteed and recognized under the Constitution and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.” While it is difficult to contest the objective of ensuring a comfortable life for senior citizens, a number of provisions in the Bill may not be easy to implement. The Bill neatly sidesteps the directive in the Constitution (Article 41), which directs the state to provide public assistance in cases of old age. The Bill does state that, “The state government may establish and maintain such number of old age homes at accessible places, as it may deem necessary, in a phased manner, beginning with at least one in each district to accommodate in such homes a minimum of one hundred fifty senior citizens who are indigent”. Note the use of “may” instead of “shall” — there is no obligation on the state governments to establish these. Even without this clause, there was never any prohibition on them from providing old age homes. Also, one wonders why a Bill should specify details such as the minimum size of an old age home.

Instead, the Bill places the obligation of maintaining a senior citizen on his or her children, grandchildren or any legal heirs. The process and amount differs from the existing provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure (Section 125), under which a first class magistrate may order a person to provide a monthly maintenance to his parents (or wife, including divorced wife or children), limited to Rs 500. The Bill provides that the children of a senior citizen have the obligation to maintain a senior citizen to the extent that he “may lead a normal life”. In case of a childless senior citizen, the obligation is on a relative who is in possession of the senior citizen’s property or who would inherit his property. The maximum monthly allowance is to be specified by state governments, subject to a limit of Rs 10,000.

Some of the definitions in the Bill are confusing. A Senior Citizen is defined as “any person being a citizen of India, who has attained the age of sixty years or above and includes parent whether or not a senior citizen”. This implies that every parent, including those below sixty years of age, would be considered a “senior citizen”. A relative “means any legal heir of the childless senior citizen who is not a minor and is in possession of or would inherit his property after his death.” How does one determine who would inherit the property? Does this mean that the senior citizen has to reveal the contents of his will, and does not have the freedom to change it later? If he is allowed to change his will, consider the case of the person who is initially named in the will, forced to provide maintenance, and who finds on the death of the senior citizen that there is another will that disinherits him. So what does a senior citizen do if he wants maintenance? He applies to the ‘Maintenance Tribunal’. The application may also be made by any other person or organization authorized by him. However, the Bill clarifies that such an “organization” means “any voluntary organization registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, or any other law for the time being in force”. It seems to ignore the fact that the Societies Registration Act does not define “voluntary organization”. One might be tempted to believe that the purpose of permitting such organizations is to assist a senior citizen. However, the Bill makes it clear that “no party to a proceeding before a tribunal or appellate tribunal shall be represented by a legal practitioner”. That is, one may not use the services of a legally qualified person in obtaining one’s legal entitlements under this law. The law is designed simply to avoid the State’s responsibility to provide a better social security system for its citizen and putting the onus on the citizen for such responsibility while the State and its guardians-the executives and legislators wish away the hard earned tax payers money in such frivolous legislation and squander the same on their own security.

  • Conclusion:

It can be concluded that old age in India is a growing problem that needs immediate attention. I have addressed some loopholes in the constitutional setup and acts. These are just some of the measures that the government needs to take, with some much needed amendments and new provisions in the constitution. I think palliative care should be included in any of the new welfare acts for old age protection, which must be enacted with utmost urgency, and should include provisions like constructing of world class old age homes with modern facilities and financial care also. All this will ensure that the aged in India don’t remain homeless and desperate for even the basic necessities. From my extensive research, India has to tackle this problem with all seriousness as gradually the strong family structure in India is breaking and there is a loss for respect towards the elders.

[1]. Hitoshi Ota,‘Senior Citizens, Old Age and Social and Income Security in India’[2009] Koichi Usami ed. Old Age Social and Income Security in the Emerging Economies, Chiba: Institute of Developing Economies. 81

[2]. C.P. Sujaya,‘National Policy on Older Persons’ [2000] Ageing: a symposium on the greying of our society <http://www.india-seminar.com/2000/488/488%20sujaya.htm > accessed on 10 August 2014

[3]. Government of India[2007]‘Statistical Abstract India’[combined issue 2005 & 2006],Central Statistical  Organisation, Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation, New Delhi.

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