Abandonment, as defined by the new Bill, will invite a longer jail term than provided for by the 2007 Act.
The Bill also proposes to do away with the Rs 10,000-ceiling for maintenance amount payable to parents, keeping view the fact that the amount needs to reflect the needs of the parents and the capabilities of the children. (Representative image)
There are, as per one estimate, as many as 18 million homeless elderly persons in India. The Longitudinal Ageing Survey of India 2020, conducted between April 2017 and December 2018, reported that almost 5% of peopled aged 60 years and above had faced abuse, some at the hands of those closely related to them. The elderly population in India is set to rise to 20% of the overall by 2050, from 8.6% in the 2011 Census. This means abandonment of elderly and lack of maintenance could become a serious threat to the society’s well-being. To that end, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill that is scheduled for enactment in the ongoing monsoon session would seem a step in the right direction.
The Bill expands the definition of children to include adoptive children, step children and sons-/daughters-in-law, apart from the original biological children and grandchildren, including the legal guardians of minor grandchildren who are legal heirs of the elderly person(s) concerned; the definition of parents also now includes adoptive parents, parents-in-law and grandparents, apart from biological parents. The Bill also proposes to do away with the Rs 10,000-ceiling for maintenance amount payable to parents, keeping view the fact that the amount needs to reflect the needs of the parents and the capabilities of the children.
Abandonment, as defined by the new Bill, will invite a longer jail term than provided for by the 2007 Act. While some of these provisions are progressive, the law may not be fully able to factor in growing nuclearisation of families, economic constraints, migration, etc. All of these complicate the question of welfare of the elderly, beyond the mere payment of maintenance. Indeed, expecting families from different economic and social contexts to shoulder similar responsibilities—even when ability of a ward/child is factored in—is likely to drive further destitution of the elderly among the more vulnerable classes.
Beyond this, the government—the Centre and the states—will need to look more seriously at bolstering care facilities for the elderly. The 2007 Act envisaged at least one old-age home in each district, to be set up by the state governments. The biting reality is that just 482 districts of the 700-plus districts in the country have care homes. There is also a large unmet need for multi-service day-care for the elderly. The Bill now tasks the Centre and the states, as also other organisations, with setting up the old-age homes in districts. The need is to also tap non-governmental funding; while there is significant CSR funding, institutions like places of worship need to be roped in. More so, given how many of them are flush with funds and are uniquely positioned to assume the mantle of caring for the elderly. Most important, however, the government must create an NPS-like pension scheme for the informal sector, which employs a large chunk of the economically vulnerable. As this newspaper has pointed out in the past, such a scheme, with affordable contributions from the beneficiary and the state, can secure the future of many. The Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan Yojana has not seen very enthusiastic uptake; the underlying issues need to be addressed.