The Supreme Court today sought the response from the states with regard to the status of old age homes in every district on a plea filed by former union minister Ashwini Kumar for protection of rights of senior citizens. The apex court said it was looking into what all could be done for the elderly people. “We have to look forward as to what could be done for elderly people. Centre may be wrong but the purpose of the plea is different. States should file their replies to the plea with regard to the status of old age homes in each district,” a bench of Justices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said. During the hearing, senior advocate Ashwini Kumar, who was also the Law Minister during the erstwhile UPA government, said the Centre in its affidavit says it was giving Rs 200 as old age pension. He termed it as “not sufficient” for elderly people when the GDP of the country was rising.
Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, appearing for Centre, said the Centre was coming up with new policy for senior citizens and that the pension amount of Rs 200 varied from state to state. She said Rs 200 old age pension was not uniform across the country. While in Haryana it was Rs 1600 and in Puducherry it was Rs 2,000 for people between 60 and 79 years and Rs 3000 to those above 80. Anand said the Centre was not looking the plea as an adversarial litigation and trying to evolve an acceptable solution for the elderly people. Kumar said there should be nationwide uniformity in the pension as well as the criteria for availing benefits from social security schemes. The bench then asked the ASG about the status of old age home in each district of the country. She said that construction of such homes was a state subject and the Centre cannot do much in it.
The bench then said it will be better if the states filed their replies to the plea and clarify their position. The Centre had in May informed the court that it plans to replace the nearly two-decade old national policy on older persons with new norms that will fix uniform age across the sectors for a person to be declared as senior citizen. Different sectors like railways, insurance, airlines, income tax have different age criteria for a person to be declared as senior citizen for availing various social security schemes. It had said that keeping in view the changing demographic pattern, socio-economic needs of senior citizens, social value system and advancement in the field of science and technology over the decades it will be bringing out a National Policy for Senior Citizens. Kumar had claimed that successive governments have come up with various plans and schemes but nothing has reached the ground and elderly people were forced to lead a life of utter neglect as the old age homes were not sufficient.
Earlier, the former union minister had conceded that he had failed both as a minister and a parliamentarian for not being able to protect the rights of senior citizens. He had said that there were around 11 crore such people whose rights were being denied. Kumar, in his PIL, had said there was a large number of aged people and the number has been increasing, with most of them living in poverty, without any roof over their heads or proper clothes and food. The budgetary allocation for their welfare has also been paltry. He had referred to a report of the parliamentary standing committee dealing with the demand for grants for 2015-16, saying the amount allocated as the budget estimate stage was Rs 50 crore in 2014-15 which was cut down to Rs 25 crore at the revised estimate stage and only Rs 10.45 crore actually utilised. The petitioner has sought that adequate number of old age homes be established in the country and direction be given to maintain and operate such homes with adequate standards to enable the elderly live their life with dignity and in accordance with section 19 of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 (MWP Act).