The Centre has now proposed an amendment Bill that includes putting the responsibility of seniors’ upkeep on adopted children, relatives who have inherited or are set to inherit their property, daughter-in-law/son-in-law and even grandchildren.
The elderly in India are a particularly vulnerable lot. As per a 2014 UNFPA-funded study, half of the country’s 100-million-plus elderly (over 60 years of age) are fully financially dependent on others. Abandonment/abuse of the elderly is not uncommon; some 30 million elderly are estimated to be living alone. Thus, providing some form of maintenance from their children, through legislation, doesn’t seem a bad idea. To that effect, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, provided for a mandatory maintenance—capped at Rs 10,000 a month—from biological children for seniors.
The Centre has now proposed an amendment Bill that includes putting the responsibility of seniors’ upkeep on adopted children, relatives who have inherited or are set to inherit their property, daughter-in-law/son-in-law and even grandchildren. Apart from that, the amendment Bill proposes to do away with the Rs 10,000 cap; it says that the maintenance amount is to be fixed factoring in both the child/relative/grandchild’s income and the standard of living the senior(s) is used to. The idea, the government argues, is to ensure that the elderly get to live a life of dignity. It also prescribes a one to six months imprisonment for missing payment of maintenance. While the overall intent is a noble one, the path the government has chosen is worrisome on multiple fronts.
First, making a maintenance payout mandatory—with punishment for missing these—places a higher burden on those with low incomes. This is not to say that the low-income households have no responsibilities towards the elderly. But, this shifts the government’s burden of providing adequate social security through pensions and insurance to the elderly—in a country that has very low levels of average individual savings—to their low-income progeny or relatives. Second, introducing the ‘standard of living’ qualifier for calculating maintenance amount fosters many complications.
What is to be done if a person can’t afford the same or comparable standards of living that her senior parent has enjoyed so far? Also, who is to decide what aspects of a senior’s life so far are to be deemed essential to preservation of her/his dignity and standard of living? Care of seniors should include their mental health, safety and security, as mandated by the draft amendment. However, the provisions of the draft amendment Bill are not how this is to be realised.