Govt may triple heirs' liability for paying maintenance to seniors

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The Union government is planning to hike the maintenance amount payable to parents and senior citizens under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act. The amount could triple to Rs 30,000 a month from the existing Rs 10,000. The Act provides for financial support to seniors by their children or relatives who are neglecting them or have abandoned them.

 
While increasing the amount was due as the decade-old regulations have not kept pace with inflation, experts say that the government should also increase the powers of tribunals and focus on implementation to provide the required financial support to seniors in their golden years. “To be fair to seniors and their relatives, the government should keep the maintenance amount as a percentage of the income of the children or relative, rather than a fixed sum. Medical treatment, for example, can sometimes burn a hole in the pockets of a senior,” says Pallavi Sharma, partner, VoxLaw. Seniors can claim money for food, clothing, residence and medical attendance and treatment.

 
A few states have not yet notified the law, and senior citizens in those states cannot take resort to it. “When the Centre enacted the law, there was supposed to be one tribunal in each district. But this has not happened either,” says Sheilu Sreenivasan, founder, Dignity Foundation. Sreenivasan says that the government should also enhance the powers of the tribunals for dealing with elderly abuse and neglect. In recent times, high courts have directed tribunals to evict children from parents’ property if needed. But as tribunals lack enough power, most cases have to go to high courts.

Experts say that while the regulation has been around for over a decade now, not many are aware of its existence and how to claim the maintenance amount. The regulations primarily help seniors who cannot afford the basic necessities in old age. Seniors include parents and grandparents. They can claim maintenance from their children, grandchildren or “specified relatives”, who are essentially individuals who are legal owners of the assets of a senior.

Getting financial support
* Approach a maintenance tribunal
* The tribunal will send a notice to the opposite party 
* If there’s no mutual settlement, the tribunal will give a final order based on details submitted
“While children are mandated to support, relatives can only be asked to provide financial assistance if they will inherit the property and assets of a senior or are already in possession of them. This provision creates a lot of issues for seniors trying to claim maintenance,” says Sharma of VoxLaw. Say, parents, lose their son. The daughter-in-law could be the only person available to provide financial assistance. But, if the seniors don’t have any assets, she cannot be held liable to provide support.

 
To seek maintenance under the  Act, a senior needs to apply to a tribunal, which looks at whether the application is genuine and then awards an amount up to Rs10,000 at present. “Once the order is passed, the children or relatives are bound by it. If they don’t pay, they can be jailed for a month,” says Ansh Bhargava, a lawyer.

To make the process simple and hassle-free, seniors don’t need to appoint a lawyer. They can either undertake the procedure themselves or approach a tribunal through a non-government organisation.


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