Legal heirs' income key to determine monthly maintenance to seniors

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Things could soon change for senior citizens who are dependent on their children or legal heirs for regular maintenance. Till now, they were only liable to get Rs 10,000 as monthly maintenance from their children or legal heirs under the maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act (MWPSCA). These rules could change in a few months from now. 

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment is inviting public comments on the draft of amendments to the MWPSCA, which would be taken up in Parliament during the monsoon session. “The increase in the maintenance amount was long due as the decades-old regulations have not kept pace with the rising inflation,” says Anupama Datta, director, policy research and development, HelpAge India. The draft says that while determining the amount of maintenance, a tribunal may consider the reasonable standard of living of seniors and source of income of both — children/legal heirs as well as seniors.

While the MWPSCA has been around for over a decade now, not many are aware of its existence. The norms 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 primarily individuals who are legal owners of the assets of a senior. The monthly support amount includes money for food, clothing, residence, medical attendance and treatment. The rules were formulated to ensure that a senior citizen or parents can approach the judiciary on their own and seek maintenance. There are special tribunals that handle cases under the Act. The affected person has to approach the tribunal on their own, without a lawyer, and file an application.

Until now, many seniors and parents used criminal law (Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure) to seek maintenance. It is a broader law that lets wives, parents, sons, daughters and other dependents to seek maintenance. “The amount under the criminal law differs from state to state. In Maharashtra, for example, it can be 30 per cent of the income of a child,” says advocate Abhilash Panickar. But Datta points out that it entails years of litigation and lawyers’ fees. The procedure under MWPSCA is much more straightforward and cheaper.

Many times, when a mother or a senior woman faces abuse from children or their spouses, they also approach a court to evict children under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act. Recently, a Mumbai court evicted a son and his wife from the house that belonged to his parents. The court also ordered the son and his wife to pay rent to the seniors for staying at their home. “There was a landmark judgment under MWPSCA by Delhi High Court in 2007, which said that parents or seniors could also seek eviction under the Act,” says Panickar.

According to the draft of the amendment to the MWPSCA, if a senior citizen transfers property to an individual, who is supposed to take care of them, the receiver cannot sell the property without the consent of the senior citizen or parent. If he does so, it will be considered as a fraudulent transaction, and a tribunal can declare the deal void.

Datta says that one of the challenges they have faced in such cases while helping seniors is if the children or legal heirs refuse to follow tribunal orders. When the seniors or parent approach the tribunal to make them pay, the tribunal seeks police help to ensure that the maintenance is paid. “But it’s frustrating for the seniors to do this regularly. While the act is favourable to seniors, the government also needs to ensure that it’s implemented well,” Datta says.

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