India's new bill on welfare of parents, senior citizens will motivate youths to care for elderly, here's why

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Listed among the 29 bills for the ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament, the Centre is likely to take up the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in December 2019.

The proposed amendment bill aims to bring in key changes in the existing Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007 ( a landmark legislation in its own right which enshrined the government's responsibilities towards senior citizens and made familial care for the elderly legally binding) and attempts to inculcate in the younger generation a moral duty to care and support one's parents and elders.

What are the proposed changes in the amendment bill?

Following are the key changes that the new bill aims to introduce in the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 through the amendment:

Children

  • 2007: Children refers to children and grandchildren, excluding minors.

  • 2019: Now step-children, adoptive children, children-in-law, and the legal guardian of minor children have been added.

Relatives

  • 2007: The original Act defined relative as the legal heir of a childless senior citizen, excluding minors, who possess or would inherit his property after death.

  • 2019: The amendment bill seeks to expand the definition to include minors and they would be represented by their legal guardians.

Parents

  • 2007: In the original Act, parents include biological, adoptive, and step-parents.

  • 2019: Expanding the scope of parents, the proposed amendment includes parents-in-law, and grandparents.

Maintenance

  • 2007: The first version of the Act termed maintenance as the provision of food, clothing, residence, medical attendance and treatment.

  • 2019: The new proposal increases the scope to include the provision of healthcare, safety, and security for parents and senior citizens to lead a dignified life.

Welfare

  • 2007: In the existing Act, welfare means the provision of food, healthcare, and other amenities necessary for senior citizens.

  • 2019: In the proposed amendment, the definition includes the provision of housing, clothing, safety, and other amenities necessary for the physical and mental well-being of a senior citizen or parent.

Maintenance amount

  • 2007: The states were asked to form Maintenance Tribunals and decide on the monthly maintenance amount payable to senior citizens by children and relatives which should not cross Rs 10,000 per month. Moreover, children and relatives must pay the maintenance amount within 30 days of the order of the Tribunal.

  • 2019: In the proposed changes, the upper limit on the maintenance fee cease to exist and the income of both sides have to be studied before fixing the monthly maintenance amount. Moreover, children and relatives must pay the maintenance amount within 15 days of the order of the Tribunal.

Maintenance officer

  • 2007: As per the existing Act, the parent or senior citizen may be represented by a maintenance officer during Tribunal proceedings.

  • 2019: Expanding the role of the maintenance officer, it says he/she will ensure compliance with orders on maintenance payments and be a liaison for parents or senior citizens.

Appeals

  • 2007: The Act allows senior citizens or parents to appeal the decision of the Tribunal.

  • 2019: In the proposed amendment, children and relatives may also appeal decisions of the Tribunal.

Abandonment of senior citizen or parent

  • 2007: According to the current Act, the offence is punishable with imprisonment of up to three months, or a fine of up to Rs 5,000, or both.

  • 2019: The proposed amendment makes the offence punishable with imprisonment between three and six months, or a fine of up to Rs 10,000, or both.

Abuse of senior citizen

  • 2007: In the existing Act, there is no provision of punishment for abuse of senior citizens.

  • 2019: The proposed amendment makes it punishable with imprisonment between three and six months, or a fine of up to Rs 10,000, or both.

Care homes

  • 2007: The present Act mandates state governments to set up at least one old age home in every district with a capacity to house 150 senior citizens.

  • 2019: As per the proposed amendment, senior citizen care homes may be set up by either government or private organisations but they must be registered with a registration authority set up by the state government. The Centre will fix minimum standards for these homes in terms of infrastructure and medical facilities.

Homecare services

  • 2007: In the original Act, there is no provision of home care services.

  • 2019: However, in the proposed amendment there will be institutions providing homecare but they must have trained and certified staff and the institutions must be registered with a registration authority set up by the state government.

Healthcare

  • 2007: The existing Act provides for facilities such as separate queues and beds for senior citizens in government hospitals.

  • 2019: The proposed amendments say all hospitals including private organisations must provide these facilities for senior citizens.

Police protection

  • 2007: The original Act has no provision for police protection to senior citizens.

  • 2019: As per the proposed amendment, every police station must have at least one officer (not below the rank of Assistant Sub-Inspector) to deal with issues related to parents and senior citizens. The state governments must create a special police unit for senior citizens in every district and it will be headed by a police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.

What are the challenges faced by senior citizens in India?

Although it is hard to give a watertight division of problems faced by senior citizens in India, they can be broadly defined as:

  • Financial issues such as income deficiency, unemployment, and monetary insecurity.

  • Physical and physiological trauma that may emerge because of physical condition, health issues, malnutrition, poor housing among others.

  • There may be a plethora of legal issues involving criminal and civil suits.

  • Trauma of being alone, adjustment issues in society.

How India is taking care of its senior citizens?

There are laws in India which provide protection to senior citizens and ensure their welfare.

On 13 January 1999, the National Policy on Older Persons was announced by the government in pursuance of the UN General Assembly Resolution 47/5 to observe 1999 as International Year of Older Persons.

The well-being of senior citizens is also mandated in the >Constitution of India under Article 41: "The State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to public assistance in cases of old age."

The >Right to Equality is guaranteed by the Constitution as a fundamental right while the social security is the concurrent responsibility of the Central and state government.

The Madrid Plan of Action and the United Nations Principles for Senior Citizens adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2002, the Proclamation on Ageing and the global targets on ageing for the Year 2001 adopted by the General Assembly in 1992, the Shanghai Plan of Action 2002 and the Macau Outcome Document 2007 adopted by UNESCAP formed the basis for the global policy guidelines to encourage governments to design and implement their own policies from time to time. The Government of India is a signatory to all these documents demonstrating its commitment to address the concerns of the elderly.

Pensions, travel concessions, income tax relief, medical benefit, extra interest on savings, security of older persons through an integrated scheme of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment as well as financial support was provided for homes, day care centres, medical vans, helplines among others are extended currently.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment coordinates programmes to be undertaken by other ministries in their relevant areas of support to older persons.

The National Policy on Senior Citizens, 2011 promotes timely payment of pensions, provident funds, gratuities, and other benefits to save superannuated people from financial hardship. It also supports the creation of tax policies that are responsive to the needs of the elderly. The elderly are eligible for tax breaks under Sections 88-B, 88-D, and 88-DDB of the Income Tax Act. The Life Insurance Corporation of India has a number of schemes for senior citizens like Jeevan Dhara Yojana, Jeevan Akshay Yojana, Senior Citizen Unit Yojana and Medical Insurance Yojana. It was proposed that 10 percent of the houses built under government schemes for the urban and rural low-income segments be made available to the elderly on a low-interest loan.

During prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tenure, the Annapurana Yojana was launched to help the elderly and unattended senior citizens are eligible for 10 kg of food every month as part of this scheme.

The healthcare needs of senior citizens are given top priority in the policy.

What is the population size of elderly in India?

The large increase in human life expectancy over the years has resulted not only in a very substantial increase in the number of older persons but in a major shift in the age groups of 80 and above. The demographic profile depicts that from the years 2000-2050, the overall population in India will grow by 55 percent whereas population of people in their 60 years and above will increase by 326 percent and those in the age group of 80-plus by a whopping 700 percent.

Out of the World's Elderly Population, 1/8th lives in India. Most of them will never retire in the usual sense of the term and will continue to work as long as physically possible. Inevitably though, the disability to produce and earn will decline with age.

There is a fear that in the absence of savings it will result in sharp declining in living standards that for many can mean destitution. This is a major challenge for old age income security in India. As a result of the current ageing scenario, there is a need for all aspects of care for the oldest of the old (80+ years).

According to the projection available with World population Ageing: 1950-2050; Department of Economic and Social affairs, Population Division, United Nations it is estimated by 2050, out of the total population 1,572 million, India will have a population of 324 million in age group of 60 plus and a population of 46 million in the age group of 80 plus.

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