Friday, October 2, 2009

Law To Empower Elderly

Delhi Govt to Set Up 9 Tribunals; Children to Face Penal Action for Ill-Treating Parents

Ambika Pandit

New Delhi: Vulnerable and voiceless for long, the elderly can now swing their sticks to good effect. If they find themselves in distress, they can fall back on the ‘Maintenance & Welfare of Parents & Senior Citizens Act, 2007’ that will be implemented from October.
The Act mandates that all those children who have abandoned their parents or have made them the subject of neglect in their homes will have to face penal provisions and imprisonment of up to three months or a fine of Rs 5000 or both. Under the Act, the Delhi government is starting nine tribunals across the city to take up the cases of senior citizens and address reconciliation and maintenance issues. It will be implemented soon after the notification of the tribunals on October 1.
All nine tribunals will be headed by additional district magistrate rank officers while two members each will be drawn from social sector. These tribunals will have powers to issue summons to children and relatives of the elderly seeking help and direct police to take action.
Besides having the power to invoke penal provisions, the tribunals can also ask children or relatives to provide maintenance of up to Rs 10,000 monthly to senior citizens. However, the prime role of the Act and the tribunal is to toe a reconciliatory line. That’s why, sources said, conciliation officers will be appointed to report on the status. The case will be referred to the maintenance or conciliation officer who will be appointed from among the district officers of the social welfare department. This official will contact the children of the elderly and try to reach a middle ground. If that does not work, the matter will be reported back to the tribunal.
To make the process hassle-free, the Act empowers senior citizens to contest their own case in the tribunal. In case, the victims are very old or disabled, they can authorise someone else. The tribunal can also take up a case suo motto. And to expedite the matter, it will be mandatory for tribunals to settle the case in three months. The decision can be challenged in an appellate body which the government proposes to activate over the next few months.
While the government sees these tribunals as an empowerment tool for the senior citizens, there are many who feel that this is no concrete solution to the growing problem of elderly being abandoned by their own children.
Himanshu Rath of Age Well NGO, which works with elderly, said: ‘‘These tribunals are nothing but a product of irresponsible governance. The Act itself is inadequate and completely puts the onus on children. The government has not taken any responsibility. Sensitisation is the key to dealing with the problem and the government is not doing anything to sensitize children and the youth towards the concerns of the elderly.’’
He added that his experience with the elderly suggests that no matter how badly they are treated by their children rarely do they wish to seek legal help. Nods RS Sindwani from the Senior Citizen Society of the Freedom Fighter’s Colony in Neb Sarai. ‘‘The elderly would be reluctant to openly challenge their own children,’’ he said, but welcomed the decision
to open tribunals.
Rath said that even oldage homes are not the answer. ‘‘There are 80 million elderly in this country and the existing old-age homes can cater to only 50,000. What about the rest?’’ he asked.


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