The Union Cabinet on Wednesday (December 4) approved The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill, 2019, removing the cap of Rs 10,000 on the maximum monthly allowance permissible, and providing for the appointment of nodal police officers for senior citizens in every police station and the creation of a special police unit for senior citizens at the district level.

Amending 12-year-old law

The Bill seeks to amend The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill, 2007, passed by Parliament during the term of UPA-I.

The 2007 Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on March 20, 2007, and passed on December 5 and 6 of that year by Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively.

Among the key features of the Bill, as per a summary published by PRS Legislative Research, were:

* Children and heirs were legally obligated to provide maintenance to senior citizens.

* State governments were permitted to establish old age homes in every district.

* Senior citizens who are unable to maintain themselves, were given the right to apply to a maintenance tribunal seeking a monthly allowance from their children or heirs.

* State governments were to set up maintenance tribunals in every subdivision to decide the level of maintenance. Appellate tribunals were to be established at the district level.

* State governments were to set the ceiling for the maximum monthly maintenance allowance. The Bill capped the maximum monthly allowance at Rs 10,000 per month.

* Punishment for not paying the required monthly allowance was fixed at Rs 5,000, or up to three months in prison, or both.

The proposed changes

On November 20, in a written reply presented to Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Rattan Lal Kataria listed the “major salient features” of the proposed Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Amendment Bill:

“(i) Definition of ‘children’ and ‘parents’ has been expanded.

(ii) Definition of ‘maintenance’ and ‘welfare’ has been expanded.

(iii) Mode of submission of application for maintenance has been enlarged.

(iv) Ceiling of Rs 10,000/- as maintenance amount has been removed.

(v) Preference to dispose of applications of senior citizens, above eighty years of age, early has been included.

(vi) Registration of Senior Citizens Care Homes/Homecare Service Agencies etc. have been included.

(vii) Minimum standards for senior citizen care homes has been included in the Bill.

(viii) Appointment of Nodal Police Officers for Senior Citizens in every Police Station and District level Special Police Unit for Senior Citizens has been included.

(ix) Maintenance of Helpline for senior citizens has been included.”

Last year, The Ministry for Social Justice and Empowerment prepared a draft of the Amendment Bill expanding the definition of children, which currently refers to only biological children and grandchildren, to include daughter-in-law and son-in-law, and also adopted and/or stepchildren.

The Ministry’s draft Bill also extended the definition of maintenance beyond merely the provision of food, clothing, housing, and healthcare, and to include “safety and security” of the parent.

The draft allowed senior citizens to approach a Maintenance Tribunal in case their children neglected them or refused to maintain them.

The Indian Express had reported at the time that the draft Bill proposed to make the maintenance amount ceiling variable, based on the principle that those who earned more could be expected to shell out more for the upkeep of their parents.

The 2018 draft also introduced a punitive measure of up to one month’s imprisonment in case the monthly allowance remained unpaid.