Delivering a judgment on a writ petition with regard to enforcement of the rights of elderly persons under Article 21 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court of India, while issuing directions to that effect, made some poignant observations on the plight of elderly.
The Supreme Court bench comprising justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta, considering a writ petition which prominently sought pension for the elderly, shelter for the elderly, geriatric care and medical facilities and effective implementation of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 (‘MWP Act’), observed, “Eventually, age catches up with everybody and on occasion, it renders some people completely helpless and dependent on others, either physically or mentally or both. Fortunately, our Constitution is organic and this Court is forward looking. This combination has resulted in path breaking developments in law, particularly in the sphere of social justice which has been given tremendous importance and significance in a variety of decisions rendered by this court over the years”.
They added, “The present petition is one such opportunity presented before this court to recognise and enforce the rights of elderly persons: rights that are recognised by Article 21 of the Constitution as understood and interpreted by this court in a series of decisions over a period of several decades, and rights that have gained recognition over the years due to emerging situations”.
Lauding the petition filed by Dr Aswani Kumar, the court remarked, “Having heard the petitioner, the learned amicus and others including the learned additional solicitor general, we are left in no doubt that the petition raises significant issues relating to the recognition and enforcement of the fundamental rights of the elderly. This is perhaps the first such petition on the subject and interestingly, the submissions of the petitioner are based entirely on Article 21 of the Constitution and other supporting constitutional provisions”.
The court, after discussing in detail various provisions and social security schemes that exists for the elderly population and also analysing whether it is substantive to ensure the life with dignity for them, issued certain directions that shall have discernable impact of the lives of elderly population in times to come.
To ensure “spirited support of the rights of the elderly” the apex court issues following directions.
1. The Union of India will obtain necessary information from all the state governments and the Union Territories about the number of old age homes in each district of the country and file a status report in this regard.
2. The Union of India will also obtain from all the state governments the medical facilities and geriatric care facilities that are available to senior citizens in each district and file a status report in this regard.
3. On the basis of the information gathered by the Union of India as detailed in the status reports, a plan of action should be prepared for giving publicity to the provisions of the MWP Act and making senior citizens aware of the provisions of the said Act and the constitutional and statutory rights of senior citizens.
4. Section 30 of the MWP Act enables the Government of India to issue appropriate directions to the state governments to carry out and execute the provisions of the MWP Act. The central government must exercise its power in this regard and issue appropriate directions to the state governments for the effective implementation of the provisions of the MWP Act. Alongside this, the central government must, in terms of Section 31 of the MWP Act, conduct a review for the purposes of monitoring the progress in implementation of the MWP Act by the state governments.
5. Some of the schemes referred to herein above are comparatively dated. It is high time that the Government of India takes a relook at these schemes and perhaps overhaul them with a view to bring about convergence and avoid multiplicity. In particular, the Government of India and the state governments must revisit the grant of pension to the elderly so that it is more realistic. Of course, this would depend upon the availability of finances and the economic capacity of the Government of India and the state governments.
The court also directed that the status reports should be filed by the central government on or before 31 January, 2019.
Updated Date: Dec 14, 2018 17:59:30 IST