While most of the destitute elderly are unaware of the legal protection they are entitled to, petitions filed by 17 citizens of an old age home in Thiruvananthapuram are yet to be examined.

How the Senior Citizens Act is failing to protect many destitute people in Kerala Sreekesh Raveendran Nair
news Justice Monday, September 30, 2019 - 17:15

A total of 17 petitions filed by elderly people, all inmates of an old age home functioning in Thiruvananthapuram, seeking that their children should take care of them, remain unexamined by the Tribunal constituted under the Act. This neglect has raised serious concerns about the effective implementation of Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. The Act stipulates that senior citizens can file application before the Tribunal when their children or relatives fail to protect them.

“Institutionalisation should be the last option in the case of senior citizens. As per the law, senior citizens who don’t have children to take care of them, or if their children are differently abled, infirm or who are not earning any income, should be housed in old age homes run by the government. But in old age homes, pensioned people, those who have own income, and those whose children are capable of taking care of their parents are housed, which is a violation of the law. When we examined, we realised that this is done with the recommendation of politicians irrespective of political parties,” advocate Sreeja Sasidharan tells TNM.

Sreeja, a panel lawyer from Thiruvananthapuram District Legal Services Authority, has been appointed as a coordinator for implementing the scheme for senior citizens by National Legal Services Authority (NALSA). 

She filed the petition for the 17 inmates of the old age home in Thiruvananthapuram, before the Tribunal. 

The flaws in implementing the Act begin right from not identifying the neglect the elderly people are facing from their children or relatives. The failure in effective implementation of the Act also often results in justice being denied to the destitute elderly who need it the most. Housing inmates who are not eligible for it or who are not destitutes under the Act, in turn affects people who are really destitute from getting admission at old age homes, where the number of inmates can’t exceed a fixed number.  

While laws like Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act have protection officers to ensure justice for the victims, as far as the Senior Citizens Act is concerned, the Maintenance Tribunal is the only way to seek help.

Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) is the Tribunal under the Act and it is a technical assistant under him who should probe into the complaints filed by the senior citizens. In Thiruvananthapuram, there are two RDOs who are Tribunals under the Act- for Thiruvananthapuram and Nedumangad revenue divisions. However, there is only one technical assistant to probe the petitions after visiting the houses and enquiring about the whereabouts of the petitioners.

In Thiruvananthapuram, Sub Collector is the Revenue Divisional Officer, and K Inbasekhar is currently the Sub Collector.

“It is true that the petitions were filed in February. But I received the petitions in July only and was not able to look into them due to some health issues. The sub-collector has begun to examine the petitions,” Sulekha, technical assistant of the Tribunal in Thiruvananthapuram, tells TNM.

“The senior citizens who are not destitutes, if identified at an early stage to a great extent can be addressed, which would help in not housing them at old age homes. ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) or Anganwadis can be assigned for it and senior citizens help desks can be opened at police stations. In some cases, parents are housed by children at old age homes in faraway places. The parents in turn would feel uncomfortable after being suddenly shifted to an unfamiliar place. In such cases, finding out the exact whereabouts of such persons would be a tough task. It shouldn’t be allowed, children who are capable of taking care of their parents should be made accountable,” says Sreeja.

“In most cases, the senior citizens are not aware of the legal rights they have or how to move legally to ensure that. The government should prepare a list of eligible citizens who are destitutes and provide accommodation at old age homes on the basis of that. But no such list has been prepared so far,” she says.

Read: Illegal brick kilns in Coimbatore degrading landscape and damaging ecology?


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