Who will protect the rights of senior citizens?
The Maintenance & Welfare of Parents & Senior Citizens Act, 2007, seeks to ensure that the elderly are not deprived of something as basic as housing
With the gradual erosion of the joint f amily system in India,there have been many unfortunate cases of senior citizens facing lack of basic needs such as housing. There have been numerous instances of many seniors being forcibly evicted from their own properties or being wrongfully denied unhindered access and enjoyment of their property by their children and/or relatives.
To t a ck l e t h i s g r ow i n g social problem, the Central Gover nment had e nacted the Maintenance & Welfare of Parents & Senior Citizens Act, 2007. This is a model legislation passed by the Central Government for adaptation and implementation by respective state governments.
This Act at present has been notified in various states such as Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Delhi, Goa, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Rajasthan and Tripura. Since the Act was enacted, Maintenance Tribunals have in many cases directed the children/legal heirs to restore peaceful, physical possession of the property under dispute to aggrieved petitioners. However, many senior citizens remain unaware of the remedies and relief available to them under this Act.
One of the main objects behind the Act is to provide an institutional framework for the protection of ‘life and property of older persons’. Parents, grandparents and senior citizens who are homeless, have been dispossessed of their property or who find themselves unable to maintain themselves from their own income and property are entitled to demand maintenance towards housing from their children and specified relatives. This is because the Act takes care to define the scope of maintenance as including the provision of residence.
To take into account cases of childless senior citizens, the Act also makes a provision for claiming against ‘relatives’ who have sufficient means. Under the Act, a ‘relative’ means any legal heir of a childless senior citizen (not being a minor), who is either in possession of the immovable property of the senior citizen or who would inherit such property upon death of the senior citizen. Where more than one relative is entitled to inherit the senior citizen’s property, senior citizens are entitled to claim maintenance towards housing from each such relative in the proportion in which these relatives would subsequently inherit the senior citizen’s property.
This brings us to the important issue of what constitutes a senior citizen’s ‘ property’ for the purpose of this Act. To provide a wider scope for senior citizens who are seeking to reclaim or assert rights over their property, the term ‘property’ has been defined comprehensively so as to include ( i) both immovable and movable property; ( ii) both ancestral property and self- acquired property; ( iii) both tangible and intangible property.
While immovable property includes land together with the building constructed on it (be it agricultural, residential, retail/ commercial, etc.), movable property would include cash, jewellery, stocks, insurance policies, etc. Self-acquired immovable property includes properties that have been purchased by utilisation of one’s own funds/ income.
Hence, one is usually free to independently deal with and transfer self-acquired properties at one’s discretion. The term ‘ancestral immovable property’ is to be understood in the context of ‘coparcenary property’ that is inherited from one’s ancestors as per the rules of Hindu Mitakshara law. Regarding the distinction between ‘tangible’ and ‘ intangible’, the literal meaning of tangible property refers to assets that are physical/ material and capable of being possessed such as land and buildings.
On the other hand, abstract rights and interest in an immovable property such as leasing rights or possessory rights are ‘intangible’ in nature.
Section 23 of the Act in par- ticular has wide ramifications in the context of transfer of immovable property by senior citizens and nature of their ownership in such immovable property, and will be dealt in our next column.
The author is senior partner at Zeus Law, a corporate commercial law firm. One of its areas of specialisation is real estate transactional and litigation work. If you have any queries, email us at htestates@ hindustantimes. com or ht@ zeus.firm.in