With cases of harassment of elderly citizens by their own family, mainly sons and daughters, on the rise, nine Maintenance Tribunals were set up in the nine districts of Delhi to provide redress to elderly persons disposed of their movable and immovable property, facing torture, or left destitute. Now there are 11 tribunals for the 11 revenue districts.
These tribunals, set up under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, have passed many orders directing children to take back elderly parents they threw out of home and to provide them monthly maintenance. Beat constables have also been asked to make regular visits to ensure that repatriated parents under the Act are not harassed again. But only a small percentage of the elderly, who face such problems, have been able to bring their problems before these tribunals.
In April, a Maintenance Tribunal of Central District came to the aid of aged widow Zeenath Singh, who sought relief under the Act and alleged that her son and daughter-in-law had, after much harassment and torture, evicted her husband and her from their house in Darya Ganj’s Christian Colony. They were taken in by an old age home in Fatehpur Beri.
Though the tribunal issued show-cause notices to the son and daughter-in-law, they did not show up forcing the matter to be taken up ex-parte. An attempt at mediation by the tribunal also did not yield any result. Meanwhile, Zeenath informed the tribunal that her husband had passed away at the old age home.
Finally the three-member tribunal comprising members Sukhbir Chand and Meenakshi Mitra and presiding officer Bansh Raj passed an order directing the son to allow Zeenath to live in the part of the house where she was residing earlier and pay her a maintenance amount of Rs.2,000 before the 10th day of every month. Further, the tribunal also ordered the respondents to take care of her food, clothing and medical expenses and to cause no inconvenience to her in the future. To ensure that the tribunal orders were not violated, the Station House Officer of Chandni Mahal police station was asked to ensure her safety and ordered to depute a beat constable to visit her at least once a fortnight to ensure that she led a “peaceful life”.
The pros of the rules framed for the Act governing the tribunals is that any elderly person can give a simple application with his or her complaint after which notices are issued to the respondents. Lawyers are not allowed to represent the parties. Elderly persons who are unable to make visits for hearings can authorise any relative, a residents’ welfare association office-bearer or a social worker. Statements of petitioners and respondents are recorded and a mediation officer is deputed to try for a settlement. If this fails, the tribunal members have to pass an order within 90 days of receipt of the complaint. While the petitioners can approach an Appellate Tribunal if they are unhappy with the order, the respondents have no option but to appeal before the Delhi High Court and incur even larger legal costs. The tribunal can also imprison, for one month, respondents who do not comply with orders.
In another instance last year, an elderly woman residing in Karol Bagh, Rukmani Devi, who was allegedly duped by her three daughters of her share in two properties that her late husband had collectively bequeathed to all of them, won redress through a Maintenance Tribunal which directed the three daughters to purchase a suitable independent residential accommodation for the mother within three months.
The mother had also complained that she let go her claims to the properties after alleged pressure, misbehaviour and harassment by the daughters. The tribunal warned them that it had powers to even declare the transfer of property to have been made by fraud or coercion or under undue influence. The daughters were directed to pay Rs.3,000 each to their mother every month and the SHO of the area asked to regularly visit her to ensure her safety.