The High Court of Karnataka has said that there is a complete failure on the part of the State government to comply with its statutory obligation of establishing old-age homes as per the provisions of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007.
The court directed the government to inform within a month in what manner it proposes to implement Section 19(1) of the Act not only by establishing old-age homes in every district but also assessing the requirement on realistic basis of number of such old-age homes for indigent senior citizens required in each district.
A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Suraj Govindaraj issued the direction on a PIL petition filed by Pavan Kumar and 14 other residents of Girinagar complaining about the functioning of an old-age home in the locality.
Though the Act states that the State governments “may” establish and maintain old-age homes, the Bench said that depending upon various factors, while interpreting a statute, the word “may” can be interpreted as “shall” and vice versa.
Pointing out that Parliament has enacted the law to protect the interest of indigent senior citizens considering the harsh reality of life, in which a large number of elderly persons are not being looked after by their families due to withering of the joint family system, and ageing has become a major social challenge, the Bench said that Act will have to be understood and read as a mandatory obligation of the State government to senior citizens who are indigent. “The mandatory obligation is to establish and maintain such number of old-age homes for indigent senior citizens at accessible places as it may be necessary in a phased manner. The minimum requirement is that at least one old-age home in each district should be established, which will accommodate minimum 150 indigent senior citizens,” the Bench held.
Noticing that the State government has not exercised its rule making power to prescribe a scheme, as per Section 19(2) of the Act, for management of old-age homes for senior citizens, the Bench cautioned that it will issue direction of the government within a month to make its stand clear.
The Bench declined to consider the government’s policy of giving grant-in-aid to old-age homes run by NGOs as a scheme under the Act as the grant-in-aid for NGOs was started in 1995 with annual grant-in-aid of ₹1.96 lakh per old-age home, and in 2013 the amount was enhanced to ₹8 lakh.