Terming the rights of the rising elderly population of the country an “emerging situation” not envisaged even in the Constitution, the Supreme Court on Thursday said the government could not tighten its purse strings in the name of “economic budgeting” to explain the inadequate welfare provided to senior citizens and the aged. The court said it was a statutory right of every aged person under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act of 2007 to be provided dignity, health and shelter. All the three are important components which make the fundamental right to life under Article 21.
A Bench of Justices Madan B. Lokur ordered the Centre to obtain the “necessary information” from all the State governments and the Union Territories about the number of old age homes in each district and file a status report by January 31.
“In the absence of a suitable number of old age homes, and homes as per their status, they are left to fend for themselves making them vulnerable to mishaps and other unforeseen events,” Justice Lokur, who authored the verdict, observed.
The apex court ordered the Centre to obtain details from the States about the medical and geriatric care facilities available to senior citizens in each district.
“There is no reliable information about the number of beds reserved for geriatric care in government or private hospitals or information regarding specific geriatric centres,” the court observed.
The court directed that the Centre should prepare a plan of action for giving publicity to the provisions of 2007 Act and ensure that the State governments carry out and execute the provisions of the law.
The court’s judgment, based on a petition filed by former Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar, expressed shock at the “pittance” paid to senior citizens and the elderly in the form of pension.
The Centre also noted that there had been a steady rise in the population of senior citizens in India. It submitted in court that the number of elderly persons had increased from 1.98 crore in 1951 to 7.6 crore in 2001 and 10.38 crore in 2011. It is projected that the number of 60+ in India would increase to 14.3 crore in 2021 and 17.3 crore in 2026.