Former Union Minister Ashwani Kumar, who has filed a plea for protection of rights of senior citizens, today conceded that he had failed both as a minister and a parliamentarian in this regard. “I have failed as a minister and a parliamentarian but I do not want to fail as a citizen,” he told a Supreme Court bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta during the hearing of a PIL by him raising issues of evolving acceptable solutions and schemes for protection of rights of the elderly and establishing old age homes in all districts. When the bench asked how he had failed as a minister or an MP, Kumar responded by saying “collectively (failed)”. The apex court after hearing him for some time asked the government to look into the schemes for protection of rights of the elderly and apprise it as to how it could be implemented effectively across the country.
The bench said it would have an idea of the existing schemes only when the government tells about them and their working.
“There may be 10 different schemes. You (Centre) are in a position to give us the list of schemes along with the list of persons who are responsible for the implementation of these schemes,” the bench told Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Pinky Anand.
“If the Union of India will tell us what are these schemes and how they are working, only then we will have any idea about it,” the apex court said.
During the hearing, Kumar, who was also the Law Minister during the erstwhile UPA government, said there were around 11 crore such people whose rights have been denied.
Anand told the apex court that the government will look into the issues raised by Kumar, a senior Congress leader, in his plea and there is a policy which is under discussion.
When the bench referred to the schemes of National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), the former minister said there has to be some mechanism as “the problem is far too serious”.
As one of the parties told the bench that there were several deficiencies in the schemes, the court said, “purpose of a PIL is not to criticise, but to improve. We have to move forward”.
The bench, which fixed the matter for hearing in April, had earlier sought the assistance of NGO HelpAge India and NALSA, which provides free legal services to weak and vulnerable sections of society, in the matter while seeking the response of the government on the plea which also sought a hike in budget allocation for the purpose.
It had asked NALSA to spell out feasible steps that can be undertaken for protection of the rights of aged citizens in implementation of the existing laws, schemes and policies.
Kumar, a senior advocate and a Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab who has filed the PIL himself, had said there were a large number of aged people whose number has been increasing, with most of them living in poverty, without any roof over their heads or proper clothes and food. The budgetary allocation for their welfare has also been paltry.
He had said there were several central laws and schemes for their welfare, but all these were either not implemented or had become defunct.
He had referred to a report of the parliamentary standing committee on the concerned department dealing with the demand for grants for 2015-16, saying the amount allocated as the budget estimate stage was Rs 50 crore in 2014-15 which was cut down to Rs 25 crore at the revised estimate stage and only Rs 10.45 crore was utilised.
The petitioner has sought that adequate number of old age homes be established in the country and direction be given to maintain and operate such homes with adequate standards to enable the elderly live their life with dignity and in accordance with section 19 of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 (MWP Act).
The plea has contended there was lack of basic amenities such as shelter for the elderly and the policies framed by the government have not addressed the basic issue. It has sought implementation of Integrated Programme for Older Persons scheme to protect and provide adequate safeguards to the aged in accordance with Section 21 of the Constitution.
Besides, the Congress leader has also sought the establishment of full-time Tribunals in every state as mandated under the MWP Act, to look into applications for maintenance made by senior citizens.