It has to be stated at the outset that in a historic and latest judgment titled Senior Citizen Welfare Organization & Another v State of Uttarakhand & Another in Writ Petition (PIL) No. 52 of 2013 with far reaching consequences, the Uttarakhand High Court on June 12, 2018 has issued a slew of directions for welfare and protection of rights of senior citizens in the state. This shall ensure that senior citizens don’t get a raw treatment anymore. It is thus a landmark judgment from all angles!
Before proceeding ahead, it would be instructive to go through briefly the manner in which the case proceeded. The petitioner no. 1 is a Society, registered under the Society Registration Act having its registration no. 1344/1997-98 dated 29.12.1997. The petitioner no. 2 is the Vice President of the Society. The present petition has been filed by the petitioners for protecting the rights of the senior citizens as per the provisions of the Maintenance and Welfare of the Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 (hereinafter referred to as “the Act, 2007). The petitioner no. 2 has prayed for establishment of the old age homes in each district of the State of Uttarakhand as visualized under Section 19 of the Act.
To be sure, while referring to the various provisions of the Maintenance and Welfare of the Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, the Bench said that 11 years have elapsed since it was enacted but till date enactment has not been implemented fully. This is a matter of deep regret! “Once thelawis enacted, it must be implementedin letter and spirit,” the Bench added.
Going forward, the Bench observed that, “Every senior citizen has a fundamental right to live with dignity. It is the duty cast upon the State Government to protect the life, liberty and property including dignity and decency of senior citizens. They cannot be permitted to be left unattended in the twilight of their lives. Ours is a welfare and socialist state and it is expected that every citizen should live in a dignified manner with the assistance to be provided by the State Government.” Every State Government must always bear this in mind. They must endeavour to always do as directed by the court.
It is evident from the counter filed by the respondent State that it has established only two old age homes in the districts Chamoli and Bageshwar. These are being maintained and operated from the funds provided by the State Government. But according to the plain language of Section 19 the State Government is required to establish old age homes in each district and also to prepare a Scheme as per Section 19(2) of the Act, 2007.
Truth be told, the two old age homes one in Dehradun and one in Udham Singh Nagar having capacity of 25 citizens each are being maintained by the NGOs’ who received grants from the Central Government. The old age home in District Dehradun is being operated and maintained by Gramya Mahila Kalyan Sansthan in Prem Nagar. The onerous responsibility of running and manning old age homes lies on the State Government primarily which it cannot abdicate under any circumstances!
Needless to say, the Bench made it clear that the state government should establish/set-up the old age homes at its own level instead of relying upon NGOs or societies. It also held that, “It cannot be permitted to pass on the responsibilities upon the NGOs for better management of the old age homes. It is also the duty of the State Government to provide beds for all senior citizens in government/government aided hospitals. There is requirement of separate queues for senior citizens. The facility for treatment of degenerated diseases is required to be extended to senior citizens.” There can be no denying or disputing it!
To ensure that the State Government fulfils its duties and obligations in maintaining old age homes, a Bench of Justice Rajiv Sharma and Justice Lok Pal Singh issued many directives while disposing of a PIL filed by the Senior Citizen Welfare Organization seeking directions for protecting the rights of the senior citizens as per the provisions of the Maintenance and Welfare of the Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. Those landmark directives issued by the Bench are as follows:-
- The state government is directed to establish old age home in each district of the State of Uttarakhand within a period of six months. It is made clear that it shall be open to the state government to hire private accommodation, as a temporary measure.
- The state government is directed to make a scheme for management of old age homes within a period of eight weeks.
- The state government is directed to ensure to provide a sufficient number of beds for senior citizens in each government hospital or hospitals funded by the state government.
- The state government is further directed to ensure that all the senior citizens in the State of Uttarakhand are provided free treatment including blood test, CT scan, MRI and other tests at government hospitals.
- The respondent-state shall upgrade the facilities to be provided in old age homes from time to time, including the strength of the inhabitants.
- The state government is also directed to give due publicity to the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 in print media, electronic media including through Panchayati Raj institutions for the awareness of the enactment as per Section 21 of the Act, 2007.
- The state government shall provide the facilities to the senior citizens as per the Rules.
- The state government shall provide separate accommodation for men and women including sufficient potable water, electric fans, coolers/AC, separate kitchen, dining room, separate bathroom for disabled senior citizens.
- The state government is also directed to provide wheel-chair, television, newspaper and books in old age homes.
- The state government is also directed to provide ramp railing to the senior citizens including telephone service.
- The state government is also directed to provide balanced nutritious food, two sets of clothes for summers and winters, linen, sufficient number of sweepers for maintaining hygiene and cleanliness in old age homes.
- The senior citizens, in case of emergency, shall be taken to the nearest hospital for treatment. The cost of conveyance shall be borne by the State Government including the medical expenditure as well as of ambulance.
- The circle officers of the respective area are directed to maintain vigil in and around the old age homes.
- The state government is directed to protect the life and property of the senior citizens as provided under Rule 20.
Having said this, it would be imperative to also mention here that the Bench of Uttarakhand High Court in its landmark judgment also held that, “The Secretary, Welfare to the State of Uttarakhand shall be personally responsible to implement the orders and monitor the directions issued hereinabove.” On a parting note, the Bench also observed that, “The Court places on record its appreciation for the valuable assistance for the valuable assistance rendered by Mr Narendra Bali, Advocate, in such a sensitive matter.”
All said and done, it is a very landmark judgment with far reaching consequences. The directives issued by the Bench of Uttarakhand High Court are really laudable and all courts must adhere to it. Not just this, the State of Uttarakhand must implement the landmark directives issued by it in letter and spirit and not just leave it unattended! It is the senior citizens who will benefit the most who are made to suffer untold sufferings and miseries if this landmark judgment with commendable directives are really implemented now!