The Telegraph
Friday , August 22 , 2014
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Panel to protect elders

- Govt proposes commission with civil court powers

New Delhi, Aug. 21: The government is planning to set up a commission for the country’s hundred million senior citizens who would finally have a forum they can call their own to voice complaints of abuse and negligence.

The draft National Commission for Senior Citizens Bill, 2014 — which the social justice ministry has sent to several NGOs — gives the proposed panel powers to “investigate” all matters relating to safeguards provided for senior citizens.

At present, matters concerning those who are 60 and above are addressed through the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. Through this act, the elderly can seek maintenance under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code and the National Policy for Older Persons, 1990.

What the draft bill proposes is an exclusive panel with powers of a civil court to look after the legal and societal rights of senior citizens.

The proposal for such an empowered panel has come four years after a committee appointed by the ministry in 2010 to review the 1990 policy recommended one where the elderly could file complaints.

“We had recommended such commissions should exist at the central as well as the state level. We have about 104 million elderly in the country and by 2050 the number will be 320 million,” said K.R. Gangadharan, global president of the International Federation on Ageing and a member of the 2010 committee.

The proposed bill — a copy is with The Telegraph — says the functions of the commission will include taking cognisance of matters related to “deprivation of senior citizens’ rights”. According to the draft, the commission will have all the powers of a civil court to access public records and “summon” witnesses from “any part of India and examining him on oath”.

Gangadharan said he understood the concerns of those who think the panel would be “another of the several toothless commissions we already have”.

“But something is better than nothing. The aspect of elderly abuse needs much more consultations. Unlike in the West, parents in India don’t want to bring charges against their children even when they are abused. The commission will address this problem,” he said, adding that activists would recommend a provision for “compensation”.

None of the commissions in the country, except the National Human Rights Commission, has the power to compensate victims.

According to the bill, the proposed commission would also have the powers to:

• Periodically inspect jails or remand homes where the aged might be kept as prisoners, or otherwise, to ensure there are no rights violations;

• Fund litigation involving issues affecting a large body of senior citizens; and

• Appoint committees to identify factors that affect the elderly.

Finally, this one is for those who think the elderly have outlived their utility: the panel will propose ways to increase the productivity of senior citizens.