The Kerala High Court in its recent order dated March 28, 2022 has ruled in favour of elderly people, remarking that the power of the Maintenance Tribunal under the Senior Citizens Act is not limited to mere ordering of monthly allowance for their maintenance – where their children/relatives refuse to maintain them – but to ensure maintenance from their own earnings to lead a dignified life.
Justice Murali Purushothaman held that the Maintenance Tribunal has the jurisdiction and powers to issue directions to the children or relative not to deprive the senior citizen of their earnings so that they can maintain themselves.
The petitioner, a senior citizen, is the wife of Sri. K.V. Eapen who had executed a Will dated 10.10.2008, whereby life interest was created in favour of the petitioner in respect of A schedule properties in the Will, and after her death, the property was to devolve absolutely in favour of their son, the 4th respondent. As per the recital in the Will, during the life time of the petitioner, she can enjoy A schedule properties with absolute freedom including the right to collect and take all income and to reside in the house.
Seven months after the execution of the Will, Sri. K.V. Eapen passed away and five years thereafter, the petitioner preferred an application before the Maintenance Tribunal under the Senior Citizens Act against the 4th respondent son and the 5th respondent daughter in law, alleging that they were not maintaining her and also not permitting her and her mother-in-law to stay in the house peacefully and to enjoy or collect usufructs from the property covered by the Will.
The Maintenance Tribunal passed an order directing the respondents (son and daughter-in-law) not to obstruct the petitioner from taking usufructs from the property, to create a peaceful living atmosphere for her in the house, and not to cause any harm to her.
However, six months later, the petitioner once again approached the Tribunal for enforcement of its order contending that the respondents continued to harass her and obstruct her from entering the house and taking usufruct.
The senior citizen petitioner also alleged that the Maintenance Tribunal did not take steps to enforce its order and that the District Magistrate did not take steps under the Kerala Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Rules. Therefore, she was left with no choice but to move the Kerala High Court.
Kerala High Court
The High Court noted that when a senior citizen was indeed prevented from enjoying her earnings or residing in the house, as much as she was deprived of her maintenance. While emphasising that the Senior Citizens Act is intended to ensure that senior citizens are not left destitute, or at the mercy of their children or relatives, Justice Murali Purushothaman said,
When the Senior Citizen or parent who has earnings makes an application to the Maintenance Tribunal contending that her right to earning is obstructed by the son who has statutory obligation to maintain the parent, the Maintenance Tribunal has to ensure that the Senior Citizen or parent is able to maintain herself from her earnings.
The object of the Act is not only to provide financial support, but also to prevent financial exploitation of the senior citizen and parent by relative or children.
Arguments by Petitioner’s Lawyer
Advocate K.M. Varghese appearing for the petitioner contended that the order passed by the Tribunal is legally valid and therefore, liable to be enforced. He added that although the petitioner has approached other forums for her rights, the Senior Citizens Act has overriding effect over other enactments and clarified that there are no conflicting orders.
Varghese further pointed out that under Rule 19 of the Kerala Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Rules, the District Magistrate has wide powers to ensure the timely execution of orders of the Maintenance Tribunal. Accordingly, he sought a directive to the Tribunal and the Magistrate to enforce the order.
Defense by Lawyer of the Respondents
Advocate Bea Mary Benny appearing for the respondents contended that the jurisdiction of the Tribunal is only with regard to maintenance and that it has no jurisdiction to pass an order concerning other civil rights of the parties.
Parties were sent for mediation
Since the two parties who were at loggerheads were mother and son, the High Court referred the matter for mediation, but to no avail. Subsequently, it directed the Sub Divisional Magistrate to ensure that no obstruction is caused to the petitioner in the residence.
Daughter-in-Law Files Counter Affidavit
After this order from the Kerala High Court, the daughter-in-law filed a counter affidavit contending that the impugned order of the Tribunal was passed without jurisdiction and that the Maintenance Tribunal cannot pass an order of such nature under the Senior Citizens Act.
She also denied all allegations of harassment levelled by the petitioner mother-in-law.
Contrary to daughter-in-laws’ statements, a report submitted by the District Social Justice Officer who visited their residence disclosed that the petitioner’s life appeared to be ‘pathetic‘.
Respondents Cannot Just Walk Away From Their Obligation
The Court noted that the respondents cannot just walk away from their moral and statutory obligation to maintain the petitioner or be permitted to take advantage of their own wrong. It was also observed that the fact that the petitioner had approached other forums and secured orders for taking yield from the property and for a peaceful stay at the residence will not restrain her from seeking enforcement of the impugned order.
As such, the District Magistrate under Section 22 and Rule 19 was directed to secure compliance of the said order either through the Maintenance Tribunal or by himself within three months.
The Judge added that although all attempts for mediation failed, the District Magistrate shall make an attempt to see if it can be amicably settled between the parties so that they all live in comfort and with love before taking steps to enforce the order.
The order concluded,
When the relative or children of senior citizen neglect or refuse to maintain the senior citizen, Section 9 provides for monthly allowance to be paid for the maintenance of such senior citizen.
As I have already found, the power of the Maintenance Tribunal under the Senior Citizens Act is not circumscribed to ordering of monthly allowance to be paid in monetary terms for maintenance of senior citizen, but also to ensure maintenance from his own earnings if any, to lead a dignified life.
In Ext. P1 order, there is no direction for payment of monthly allowance. It is an order which ensures that the petitioner maintains herself from her own earning and live peacefully.
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