It was held by the Court that the power of the Maintenance Tribunal under the Senior Citizens Act, 2007 is not restricted to mere ordering of monthly allowance but also to ensure maintenance from own earnings to lead a dignified life.
Recently, it was held by the Kerala High Court that the Maintenance Tribunals under the Senior Citizens Act have the jurisdiction to issue directions to the children or relatives of senior citizens to not deprive them of their earnings [Leelamma Eapen Vs The District Magistrate, Kottayam]
It was observed by the Justice Murali Purushothaman that the power of the tribunal is not restricted merely to ordering monthly allowance but also to ensure access to their own earnings so that the elderly could maintain themselves.
The Court in its judgement said, “The power of the Maintenance Tribunal under the Senior Citizens Act is not circumscribed to mere ordering of monthly allowance for maintenance of senior citizen where the relative or children neglect or refuses to maintain the senior citizen or parent, but to ensure maintenance from own earnings to lead a dignified life. The Senior Citizens Act is intended to ensure that senior citizens are not left destitute, or at the mercy of their children or relatives."
It was stated by the Court that the tribunal is empowered to issue orders to ensure that senior citizens are not obstructed from maintaining themselves from their own earnings to lead a dignified life.
The Judgement states, “The Maintenance Tribunal, on the application of the parent under Section 5 can issue direction to the children, who have obligation to maintain the parent, not to deprive her access to her earnings and residence so that she maintains herself and lead a normal life.”
A senior citizen moved the petition, whose husband had executed a will according to which, during the lifetime, she was given right to enjoy some properties with absolute freedom including the right to collect, take all income and reside in the house.
After her husband’s death, the petitioner moved an application before the Maintenance Tribunal under the Senior Citizens Act,2007 and alleged that her son and daughter-in-law are not maintaining her and are not permitting her and her mother-in-law to stay in the house peacefully or to enjoy or collect usufructs from the property covered by the Will.
The allegations were denied by the respondent daughter in law and the tribunal passed an order directing the respondents to not obstruct the petitioner from enjoying the property, to create a peaceful living atmosphere for her and to not cause her any harm.
But, the petitioner approached the tribunal again contending that in spite of said order, the respondents had not altered their ways and that the Magistrate has not taken any steps to perform the duties imposed on them under Rule 19 (1) and (2) of the Kerala Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Rules.
Then the petitioner approached the High Court through the Advocate KM Varghese and contended that the order passed by the tribunal exercising the powers under Chapter II of the Senior Citizens Act is legal and valid and therefore, liable to be enforced.
The Advocate Bea Mary Benny, who appeared for the respondents argued that the order passed by the tribunal was without jurisdiction as it is not empowered to pass an order with regard to other civil rights of the parties.
The Court was of the opinion that the directions of the order passed by the tribunal when read together, are in furtherance of the purpose of the Act, to ensure that the petitioner maintains herself out of her own earnings to live a normal life with peace, security and dignity.
The Judgement stated, "Respondents 4 (son) and 5 (daughter-in-law) cannot just walk away from the moral and statutory obligation to maintain the petitioner. They cannot be permitted to take advantage of their own wrong. The fact that the petitioner has approached other forums and secured orders for taking yield from the property and for peaceful stay at the residence, will not restrain the petitioner to seek enforcement of order (of the tribunal)."
The District Magistrate was directed by the Court to secure compliance with the said order within a period of three months, either through the Maintenance Tribunal or by himself.
Even though all attempts at mediation at the High Court Mediation Centre failed, the Magistrate was directed by the Court to attempt to get the petitioner and the respondents to come to a cordial settlement.