The Supreme Court Tuesday directed that all eligible old age persons should be regularly paid pension and states should provide them necessary medicines, masks, sanitizers, and other essential goods in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The apex court said that looking at their vulnerability for coronavirus, elderly people should be given priority in admission in the government hospitals, and in the event of any complaint made by them, the hospital administration shall take immediate steps to remedy their grievances.
The order was passed by a bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and R S Reddy which was hearing the plea filed by former Union minister and senior advocate Ashwani Kumar, who has sought directions with regard to elderly people saying they need more care and protection in this time of the pandemic.
The bench said that the top court had already issued directions on December 13, 2018, in the matter and those directives were needed to be complied with by all concerned, including the states.
"This court has already issued directions on December 13, 2018, with regard to other aspects. We, in this application, which is specially confined to COVID-19 crisis, direct that all old age people who are eligible for pension should be regularly paid pension and those identified older people should be provided necessary medicines, masks, sanitizers and other essential goods by respective states," the bench said in its order.
"We only observe that the elderly people should be given priority in the admission in the government hospital looking to their vulnerability for COVID-19. In event of any complaint made by the elderly people, the hospital administration concerned shall take immediate steps to remedy their grievances," the bench said, while dealing with a separate application in the matter.
During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, Kumar told the apex court that older people, who are living alone, are "worst sufferers" and they are not able to get medicines, masks, sanitisers and other essential goods.
While seeking direction for timely payment of old-age pension to those who are receiving it, he said that "caregivers of these people" are not equipped with personal protection equipment and are untrained.
The counsel appearing for the Centre told the bench that necessary steps have been taken by the authorities to give protection to the older people in this pandemic.
"Further, as and when any individual request is made, the same shall be attended to by the administration with all promptness. The caregivers of those old age homes should be provided personal protection and appropriate sanitization should also be undertaken in the old age homes," the bench said.
"Let all the states may file their reply affidavit to the averments made in the application within four weeks," it said.
The bench also dealt with a separate application in the matter which raised the issue that elderly people are not getting priority in government hospitals irrespective of their capacity to pay.
The counsel appearing for the states said that the treatment of COVID-19 is free in government hospitals.
The bench, which said that elderly persons should be given priority in admission in government hospitals while considering their vulnerability for COVID-19, said that the application would be heard after four weeks.
"Counsel for the state may obtain a copy of these applications from the Registry on a request being made," the bench said.
During the hearing, Kumar told the court that crores of elderly people are living alone and appropriate direction should be issued that pension reaches to those, who are already identified and eligible for it, on time.
In its December 2018 verdict, the apex court had said that statutory rights of over 10 crore elderly persons in India must be recognised and implemented.
It had directed the Centre to obtain information from all states and Union Territories about the number of old age homes in each district and had also suggested a relook at the pension for the elderly so as to make it is more realistic.
Emphasising on the social justice aspect, the apex court had said that the state is obligated to ensure that right to live with dignity, shelter, and health of citizens, including the elderly, are not only protected but also enforced.
It had also directed the Centre to obtain information from all the states about the medical facilities and geriatric care available to senior citizens in each district.
It had said that based on the information gathered by the Centre, a plan of action should be prepared for giving publicity to provisions of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 to make the elderly aware about their constitutional and statutory rights.
The apex court had pronounced the verdict on the pleas by Kumar and one Sanjeeb Panigrahi who both had raised the issues concerning the elderly.
The court had noted in its 2018 order that the Centre had in 2007 fixed monthly pension of Rs 200 for persons between the age of 60-79 years and Rs 500 for those aged above 80.