Navigating the intersection of Senior Citizens Act 2007 and Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005

The article is an attempt to understand the conflict surrounding the two special laws, the Domestic Violence Act and the Senior Citizens Act, 2007, and how the Supreme Court has tried to resolve the conflict.
Moiz K Rafique
Moiz K Rafique

Conflict between Special Legislations

Leges posteriores priores contrarias abrogant, is a legal maxim which translates to mean that the statute which has been enacted at a later stage shall have prevalence over the earlier one. Principles of interpretation of statutes put forward that at instances where two Special Legislations contain such non-obstante clauses that they intersect with each other, the later law shall stand taller.

Recent times have warranted the need for newer outlooks, which has come to be satisfied by means of judicial pronouncements that suggest that attempts shall be made towards harmonising the functioning of both the legislations in conflict, which can be affirmed through the legal maxim ut res magis valeat quam pereat.

Moreover, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has even emphasized upon the need for evaluating the dominant purpose of the two legislations in Bank of India v. Ketan Parekh.

Such observations tacitly lead us to the legal maxim lex superior derogat legi inferiori, which means that stronger laws can be put at a position to override the weaker laws. Although the above observations do not actively suggest establishing such interpretation pattern, the same holds importance for the present discussion as the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 (PWDV Act) seems to be overpowering the Senior Citizens Act.

Understanding the conflict between PWDV Act and Senior Citizens Act

The objectives and purposes of both the Acts are very distinctive. The Senior Citizens Act aims to promote effective provisions for the maintenance and protection of parents and senior citizens, and the PWDV Act aims to provide for effective protection of the rights of women who face violence within their families.

However, it is important to highlight that the conflict between these two legislations primarily does not arise out of their objectives or purpose, but rather due to the remedies that are made available thereunder and, more particularly, their misuse.

Section 3 of the Senior Citizens Act lays down that the provisions contained within the said Act shall have effect regardless of any conflict found in any other legislation. Section 4 and Section 23 instrumentalise the objectives of the Senior Citizens Act, setting up a Maintenance Tribunal [Section 7, Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007] and laying down summary process [Section 8] for adjudicating claims arising within the Act. However, it is important to highlight that such tribunals can pass orders for eviction to implement the provisions of the Senior Citizen Act, even when such powers are not expressly provided in the said Act.

Further, the recent amendment introduced vide the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill, 2019 introduces and emphasizes upon the aspects of dignity by transmitting wider ambits to the reach of the present legislation. It is also pertinent to note that the legislative intent is very clear, that it sets a stronger tone to protect Senior Citizens.

Meanwhile, the PWDV Act lays down the definition of expression “shared household” [Section 2(s)] in an exhaustive manner. However, this provision is wide enough to encapsulate such households that belonged to a joint family (for the sake of understanding the present conflict, it also covers such household where the in-laws of the aggrieved woman lived together), regardless of whether the aggrieved woman or her husband have any right, title or interest in the shared household or not.

Further, the PWDV Act enforces Section 19, which empowers the Magistrate to pass Residence Orders for effectuating aggrieved woman’s residence in such shared household.

The conflict between the said two legislations transcribes into the following issues:

  1. If eviction powers are not necessarily implied in the Senior Citizens Act as and when they are required, and the PWDV Act is given relevance, then it would defeat the entire purpose behind such enactment and would further cause hardships to the senior citizens.

  2. If necessary powers are read into the Senior Citizens Act while giving it precedence over the PWDV Act, then the aggrieved woman under PWDV Act would be supplanted, ultimately leaving her without any remedy under the special legislation.

  3. What if the senior citizens’ rights stood secured before any protection was extended in the PWDV Act?

The Apex Court approach

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, while deciding an issue arising out of the above described conflict between the two legislations, in the case of Smt. S. Vanitha v. The Deputy Commissioner, Bengaluru Urban District & Ors., observed that the conflict has to be untangled by way of a harmonious construction in such sense, where the competing claims are given due consideration, thereby paving a way through harmonious construction.

The Supreme Court did not deny the power of the Maintenance Tribunal to pass eviction orders. However, it went on to observe that the passing of such orders and the utilization of the powers should be incidental to enforcing the right to maintenance and protection of the senior citizens. Therefore, it can be understood that passing of eviction orders within the contours of the Senior Citizens Act is justified to ensure the maintenance and protection of senior citizens. However, in addition to that being stated, it was further observed by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India that it has to be duly ensured that all the competing and overlapping claims with respect to the remedy of eviction are duly adverted to.

The Court further observed that the overriding effect of the Senior Citizens Act cannot be taken as to intentionally depriving an aggrieved woman from her shared household, as has been stipulated under the PWDV Act, in furtherance of which it was noted that:

“21. …Allowing the Senior Citizens Act 2007 to have an overriding force and effect in all situations, irrespective of competing entitlements of a woman to a right in the shared household within the meaning of the PWDV Act 2005, would defeat the object and purpose which the Parliament sought to achieve in enacting the latter legislation…Hence, the right of a woman to secure a residence order in respect of a shared household cannot be defeated by the simple expedient of securing an order of eviction by adopting the summary procedure under the Senior Citizens Act 2007.”

In addition to this, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, in an attempt to ensure that both the groups (women, and senior citizens) who are protected under the respective legislations are well-aligned to realizing speedy reliefs casts a duty upon the “aggrieved woman” (under the PWDV Act) to inform the Magistrate, in accordance with Section 26(3) of the PWDV Act, with respect to any relief obtained by her through the Tribunal under the Senior Citizens Act. These holdings further convolute the already existing conflicts as set out below.

If an order passed by the Tribunal under Senior Citizens Act is against the “aggrieved woman”, can the PWDV Act still come to the rescue of that “aggrieved woman” by granting the same relief, already dismissed by the Tribunal under Senior Citizens Act?

Therefore, the provisions of Senior Citizens Act cannot override the PWDV Act. The very intent of the Senior Citizens Act falls flat as any remedy granted under the Senior Citizens Act would hold no ground before the proceedings of the PWDV Act.

Comparison with the US Perspective

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of the United States has, in the case of United States v. Powell, observed as follows:

“…we would be justified in narrowing the statute only if such a narrow reading was supported by evidence of congressional intent over and above the language of the statute.”

The above elucidated observations were further relied upon by the Hon’ble US Supreme Court in the recent judgement EPIC Sys. Corp. v. Lewis while applying the principles of interpretation. It becomes imperative that when the reach of a statute is to be down-sized, it is important to consider the intent of the legislature and whether the same allows of such down-sizing or not.

The Preamble of the Senior Citizens Act states:

“An Act to provide for more effective provisions for the maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens guaranteed and recognised under the Constitution and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto.”

Therefore, it can be understood that the very intent behind the Senior Citizens Act is to uphold the Constitutional liberties of senior citizens, and when the same is read alongside the Statement of Objectives and Purpose of the said Legislation, the elements of safeguarding the traditional values of Indian society and securing the twilight years of the senior citizens get added.

In the present case, the observations of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India have led to a scenario whereby the Court has narrowed the reach of the Senior Citizens Act and made its application subordinate to that of the PWDV Act. The same can be asserted as orders passed under PWDV Act have been supplied with privilege to prevail over the orders passed or even to be passed by Tribunals under the Senior Citizens Act.


The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has rightly struck the balance between the objectives and purposes of both the legislations, as duty of care has been casted upon the Maintenance Tribunal by way of precedence to advert to all overlapping and competing claims. However, in contrast, no such duty is casted upon the Courts under PWDV Act. Therefore, by way of judicial proprietary, the understanding of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India is yet to be followed by the PWDV Courts, for securing the ends of justice and equity.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court's observations, as discussed above, explicitly state that Senior Citizens Act cannot override the PWDV Act. However, in such a scenario, the PWDV Act cannot be made to rise to such pedestals that effectively works as a counter to the orders passed under the Senior Citizens Act and dismantles the purposeful fabric of the same as well. This is in furtherance to the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India’s principles that govern the rule of harmonious construction propounded in Commissioner of Income Tax v. M/S Hindustan Bulk Carriers, one of which states that in circumstances where it is not possible to weed out the dissimilarities between two inconsistent provisions, efforts must be put in to ensure the operation of both the provisions to the maximum extent.

The conflicts that have arisen under can be served with no recourse even if the advantage of the most liberal interpretation is allowed to the observations of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India, as the observations are such that allow the PWDV Act to overtake the Senior Citizens Act at all instances possible, including a scenario where an order under the Senior Citizens Act is yet to be passed.

It is further important to highlight the increasing misuse of provisions intended to protect women. According to the National Crime Record Bureau’s crime statistics for the year 2020, 14.4% of cases filed under Section 498A (cruelty to married women) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 were closed by police for not finding any merit in the case. Further, the “Bridge the Gap: Understanding Elder Needs” survey conducted by HelpAge India unveiled on June 15, 2022 states that 35% of elders suffer from abuse by their sons, whereas 21% elders have reported abuse by their daughter-in-law.

In the above-mentioned circumstances, it is important to note how in actuality, the present social need directly points towards enabling the Senior Citizens Act to have unquestionable prevalence, or at the least, preventing it from becoming any weaker.

About the author: Moiz Rafique is a practicing Advocate before the High Court of Gujarat and Managing Partner at Privy Legal Service LLP.

Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news