The Bombay High Court has dismissed a petition filed by a 35-year-old woman from Navi Mumbai who sought quashing of her termination as document consultant in the Government of India funded Water and Sanitation Support Organization (WSSO) under National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP) in the Water Supply and Sanitation department, Government of Maharashtra.
The petitioner was terminated as a consultant by an order served to her on February 12, 2014. She, thus, prayed for benefits under the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961, to be extended to her.
The petitioner was appointed as a document consultant with effect from January 9, 2013 for a period of 11 months. The initial contract was extended up to November 2014 by an order dated December 26, 2013.
The petitioner was absent from work from December 30, 2013, to January 8, 2014. She submitted an application for leave addressed to the Director, Water and Sanitation Support Organization, Belapur, thereby, intimating him that she was unable to attend the office since January 1, 2014, due to her ill-health. It was also informed that she had developed certain complications in her pregnancy and doctor had advised her complete bedrest for the next three months. Therefore, she requested for grant of medical leave from January 1, 2014, to April 1, 2014, considering the pregnancy complications.
However, the contractual assignment under which the petitioner was appointed clearly stated that she would be entitled to 8 days of casual leave and 10 days of sick/medical leave only.
The petitioner did attempt to resume her duties after her health was better by writing to the Director, but she was terminated on account of her absence from work.
Govt. Resolution Has No Retrospective Effect
It was argued by the petitioner’s lawyer, Uday Warunjikar, that his client should be entitled to benefits of maternity leave under the new Government Resolution dated March 20, 2015, which extends such a benefit to contractual employees working in the District Water and Sanitation Mission Cell of the state government.
AGP BV Sawant, appearing for the respondent, submitted that the said resolution was passed much after the petitioner’s termination and so benefit cannot be extended to her retrospectively.
Accepting the arguments of AGP the Court held;
“ So far as applicability of Government Circular of 20th March, 2015 it is stated in the affidavit that the termination of the Petitioner was effected from 30th December, 2013 and the circular was issued on 20th March, 2015, which is prospective in nature and did not extend to the Petitioner”
Secondly, the petitioner was appointed on the basis of certain terms that were spelt out in the contractual agreement. Under these terms, the petitioner was not entitled to any maternity leave.
It was also submitted by the AGP that the petitioner never applied for maternity leave, she only applied for a medical leave.
Upon perusal of all the facts of the case, the court said-
“It is not in dispute that the law relating to maternity benefit has been enacted to achieve the object of securing social justice to the women workers. However, it has also to be seen that when a law operates, it has to strike a balance between the individual right and need of the orderly society.
The Petitioner's appointment was governed by the terms and conditions of the contract and the same was binding upon her. By virtue of the contract, she was not entitled for maternity benefit and she was only entitled for medical leave for limited period.”
The court further noted that under the said Act, maternity leave has been divided into two terms - first term, preceding the delivery and the second term post-delivery.
“However, the said benefit is not available on the eve of pregnancy and the woman is not entitled to claim the said benefit since the time when a woman conceives and during her entire gestational period. If the maternity benefit is to be conferred in this manner, it would rather defeat the whole purpose,” the court said.