24 Aug 2023 6:48 AM GMT
The Delhi High Court has observed that pregnant working women are entitled to maternity benefits and cannot be denied reliefs under the Maternity Benefit Act, 2017, solely due to the nature of their employment. “There is nothing in the language of the Act or in its provisions which suggests that a working expecting woman would be barred from getting the reliefs due to the sole reason of...
The Delhi High Court has observed that pregnant working women are entitled to maternity benefits and cannot be denied reliefs under the Maternity Benefit Act, 2017, solely due to the nature of their employment.
“There is nothing in the language of the Act or in its provisions which suggests that a working expecting woman would be barred from getting the reliefs due to the sole reason of the nature of their employment,” Justice Chandra Dhari Singh ruled.
The court said that maternity benefits do not merely arise out of a statutory right or contractual relationship between an employer and employee but are a fundamental and integral part of a woman’s identity who chooses to start a family and bear a child.
“The liberty to carry a child is a fundamental right that the Constitution of the Country grants its citizens under Article 21. Further, the choice not to carry a child is an extension of this fundamental right. However, to stand in the way of exercise of this right by a woman, without procedure or intervention of law, is not only violative of the fundamental rights granted by the Constitution of India but also against the basic tenets of social justice,” the court said.
Justice Singh observed that if in this day and age, a woman is made to choose between her familial life and a career progression, “we would be failing as a society” by not providing her the means to thrive in professional life and personal life.
“It is pertinent to note that the Act in place which grants the reliefs to an expecting or a new mother, considers such reliefs as a "Benefit", when in fact the reliefs should come as a matter of right to the women employees who may be in that position. In this respect, a positive change of perspective is also required along with a more adaptive approach in the matter of grant of maternity benefits,” the court said.
The observations were made while granting relief to a pregnant woman, engaged in a contractual employment with Delhi State Legal Services Authority, seeking consecutive maternity benefits to her as applicable to regular female employees.
Her request for maternity benefit was declined on the ground that there was no provision for grant of maternity benefits for Legal Services Authorities.
Justice Singh said that while DSLSA admittedly extends benefits arising out of the Maternity Benefit Act to its permanent or regular employees, it was denying such benefits to contractual employees.
“It is ironic that the petitioner in the instant case, being appointed with the Juvenile Justice Board, was hired to protect the interest and welfare of the children who may be suffering at the hands of the criminal justice system, however, was not able to secure the benefits that were necessary for the best interest and welfare of her own child,” the court said.
Observing that the authority should have extended the benefits and reliefs under the Maternity Benefits Act to the petitioner as being extended to other similarly situated employees, the court directed DSLSA to release all medical, monetary and other benefits that accrued in favour of the woman on account of her pregnancy as per law.
“Since, no extreme medical or other exigencies have been presented by the petitioner, ante-natal or post-natal, she shall be entitled to the benefits for the time period as provided under the Maternity Benefit Act, 2017 of 26 weeks. The needful shall be done by the respondent within a period of three months from the date of receipt of this order,” the court said.
Observing that women, for decades, had to fight their way towards equal treatment in services, whether skilled or unskilled, the court said that extremely important to understand that equal treatment does not mean identical treatment.
“To push a woman, undergoing such degree of dynamic changes while she is in the process of childbirth, to work at par with those who are not, at the same extent of labour, physical and/or mental, tantamount to grave injustice and is in no manner reasonable. This is certainly not the definition of equity and equality of opportunities that the framers of the Constitution had in their mind,” Justice Singh observed.
Furthermore, the court said that the work environment should be conducive enough for a woman to facilitate “unimpaired decision making regarding personal and professional life”. It added that it must be ensure that a woman who chooses to have both, a career and motherhood, is not forced to make an “either-or” decision.
Advocate Charu Wali Khanna appeared for the petitioner. Advocate Sarfaraz Khan represented DSLSA.
Case Title: ANNWESHA DEB v. DELHI STATE LEGAL SERVICES AUTHORITY
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Del) 743
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