21 July 2023 4:29 PM GMT
The Orissa High Court has observed that denial of maternity leave is against the fundamental right to life with dignity of women as provided under Article 21 of the Constitution. While providing relief to a teacher of government-aided school, the Single Bench of Justice Sashikanta Mishra held,“If a woman employee is denied this basic human right it would be an assault on her dignity as...
The Orissa High Court has observed that denial of maternity leave is against the fundamental right to life with dignity of women as provided under Article 21 of the Constitution. While providing relief to a teacher of government-aided school, the Single Bench of Justice Sashikanta Mishra held,
“If a woman employee is denied this basic human right it would be an assault on her dignity as an individual and thereby offend her fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article-21 of the Constitution, which has been interpreted to mean life with dignity.”
The Petitioner was appointed as an Asst. Teacher (CBZ) by an order darted December 19, 1997 in the Practicing Girls’ High School, Fakirpur in the district of Keonjhar. The said school was declared as an Aided Educational Institution w.e.f. 1st June, 1994.
The institution was declared eligible to receive grant-in-aid to the extent of 100% of salary cost in respect of teaching and non-teaching staff as per the provisions of Orissa Education (Payment of Grant-In-Aid to High Schools/Upper Primary Schools) Order, 1994. The Petitioner also received grant-in-aid by the way of block grant pursuant to the aforesaid Order.
On June 17, 2013 she applied for maternity leave until December 13, 2013 for her first delivery. She delivered a female child on August 20, 2013 and thereafter remained on leave till December 13, 2013. She resumed her duties by submitting joining report and fitness certificate before the Headmaster of the School on December 14, 2013, which was accepted.
She subsequently applied for sanction of maternity leave for the said period but the same was denied by the District Education Officer (DEO), Keonjhar and was informed that no leave rule is applicable in respect of employees of the school. Being aggrieved, she approached the High Court seeking relief.
At the outset, the Court noted that the school, where the petitioner was working, was an aided educational institution within the meaning of Section 3(b) of the Orissa Education Act, 1969. It also underlined that the said institution has been declared eligible under the GIA Order, 1994 followed by the GIA Order, 2013.
However, the Court acknowledged that the said orders provide for payment of grant-in-aid and do not deal with matters concerning leave of the employees of the institutions. The opposite party referred to the Rules being silent regarding sanction of maternity leave to employees of Block Grant Institutions. However, the Court refuted such contention and held,
“But maternity leave cannot be compared or equated with any other leave as it is the inherent right of every woman employee which cannot simply be denied on technical grounds. It would be preposterous to hold otherwise as it would militate against the very process designed by nature.”
In this context, the Court deemed it apposite to cite the following authoritative observation made by the Apex Court in Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Female Workers (Muster Roll) & Anr.:
“To become a mother is the most natural phenomena in the life of a woman. Whatever is needed to facilitate the birth of child to a woman who is in service, the employer has to be considerate and sympathetic towards her and must realise the physical difficulties which a working woman would face in performing her duties at the work place while carrying a baby in the womb or while rearing up the child after birth.”
The Court clarified that though above observations were made keeping in view the provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, they would still be equally applicable to women employees to whom the Act does not apply. To this effect, the Court reverberated the bounden duties of employers to follow the noble provisions espoused under Article 39 and 42 of the Constitution.
Resultantly, the Court opined that refusal to sanction the maternity leave militates against the law and therefore, it cannot be sustained. Accordingly, the Court ordered the respondent-authority to grant the said relief to the petitioner within four weeks.
Case Title: Swornalata Dash v. State of Odisha & Ors.
Case No.: W.P.(C) No. 620 of 2015
Date of Judgment: July 21, 2023
Counsel for the Petitioner: Mr. S.S. Pratap, Advocate
Counsel for the Respondents: Mr. S. Pattnaik, Addl. Govt. Advocate
Citation: 2023 LiveLaw (Ori) 77
Click Here To Read/Download Judgment