19 Dec 2021 12:21 PM GMT
The Allahabad High Court last week directed Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Technical University (located in Uttar Pradesh's Lucknow) to frame rules and grant various maternity benefits to the expectant mothers and new mothers who are pursuing various courses in the University.The Bench of Justice Ajay Bhanot ordered thus as it noted that the petitioner before the Court, Saumya Tiwari who was...
The Allahabad High Court last week directed Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam Technical University (located in Uttar Pradesh's Lucknow) to frame rules and grant various maternity benefits to the expectant mothers and new mothers who are pursuing various courses in the University.
The Bench of Justice Ajay Bhanot ordered thus as it noted that the petitioner before the Court, Saumya Tiwari who was expecting a child couldn't take the examination due to lack of rules, law, or any system in the University related to maternity leave and other benefits associated for undergraduate and postgraduate girl students.
The court considered it a violation of the fundamental rights of the girl student and directed Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Technical University Lucknow to give an additional opportunity to the girl students who are expecting a child to appear in the examination.
The case in brief
The Court was dealing with a case of Tiwari, a B.Tech student of the 2013-14 batch of the University, who could not successfully complete her course in the period prescribed in the University Regulations, as she was not granted maternity leave nor provided maternity support benefits as an expectant mother and as a new mother.
Moving to the Court, she claimed entitlement to an additional chance in an enlarged time period to appear in the two papers of B. Tech. (Electronics & Communication) which she could not clear in the regular academic calendar.
Essentially, she cleared all the semester examinations successfully barring one subject in the 3rd semester and one in the 2nd Semester examination in the regular academic calendar, and thus, she could not complete the course by the academic session 2019-2020.
It may be noted that though she was given two opportunities to appear for the said backlog exams, in September 2020 and July 2021, however, she couldn't take the exams as she was an expectant mother then.
It was submitted that Tiwari could not appear in the last chance for qualifying the papers (which she could not clear in the regular academic semesters) due to her pregnancy and postnatal recovery issues.
The University authorities did not grant her any relaxation and support during her pregnancy and immediately after she delivered a baby child. The prenatal and postnatal conditions imposed limitations upon the petitioner which precluded her from competing equally with other students.
Importantly, it was also submitted that she has a fundamental right to various maternity benefits and reliefs and therefore, the action of the University in denying her maternity relief, benefits and support has violated her fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 15, and 21 of the Constitution of India and had permanently blighted her academic future.
At the outset, the Court observed that motherhood is the most sublime expression of Nature's longing for life and that the dignity of motherhood is the highest manifestation of refinement in the human race.
Further, the Court underscores that ideals professed by the University today will be the values practiced by the nation tomorrow and thus, the Court added:
"Lack of empathy of the University towards pregnant women will create apathy towards maternity rights among the students. The University has to show fidelity to the rule of law by creating an enabling environment to realize fundamental rights, foster fundamental duties and promote constitutional values."
In view of this, the Court opined that the university has to implement the fundamental rights of the petitioner vested by the aforesaid pronouncements of law made by constitutional courts, and in the present case, it had neglected to frame Regulations or create appropriate legal instruments to provide for maternity benefits to expectant mothers and new mother.
With this, the Court further held thus:
"...the rights of the petitioner to reproductive choices, marriage, procreation, and motherhood are entrenched as fundamental rights by the law laid down by constitutional courts...The need to ameliorate the constraints imposed by pregnancy and its aftermath and to dignify motherhood by providing institutional support systems for expectant mothers and new mothers is an imperative command of law."
Importantly, the Court also observed that various regulatory bodies including the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) restrict the grant of maternity benefits to post-graduate fellowship students only while overlooking undergraduate students and that such discriminatory treatment would be violative of Articles 14 and 15(3) of the Constitution of India.
Before the Court, it was submitted that the All Indian Council for Technical Education (AICTE) does not resist the grant of maternity benefits to the petitioner and that the University is not constrained by any regulatory standards in creating provisions for grant of maternity benefits for undergraduate students.
Significantly, on December 14, 2021, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has asked vice-chancellors of all universities to frame appropriate rules and norms for granting maternity leave and attendance-related relaxations to women students enrolled in undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.
Against this backdrop, the Court remarked that the University is under an obligation of law to frame the requisite Regulations/appropriate legal instruments for grant of maternity benefits to students which embrace the pregnancy period and postnatal recovery time.
Lastly, the University was directed to create Regulations/Ordinances/appropriate legal instruments for grant of prenatal and postnatal support and other maternity benefits to expectant mothers and new mothers who are pursuing various courses in the University. The maternity benefits shall also include additional chances to clear the exams in an enlarged time frame.
The petitioner has also been allowed to appear for the exams that she failed to clear due to her pregnancy.
Case title - Saumya Tiwari v. State Of U.P. And 3 Others
Click Here To Download Order