The Uttarakhand High Court held that the denial of maternity leave to a woman employed under the Prime Minister Formalisation of Micro Food Processing Enterprises Scheme (PMFME), was illegal and arbitrary.

The petitioner challenged an order denying her maternity leave and subsequently terminating her services. She was initially employed under the Prime Minister Formalisation of Micro Food Processing Enterprises Scheme (PMFME) in the State Programme Management Unit (SPMU). Her application for maternity leave was rejected due to the claim that maternity leave was only available in offices with a minimum of 10 employees, whereas the SPMU-PMFME had only 5 employees.

The respondent terminated her services citing the transfer of the Scheme from the Horticulture and Food Processing Department to the Industries Department of Uttarakhand.

A Bench of Justice Pankaj Purohit held, “This Court holds that in the Scheme, which is working throughout the country on all levels, right from the National level to District level of the State, the said ground taken by the respondent-State is nothing but an attempt to deny the benefit of the Maternity Benefit Act to the petitioner and similarly situated persons.”

Advocate Siddharth Bankoti appeared for the Petitioner and Advocate R.C. Joshi appeared for the Respondents.

The Court found the denial of maternity leave to be illegal and arbitrary. It held that the petitioner was entitled to maternity leave under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, despite the number of employees within the SPMU. The Court said, “Hence, the petitioner is entitled to get benefit of the maternity leave of 26 weeks, which she was entitled to get. Petitioner has proceeded on maternity leave from 10.10.2022 and abruptly, her services was terminated vide impugned order dated 09.11.2022 saying that the Scheme has now come to an end.”

The Court also ruled the termination of her services unlawful, as the Scheme itself was not terminated, only the existing SPMU was disbanded to be replaced by a new one. The Court said, “So far as the termination of the petitioner is concerned, on bare reading of the order dated 09.11.2022, it is not reflected that the Scheme SPMU-PMFME has not come to an end, but the SPMU which was constituted was cancelled and in order to achieve the aims of the aforesaid Scheme-PMFME, the respondents have decided to constitute a new SPMU under the PMFME Scheme. Thus, abruptly terminating the services of the petitioner is illegal and the same cannot be sustained.”

Consequently, the termination order was quashed, and it was directed, “The respondents are directed to immediately reinstate the petitioner under the newly constituted Scheme- State Programme Management Unit (SPMU) and further to pay benefit of maternity leave to the petitioner as admissible to her under the provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, neglecting the fact that only 05 employees are working with the Scheme-SPMU.”

Cause Title: Mahajbee Qureshi v. State Of Uttarakhand & Ors.