The Allahabad High Court has held that maternity leave under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 can be extended even after the birth of a child. The Court further held that it can even be extended in a case of legal adoption of a child less than three months.

A Single Bench of Justice Ashutosh Shrivastava observed, “From the perusal of the Preamble of the Act, Section 5 (1), third proviso to sub-section 3 of Section 5, sub-section 4 of Section 5, it is more than apparent that the Maternity Benefit can be extended even after birth of a child. It can even be extended in a case of a legal adoption of a child or less than three months. The only restriction being that the maternity leave may not be granted for entire 180 days or 26 weeks. Further, in the opinion of the Court, availability of Child Care Leave to the petitioner or grant of the same cannot dis-entitle the petitioner for grant of maternity benefit.”

The Bench said that the maternity benefit and child care leave both operate in different fields and are mutually exclusive.

“The Act of 1961 was enacted to secure women's right to pregnancy and maternity leave and to afford women with as much flexibility as possible to live an autonomous life, both as a mother and as a worker, if they so desire”, the Court also noted.

Advocate Satyendra Chandra Tripathi appeared on behalf of the petitioner while CSC Shailendra Singh and Advocate Sanjay Kumar Srivastava appeared on behalf of the respondents.

In this case, the petitioner prayed for the issuance of a writ of certiorari quashing the orders passed by the District Basic Shiksha Adhikari, Etah whereby and whereunder the sanction of maternity leave was turned down by stating that "after child birth ML is not allowed and now you are eligible for CLL according rule" and "for ML out of date. now you can apply for CCL."

The petitioner was a Headmistress of a primary school who gave birth to a girl child and then after discharge from the hospital, she immediately applied for maternity leave online for 180 days but the same got rejected on the ground that the annexures in support of the said leave were incomplete. Hence, she applied again on the prescribed proforma but the same was also rejected.

The High Court in the above context noted, “The Apex Court in a recent case reported in AIR 2022 SC 4108 (Deepika Singh versus Central Administrative Tribunal and others) held that independent of the grant of maternity leave, a women is also entitled to the grant of Child Care Leave for taking care of her two eldest surviving children whether for rearing or for looking after any of their needs, such as education, sickness and the like.”

The Court further noted that Child Care Leave can be availed of not only at the point when the child is born but at any subsequent period and that both constitute distinct entitlements.

“A purposive interpretation is required to be adopted. The object and intent of the grant of maternity leave would stand defeated. The grant of maternity leave is intended to facilitate the continuance of women in the work place. It is a harsh reality that but for such provisions many women would be compelled by social circumstances to give up work on the birth of the child if they are not granted leave and other facilitative measures”, said the Court.

The Court asserted that no employer can perceive childbirth as detracting from the purpose of employment and the same is to be construed in the context of employment as a natural incident of life and provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act are required to be construed in that perspective.

The Court, therefore, held that the District Basic Education Officer overlooked the provisions of the statute and directed him to pass fresh orders keeping in mind the provisions within two weeks. The Court also directed the said officer to release the arrears of salary and pay the monthly salary to the petitioner when the same becomes due.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the plea and set aside the orders of the officer.

Cause Title- Saroj Kumari v. State of U.P. and 5 Others

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