The Orissa High Court has upheld a woman teacher’s plea challenging the refusal of maternity leave by the District Education Officer (DEO) of the state’s Keonjhar district, who had stated that no leave rule was applicable in respect of employees of the School and hence sanction of maternity leave could not be considered, the Orissa High Court. The High Court held that the refusal by the authorities to sanction maternity leave to the petitioner was contrary to law and therefore, could not be sustained.

The Single Judge 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 of the Constitution, which has been interpreted to mean life with dignity.”

Advocate S.S. Pratap appeared for the Petitioner, whereas Advocate S. Pattnaik appeared for the Respondent.

The brief facts of the case were that the petitioner was appointed as an Asst. Teacher (CBZ) in a government-aided school. The said 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 (GIA Order 1994). The Petitioner also received grant-in-aid by way of a block grant pursuant to the said Order. Later, she applied for maternity leave for her first delivery, which was granted. She resumed her duties by submitting a joining report and fitness certificate and the same was accepted. She subsequently applied for sanction of maternity leave but the same was denied by the District Education Officer (DEO). The DEO stated that GIA Order, 1994 was silent about the sanction of maternity leave or any kind of leave except casual leave for 15 days under the relevant provisions of Odisha Leave Rules, 1966 and Odisha Service Code in favour of the petitioner and employees of Block Grant High Schools. Hence, the petitioner approached the High Court seeking relief.

After considering the submission, the High Court noted that the said school was an aided educational institution within the meaning of Section 3(b) of the Orissa Education Act, 1969 which had been declared eligible under the GIA Order, 1994 followed by the GIA Order, 2013.

However, the High Court acknowledged that the said orders provided for payment of grant-in-aid and did not deal with matters concerning the leave of the employees of the institutions.

While disagreeing with the contention of the respondents regarding the Rules being silent about the sanction of maternity leave to employees of Block Grant Institutions, the Bench held that maternity leave could not be compared or equated with any other leave as it was the inherent right of every woman employee which could not simply be denied on technical grounds.

In view thereof, the Bench concluded that refusal to sanction the maternity leave militates against the law and therefore, it could not be sustained.

Cause Title: Swornalata Dash v. State of Odisha

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