Maternity leave a basic human right; assault on woman’s dignity if denied: Orissa HC

Team SoOLEGAL 28 Jul 2023 11:28am

Maternity leave a basic human right; assault on woman’s dignity if denied: Orissa HC

New Delhi: The Orissa high court ruled that denying maternity leave to a female employee constituted an assault on her dignity and, as a result, an affront to her right to life. [Swornalata Dash v. State of Odisha and ors].

The Court strongly stated that maternity leave is an inherent right for all female employees and cannot be denied on technical grounds. Denying a woman employee such a basic human right would violate her fundamental right to life protected by Article 21 of the Constitution, which is meant to include life with dignity, the Court stated. Also, it would be preposterous to hold otherwise as it would militate against the very process designed by nature

The High Court also drew on the Supreme Court's views in Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Female Workers (Muster Roll) and others, in which the apex court emphasised the need of honouring and treating females with dignity at work in order for them to earn a living. Although the statement in the cited case were made in the context of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, the Orissa High Court held that they apply equally to women employees who are not covered by the Act.

The Court was hearing a writ petition filed by a teacher at an aided girls' high school in Keonjhar district. The instructor had requested maternity leave in 2013, returned to work after giving birth, and presented her joining report and fitness certificate. The District Education Officer in Keonjhar, however, refused to grant the maternity leave, claiming the absence of suitable leave guidelines for school staff.

The District Education Officer argued in response to the teacher's writ petition that the Grant-In-Aid Orders of 1994 and 2013, as well as the Odisha Education Recruitment and Conditions of Service and Staff of Aided Educational Institutions Rules, 1974, were silent on the issue of maternity leave for block grant high school employees. The officer contended that the maternity leave rules of the Odisha Service Code applied exclusively to ordinary government workers, not to staff of block grant high schools.

However, Justice Mishra dismissed these technical reasons and directed the District Education Officer to approve the teacher's maternity vacation within four weeks. The Court ruled that the petitioner's refusal to be granted maternity leave was illegal and unsustainable.

Advocate SS Pratap appeared for the teacher in the matter, while Additional Government Advocate S Pattnaik represented the State officials.

Tagged: Maternity leave  
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