Mumbai: The Bombay High Court recently voiced its concern over the ‘misuse’ of ‘maternity’ benefits by working women. The court observed that if women claim these benefits during the entire gestational period, then it would defeat the very purpose of the Maternity Benefits Act. A division bench of Justice Satyaranjan Dharmadhikari and Justice Bharati Dangre was hearing a writ petition filed by Navi Mumbai-based Laxmi Yadav (35).
Laxmi was appointed as ‘Document Consultant’ in the Maharashtra government’s Water Supply and Sanitation Department in April 2013, on contract. Her contract was renewed in December 2013 till November 2014. During this period, she got pregnant and was advised complete bed-rest for three months. Accordingly, she informed the head of her department that she would not be able to work for three months from January 2014 and requested for leave.
Though Laxmi had sought leave for three months, she did not resume work until December 2014, wherein she addressed a letter to her boss intimating that she would resume work from January 2015. However, in February 2015, the government informed her that her services had been terminated way back in December 2013.
Aggrieved by the same, Laxmi moved the bench and sought direction to the government to reinstate her. She vehemently relied upon the Government Resolution (GR) of March 2015, wherein the government had decided to extend the Maternity Benefits to contractual employees. Advocate Uday Warunjikar, appearing for Laxmi, argued that her fundamental right under article 25 (special care and assistance to motherhood and childhood) needs to be protected.
Having heard all the submissions, the judges said, “The policy contained in the social legislation intends to grant benefit to women workers to have a safe pregnancy and to develop a bond with the child and nurture the child immediately after delivery. Therefore, the period for maternity leaves are bifurcated into two terms – preceding the delivery and post-delivery.”
“However, the said benefit is not available on the eve of pregnancy and the woman is not entitled to claim the said benefit since the time when a woman conceives and during her entire gestational period. If the maternity benefit is to be conferred in this manner, it would rather defeat the whole purpose of the Act,” the judges added.
The judges also said that the women must make an effort not to misuse this benefit and rather regulate it themselves. The judges said, “The employee will also have to look from the angle of running the administration and the woman employees may not claim such privilege for such entire period of pregnancy, but necessarily have to regulate themselves in accordance with the provisions of the Maternity Act.” Accordingly, the judges dismissed Laxmi’s plea after considering the fact that she was on contract basis and that the contract specifically stated that she is not entitled to maternity leave.