Denying maternity leave is a violation of human rights: Himachal HC

In a ruling on June 12, the Himachal Pradesh high court declared that the refusal to grant maternity leave is a violation of fundamental human rights as outlined in Articles 29 and 39D of the Indian Constitution

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The State government challenged the order of the Himachal Pradesh administrative tribunal, which granted maternity leave benefits to the respondent, Sita Devi, who was employed on a daily wage basis.

In 1996, the respondent was pregnant and availed three months of maternity leave before resuming her duties. However, due to subsequent childbirth, she couldn’t fulfil the minimum requirement of 240 workdays per year.

That time, the tribunal ruled that her period of maternity leave should be regarded as uninterrupted service in accordance with the provisions of the Industrial Dispute Act. However, contesting this decision, the state government denied the existence of such provision for granting maternity leave to female daily wage workers in 1996.

The high court dismissed this argument, taking into consideration India’s commitment to various international covenants and treaties that prioritise the preservation of human rights at all costs. Acknowledging the right to maternity leave for women employees, the Court emphasised that the respondent, as a daily wage worker during her pregnancy, should not have been compelled to engage in strenuous labour, as it would have jeopardised her health, safety, and the well-being of her child.

The Court, comprising of Justices Tarlok Singh Chauhan and Virender Singh, emphasised that maternity leave aims to safeguard the dignity of motherhood by ensuring the well-being of both the woman and her child. Additionally, the bench added that maternity leave is crucial for achieving social justice for women, mothers, and children, as they require special attention.

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