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Himachal Pradesh High Court terms maternity leave as fundamental right of woman

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The Himachal Pradesh High Court has observed that maternity leave was a fundamental right, which could not be denied to any mother since the provision aimed at ensuring social justice and special attention for both the mother and the child.

While upholding the maternity benefits granted to a daily wage worker, the Division Bench of Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan and Justice Virender Singh ruled that the maternity benefit ascertained the dignity of motherhood by providing full and healthy maintenance to both the mother and her child. 

Representing the state government, Additional Advocate General Ramakant Sharma contended that since there was no provision for granting maternity leave to daily wage employees in 1996, the state could not be instructed to grant relief to the respondent woman. 

The High Court relied on the Supreme Court verdict in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi vs Female Workers (Muster Roll) & Anr case, which provided that women whether employed in casual or regular employment were entitled to maternity benefit under the Maternity Benefit Act (MBA), 1961 in consonance with the Directive Principles of the State Policy (DPSP) provided in the Constitution. 

The Division Bench observed that India was signatory to various conventions and declarations such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948; the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and International Labour Organisation (ILO), and the Maternity Protection Convention 2000, which advocated for maternity benefits to ensure good health, safety and growth of both the child and the mother.  

While dismissing the plea filed by the Himachal Pradesh government, the High Court noted that the petition was in violation of Article 29 and 39 D of the Constitution. 

The state of Himachal Pradesh had challenged the order passed by the Himachal Pradesh Administrative Tribunal on November 21, 2008 on a petition by respondent Sita Devi, a daily wage worker. 

On May 30,1996, Sita Devi delivered her baby and availed maternity leave from June 1 to August 31 (3 months). 

She was denied the benefit of maternity leave since she had completed 156 working days instead of the required 240 days owing to her pregnancy. 

The State Administrative Tribunal granted her maternity leave along with other benefits because maternity leave was deemed to be a continuous service as per Section 25(B)(1) of the Industrial Dispute Act (IDA), 1947.  

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