Becoming mother is a natural phenomenon; employer has to be considerate and sympathetic: Bombay HC

06:58 PM May 10, 2024 | PTI |

Mumbai: Becoming a mother is a natural phenomenon, and an employer has to be considerate and sympathetic towards women staffers, the Bombay High Court said on Friday, while quashing a communication issued by the Airport Authority of India (AAI) denying maternity leave to an employee on the ground that she already had two children.


A division bench of Justices A S Chandurkar and Jitendra Jain said women who constitute almost half of the segment of our society have to be honoured and treated with dignity at places where they work to earn their livelihood.

Whatever the nature of their duties, vocation and workplace, women must be provided all the facilities to which they are entitled, it added.

The bench quashed a 2014 communication issued by the AAI, Western Region Headquarters, which refused maternity leave to an employee, citing that she already had two children.

“To become a mother is the most natural phenomenon in the life of a woman. Whatever is needed to facilitate the birth of a child to a woman who is in service, the employer has to be considerate and sympathetic towards her and must realise the physical difficulties which a working woman would face in performing her duties at the workplace while carrying a baby in the womb or while rearing up the child after birth,” the court said.


The court passed its judgment on petitions filed by the Airports Authority of India Workers Union and Kanakavali Raja Armugam alias Kanakavali Shyam Sandal, challenging two communications issued by the AAI, Western Region Headquarters in 2014 rejecting Kanakavali’s application for maternity leave benefit as she already had two children.

The communications stated that the woman was ineligible for maternity leave as per the AAI Leave Regulations 2003.

The woman was first married to Raja Armugam, an employee of the AAI, and after his death, she was given a job on compassionate grounds.

The woman, in her plea, said she had one child from her previous marriage, and after her first husband’s death, she remarried, and two children were born from the wedlock.

The woman had not availed of maternity leave during the birth of her first child from her first marriage and had sought the benefit for the third childbirth, which the AAI rejected.

The second child was born in 2009 in the interim before she got appointed on compassionate grounds.

The AAI said under the Maternity Leave Regulations, it is clear that Kanakavali already had two surviving children at the time of the third childbirth, and therefore, she was not eligible for maternity leave.

The bench said Article 42 of the Constitution of India provides that the State shall make provision for securing just and human conditions of work and maternity relief.

Article 42 speaks of “just and humane conditions of work” and “maternity relief”.

“The right to reproduction and childrearing has been recognised as an important facet of a person’s right to privacy, dignity and bodily integrity under Article 21. Article 42 enjoins the State to make provisions for securing just and humane work conditions and maternity relief,” the court said.

The bench said as per the AAI’s Maternity Leave Regulations, a woman employee can avail of maternity leave twice in her service period.

“The objective of this Regulation is to give maternity leave benefits and not to curb the population. The condition of two surviving children is subjected so that the maximum times a female employee can benefit is only twice. This is to ensure that the organisation is not without the services of the employee for more than two times,” the court said.

The bench noted that since the petitioner had not availed the maternity leave benefit when she had her first child, she was eligible for the benefit when she had her third child.

It added that the benefit of maternity leave and the conditions imposed were drafted keeping in mind the normal circumstances, where a female employee marries only once and gives birth.

The bench said the regulations should be interpreted liberally.

“The role of the court is to understand the purpose of law in society and help the law achieve its purpose. When social reality changes, the law must change too,” the bench said.

It said the objective of the Maternity Leave Benefits Regulation is to offer protection to a woman, and its importance has to be seen from the point of a woman employee’s health.

The court quashed the AAI’s communications denying the woman maternity leave benefits and directed the authority to grant her the same within eight weeks.


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