Supreme Court Asserts Two-Year Maternity Leave a Constitutional Right for Women

Supreme Court Asserts Two-Year Maternity Leave a Constitutional Right for Women

In a significant ruling on Monday, the Supreme Court affirmed that women employees have a constitutional right to a two-year childcare leave, in addition to the mandatory 180-day maternity leave. The court, led by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice J B Pardiwala, emphasized that denying such leave effectively forces women to resign from their jobs, as reported by TOI.

The court became involved in this matter following Shalini Dharmani, an assistant professor at a government college in Himachal Pradesh, who brought attention to her situation. Dharmani, represented by her counsel Pragati Neekhra, shared her challenge as a mother of a child with a rare genetic disorder requiring frequent surgeries and constant care. She expressed disappointment that despite exhausting her existing leaves, the Himachal Pradesh government had refused her childcare leave, citing the absence of a specific provision in the state's service rules akin to Section 43-C of the Central Civil Service (Leave) Rules.

Expressing dissatisfaction with Himachal Pradesh's lack of provision, the bench commented, "Women's participation in the workforce is not a privilege but a constitutional requirement. Childcare leave serves an essential constitutional goal of enabling women's participation in the workforce. Otherwise, mothers will have no choice but to quit their jobs to care for their children during critical phases of their lives."

In response, the Supreme Court instructed the Himachal Pradesh government to promptly establish a high-level committee chaired by the chief secretary. This committee, including secretaries from social welfare and women and child welfare departments, will thoroughly review the issue of childcare leave for women employees.

The court directed the committee to collaborate with relevant Union ministries and deliver a report by July 31, proposing a suitable policy decision on including childcare leave for women in the state's service rules. Meanwhile, recognizing Dharmani's urgent circumstances, the court urged the Himachal Pradesh government to consider granting her extraordinary leave to care for her son, who suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease), until a final decision is made.

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