Madras HC emphasises maternity benefits, poses 15 questions to Centre, Tamil Nadu govt over rights of new mothers

Chennai: The Madras High Court on Tuesday posed 15 questions to the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government on a petition related to maternity leave, observing that not only the newborn but the "reborn mother" also required "nurturing care, affection and proper rest."

The court while impleading the Centre and the state government on the petition also highlighted the significance of breast feeding, saying there was no substitute for mother's milk and that even "so-called divine nectar could not be equal" to it.

In a recent interim order on a petition by a woman government doctor who was not allowed to join post-graduate (PG) medical course on the ground that she did not complete two years continuous service, excluding maternity leave, Justice N Kirubakaran posed 15 questions to be answered by the respondents.

Prefacing the order by saying "Delivery gives birth not only to a child, but also a mother as well", the judge observed that not only the newborn, but the reborn mother also required "nurturing care, affection and proper rest so that she could look after the child very well by feeding the child."

Listing the 15 questions, he sought to know why this court not declare right of newborn to mother's feeding upto six months exclusively and upto 2 years along with substitutions as a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution and as human right as per international treaties. He further asked why not the government make it mandatory for women employees getting maternity benefits including leave to give an undertaking not to have more than two children, as a measure of population control, taking into consideration the enormous increase in the country's population.

File image of the Madras High Court. Wikimedia Commons

File image of the Madras High Court. Wikimedia Commons

"Why not the Central Government bring an act making it obligatory on the part of women availing maternity benefits to breastfeed the child at least during the maternity leave period?" he asked.

The judge said he was impleading the governments and others as general directions had to be issued in the interest of future mothers and particularly, working women, to avoid discrimination, especially, with regard to maternity benefits. Also, the general issue regarding the women's right to procreate, the maternity benefits and the incidental issues like mother’s feeding and increasing the number of days for maternity leave were to be dealt with in this case.

He impleaded the Union Law and Women and Child Welfare ministries, the National Commission for Women Development, Tamil Nadu Law and Health and Family Welfare departments and posted the matter to 22 January for further hearing.

In the interim order, the judge allowed the prayer of petitioner U Ishwarya and directed the respondents to admit her in post-graduate Diploma in Gynaecology and Obstetrics for the next academic year 2018-19, without the necessity of applying and writing the NEET examination 2018. According to the petitioner, she gave birth to a baby girl on 4 July, 2015 and availed the maternity leave from that date till 3 January, 2016. She completed two years of government service on 19 March, 2017.

She opted for the PG dipolma course in the Government Kilpauk Medical College after appearing in the National Entrance cum Eligibility Test (NEET) and was given the seat allotment order asking her to join on 10 May, 2017. However, the Deputy Director of Health Services, Sivakasi, where she was serving, did not relieve her stating that she had not completed two years of continuous service, having availed 180 days of maternity leave.

Hence, she challenged the clause in the appointment order which made it compulsory to serve in government service for a minimum period of two years for joining higher studies.

The judge ruled that any discrimination or different treatment by the government by virtue of any rule denying the maternity benefits was unreasonable and violated the dignity of the women and her fundamental rights and human rights.


Updated Date: Jan 03, 2018 07:00 AM

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