KERALA: On Wednesday, in the case of Centre for Professional and Advanced Studies v. Abhitha Karun & Ors., Kerala High Court made a Judgement that any female officer which is appointed on Contract bases can enjoy a Benefits of Maternity Benefits Act.
The Division Bench of Justice P.B. Suresh Kumar and Justice C.S Sudha said that the Special Rules of a registered society cannot override the provisions of the Act.
“The term ‘establishment’ referred to in the MB Act can be any and every establishment within the meaning of any law for the time being in force in the State in relation to establishments. For instance, the Payment of Subsistence Allowance Act, 1972 (Kerala) is a law in force in the State of Kerala which defines ‘establishment’, as one where service is carried on also as in the case of the establishments of the second respondent (CPAS),” the Court explained.
In the said case, the petitioner was appointed as a lecturer on a contract basis in the year 2012 for three years. In 2014, she was granted maternity leave for 180 days and the entire leave period was sanctioned with allowance.
Later, in 2015 her appointment got renewed by the authorities. During the course of the employment, the petitioner conceived once again and she applied for maternity leave for 180 days.
As per the Special Rules framed By CPAS which were approved by the State, though maternity leave is provided for 180 days, maternity leave benefit has been limited to 90 days. Therefore, CPAS sanctioned maternity leave for 180 days but limited leave with an allowance to 90 days.
The Petitioner moved to the court arguing that denial of maternity leave with allowance for 180 days was in violation of the Maternity Benefit Act and the instructions contained in the circulars issued by the Ministry of Women and Child Health.
She further argued that the Rules framed by CPAS were only approved by the State in 2018 and therefore, her service conditions cannot be altered to her disadvantage during the course of her employment.
The court held that the petitioner was entitled to maternity leave with allowance for 180 days notwithstanding the taking over of the Self-financing Institutions of the Mahatma Gandhi University by the CPAS.
Challenging this order, the CPAS appeal in High Court and argued that contract employees are not entitled to the benefit of the Maternity Benefit Act. Further, it was argued that the CPAS has not been brought under the ambit of the Act by the State since no notification was issued under the proviso to Section 2 (1)(b).
The Division Bench dismissed the appellant’s argument that it is not an establishment.
Further, the Court observed that the Act is admittedly a beneficial piece of legislation with an object to see that a woman employee at the time of advanced pregnancy, is not compelled to work as it would be detrimental to her health and also to the health of the fetus. It is for this reason that the Act provides for maternity leave for certain periods prior to and after delivery.
Further, the Court said that in Government Order which was issued in 2021, the State has extended the benefit of maternity leave on full pay as per the Kerala Service Rules up to 180 days or till the expiry of the existing contract whichever is earlier, to female officers appointed on contract basis, irrespective of the tenure of the contract.
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