The Delhi High Court has observed that pregnant women in employment are entitled to maternity benefits without being denied so based on the nature of their work, as per the Maternity Benefit Act, 2017.
Justice Chandra Dhari Singh said that the Act does not suggest barring relief to working expectant women due to the type of their employment.
Justice Singh said that maternity benefits are not solely derived from legal obligations or employment contracts; they are a fundamental part of a woman’s identity when choosing to start a family.
The court highlighted that the freedom to become a parent is a constitutional right, and obstructing this right without proper legal procedures contradicts both the Constitution and principles of social justice.
The judge observed that if a woman must choose between her career and family life, it is detrimental to societal progress.
Justice Singh noted that the Act frames maternity benefits as a “Benefit”, but these should instead be considered a rightful entitlement for women employees in such situations, calling for a positive change in perspective and a more adaptive approach to providing maternity benefits.
This observation came in response to a case of a pregnant woman employed under contract with the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA).
Despite extending maternity benefits to permanent employees, DSLSA denied them to contractual staff.
Justice Singh criticised this discrepancy, especially considering the petitioner’s role in protecting the interests of children within the justice system.
The court directed DSLSA to provide all medical, financial, and other relevant benefits to the petitioner in accordance with the Maternity Benefit Act.
Recognising the struggles women have faced in achieving equal treatment, the court highlighted that equal treatment doesn’t mean identical treatment.
“To push a woman, undergoing such degree of dynamic changes while she is in the process of childbirth, to work at par with those who are not, at the same extent of labour, physical and/or mental, tantamount to grave injustice and is in no manner reasonable. This is certainly not the definition of equity and equality of opportunities that the framers of the Constitution had in their mind,” Justice Singh observed.