Utt HC | State contractual employees entitled to claim Child Care Leave

Uttaranchal High Court: A Full-Bench of Ramesh Ranganathan CJ, Sudhanshu Dhulia and Alok Kumar Verma JJ, held that contractual state employees are also entitled to child care leave, and that its denial would mean the denial of the rights of a child.

The petitioner is a lady Ayurvedic doctor in Uttarakhand’s State Medical and Health Services, appointed on a contractual basis for one year which had been repeatedly renewed since her appointment in 2009. After her maternity leave, she did not rejoin service and instead claimed Child Care Leave (CCL), citing a 2015 Judgement by a division bench of the Uttaranchal High Court which allowed a contractual employee to get CCL for 730 days. Her application was rejected on the grounds of a 2011 Government Order which excluded contractual employees from availing CCL. A division bench referred the matter in the present case to a Full Bench, which had to decide whether CCL of 730 days could be granted to a contractual employee hired for only one year, and whether the High Court, exercising its jurisdiction under Article 226, could issue mandatory guidelines extending this benefit to contractual employees in the absence of any legislation in this regard.

Chief Standing Counsel for the State, Paresh Tripathi, contended that the petitioner was only entitled to a “fixed monthly honorarium,” and could claim CCL as a matter of right since she is not technically a government servant. He also argued that the petitioner is only relying upon Part IV of the Constitution i.e., the Directive Principles of State Policy, which are not enforceable. He rebutted claims of alleged violations of Articles 14 and 16, averring that regular and contractual employees form two different classes and their separation would fall under ‘reasonable classification’, and Article 21.

While acknowledging the recent worldwide emergence of the otherwise neglected concepts of maternity and child care leave, the Court stated that “the leave is not a recognition of the rights of a woman but it is more a recognition of the rights of a child.”

Bench took due cognizance of various Constitutional and statutory provisions, including Article 15(2) and several Articles under Part IV of the Constitution, which were enforced bearing the needs and rights of children in mind. It rejected the State’s argument that DPSPs are not enforceable, instead upholding their importance by citing Supreme Court judgments where the DPSPs were hailed as “fundamentals in the governance of the country.”

The Court opined that since no distinction is made between a regular and a contractual employee with respect to maternity leave, the same principle should be adopted while considering CCL as well. On the first issue, the Court held that a contractual employee employed for a year was also entitled to CCL, but not for 760 days. Rather, they can be granted paid CCL for 31 days on the same terms as “earned leave” given to other employees under the 2011 Government Order. With regard to the second issue, the Court stated that it has merely read the rights of a contractual employee into the 2011 Order, which have duly been subjected to the restrictions imposed on any regular employee under the said Order. [Tanuja Tolia v. State of Uttarakhand, 2020 SCC OnLine Utt 337, decided on 24-07-2020]

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