Delhi High Court: In a petition filed by Renuka (petitioner), pursuing a 2-year M.Ed. regular course from Chaudhary Charan Singh University (respondent 2) praying for directions to the University to allow her the benefit of maternity leave for 59-days only and pursuant to that, grant her relaxation of attendance for completing the Master of Education (M.Ed.) course. Purushaindra Kumar Kaurav, J., directed to consider the application of the petitioner afresh, in view of the observation made in this order to consider her 59-days of maternity leave application against theory classes. The Court further held that in case the petitioner fulfills the minimum 80% attendance criteria in theory classes, after accounting for the 59-day maternity leave, and allows the petitioner to appear in the examination be taken by the University without any delay.
The petitioner filed an application for maternity leave before the concerned Dean and Vice-Chancellor of respondent 2 annexing the doctor’s advice along with the prescription, which was rejected. The petitioner has also prayed for directions to University Grants Commission (UGC) (respondent 1) to frame specific rules and regulations for the grant of maternity leave for post-graduate and under-graduate courses. The petitioner, thereafter, raised her grievance before UGC and since the petitioner did not receive any response, she approached the court for the directions.
Counsel for petitioner submitted that UGC in terms of circular dated 14-12-2021 made provisions in the UGC (Minimum Standards and Procedure for Award of M.Phil./Ph.D Degrees) Regulations, 2016 (‘UGC Regulations, 2016’) providing for women candidates to avail maternity leave/child care leave (‘CCL’) once in the entire duration of M. Phil/ Ph. D course for up to 240 days. He also submitted that University should also be directed to make the necessary provisions for providing sufficient days of leave towards maternity leave/CCL.
Counsel for the respondents submitted that the course of the petitioner is governed by the provisions of the National Council for Teacher Education Act, 1993 and the National Council for Teacher Education (Recognition Norms and Procedure) Regulations, 2014 wherein it provides that for any M.Ed. student there shall be at least 200 working days each year, exclusive of the period of admission and inclusive of classroom transaction, practicum, field study and conduct of examination.
Thus, the minimum attendance of students shall be 80% for theory course and practical and 90% for field attachment, there is no provision to create any category, for the purpose of the students who want to avail the benefit of maternity leave. Therefore, in the absence of any provision for the same, the University cannot consider the application submitted by the petitioner.
The Court noted that if the UGC circular is perused, it indicates that it has been made applicable to the entire duration of M.Phil / Ph.D course, and a provision is made for the grant of 240 days of maternity leave. The duration of M.Phil / Ph.D course and the duration of M. Ed. course is distinctly different. M.Ed. course is only for a period of two years in contradistinction to the M. Phil/ Ph.D course, which normally lasts for 5-6 years. Thus, the circular relied upon by the petitioner issued by the UGC will not have a direct application under the facts of the present case.
On the aspect of whether, in the absence of any specific provisions for maternity leave, the same can be directed to be favourably considered by the University, the Court observed that a man could then well enjoy parenthood while pursuing his higher education, whereas a woman necessarily must undergo pre and post pregnancy care. It is not her choice, but the will of nature. What is, however, left for us to decide is the consequence we would impose upon a woman who bears a child.
The Court remarked that ‘The court, as well as the society, has two roads that it can tread in such a scenario. It can either follow the bare text of an existing legal provision, be stuck at the bark of words, be blind to the consequences of the law, and allow it to take its course. The other path-way is of being sensitive to the person in the dispute, applying the values enshrined in the Constitution and attempting, wherever possible, to accommodate the law falling short of societal development.’
The Court further stated that ‘The first path would force a woman to necessarily choose between her right to a higher education and the right of becoming a mother. A woman would then have to either re-engage herself in the activity that she was previously pursuing and was halted by her pregnancy or would have to remain content with her having been unable to complete her vocation or education.’
The Court concluded that in exercise of its power under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, this court cannot create a different compartment for the purposes of relaxation of attendance. The applicable regulations which require a specific number of days of attendance are also required to be fulfilled. At the same time, the interests of candidates seeking maternity leave are also required to be catered to.
The Court held that if the leave as prayed for i.e.,59 days is considered under the ‘theory classes’ the petitioner would be fulfilling the 80% attendance criteria in the theory classes. The same would ensure that the right of the petitioner are secured without compromising the standards to be maintained by the educational institution.
Thus, the Court directed University to consider the application of the petitioner for the grant of 59 days leave as maternity leave against 80% theory classes. If the petitioner has missed any practical classes during the period of leave, the same can always be directed to be rearranged as a special case.
[Renuka v University Grants Commission, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 3210, decided on 23-05-2023]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Mr. Bhawanshu Sharma, Advocate for the Petitioner;
Mr. Apoorv Kurup and Ms. Kirit Dadheech, Advocates for the R-1/UGC;
Mr. Nikhil Jain, Advocate for the R-2.