Orissa High Court: In a writ petition under Article 226 and 227 of the Constitution of India, wherein an Assistant Teacher was seeking direction to the District Education Officer (‘DEO’), Keonjhar for sanctioning the maternity leave of the petitioner from a period of 6 months, which was denied to her, the Single Judge Bench of Sashikanta Mishra, J.*, allowed the petition and held that the refusal to sanction the maternity leave by the DEO was contrary to law and therefore, cannot be sustained.
In the matter at hand, the petitioner was appointed as an Assistant Teacher (CBZ) vide order dated 19-12-1997 in the Practicing Girls’ High School, Fakirpur. The said school was declared as an Aided Educational Institution w.e.f. 01-06-1994. The Institution was declared eligible to receive grant-in-aid to the extent of 100 percent of salary cost in respect of teaching and non-teaching staff as per the provisions of Orissa Education (Payment of Grant-In-Aid to High Schools/Upper Primary Schools) Order, 1994 (‘GIA Order, 2004’). The petitioner received grant-in-aid in the shape of block grant as per Orissa Education (Payment of Grant-In-Aid to High Schools/Upper Primary Schools) Order, 1994 (‘GIA Order, 1994’). On 17-06-2013, the petitioner applied for maternity leave from 17-06-2013 to 13-12-2013. She delivered a female child on 20-08-2013 and thereafter, remained on leave till 13-12-2013. She joined in her duties by submitting joining report and fitness certificate before the Headmaster of the School on 14-12-2013, which was accepted. Later, she applied for sanction of maternity leave for the said period but the same was refused by the DEO, Keonjhar. On an application being filed by the Petitioner under the Right to Information Act, 2005, the DEO informed that no leave rule is applicable in respect of employees of the school and hence sanction of maternity leave could not be considered.
Thus, feeling aggrieved by the order of DEO, the petitioner approached the Court seeking a direction to the DEO to take all necessary steps for sanction of maternity leave of the petitioner from 17-6-2013 to 13-12-2013.
The Court noted that the DEO had referred to the provisions of the two GIA Order of 1994 and 2004. However, the Court said that the said GIA Orders relate to different provisions regarding payment of grant-in-aid and not to matters regarding leave of the employees of the institutions. The Court said that maternity leave cannot be compared or equated with any other leave as it is the inherent right of every woman employee which cannot simply be denied on technical grounds. Further, the Court added that it would be preposterous to hold otherwise as it would militate against the very process designed by nature. The Court also said that denying a woman employee this basic human right, would be an assault on her dignity as an individual and thereby offend her fundamental right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, which has been interpreted to mean life with dignity.
The Court referred to Municipal Corpn. of Delhi v. Female Workers (Muster Roll), (2000) 3 SCC 224, and held that the refusal to sanction the maternity leave by the DEO was contrary to law and therefore, cannot be sustained. Thus, the Court allowed the writ petition and directed the DEO to sanction the maternity leave as claimed by the Petitioner within four weeks from the date of communication of the order or on production of certified copy thereof by the Petitioner.
[Swornalata Dash v. State of Odisha, 2023 SCC OnLine Ori 5095, Decided on 21-07-2023]
*Judgment Authored by: Justice Sashikanta Mishra