‘Nature of employment will not decide maternity benefits’: Delhi HC grants maternity benefits to contractual employee whose contract ended during pregnancy

delhi high court

Delhi High Court: In a case wherein, a writ petition was filed under Article 226 of the Constitution aggrieved by denial of maternity benefits and termination of petitioner who was working as contractual employee, Chandra Dhari Singh, J.* opined that the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 (‘the Act’) created a fiction in the petitioner’s favour to be treated as the employee of Respondent 3 for giving her maternity benefits. The Court further opined that as per Section 5 of the Act, the petitioner was entitled to the maternity benefits, despite the fact that her contract ended during her pregnancy and upon fulfilment of the conditions specified in Section 5(2) of the Act, the maternity benefits extended beyond the contractual period of the petitioner’s employment.


On 07-02-2013, the petitioner was appointed as a stenographer on a contractual basis for a period of one year with Respondent 3, on the terms and conditions mentioned in the offer letter of appointment. The said contract was extended periodically for a period of one year till 31-03-2018.

On 28-02-2018, the petitioner submitted a letter to Respondent 3’s office for maternity leave of 180 days, from 01-03-2018 to 31-08-2018. Subsequently, when the petitioner joined back on 28-08-2018, Respondent 3 did not allow the petitioner to resume her duties since the petitioner’s contract expired on 31-03-2018.

Further, the petitioner was allowed to join vide appointment letter dated 15-11-2018, whereby the petitioner was appointed on contractual basis till 30-06-2019. Later, on 17-10-2019, the petitioner was informed that her services were no longer required and was further directed to not to come on duty from the next day. However, on the petitioner’s repeated requests to sought clarification for issuance of such directions, she was told that the proposals to extend the services of two stenographers were sent to the Finance Department but only one was approved.

Thus, the petitioner filed a representation dated 01-11-2019, before the Chief Minister of Delhi, and the same was forwarded for appropriate action but no substantive action had been taken yet. Hence, the petitioner filed the present writ petition.

The petitioner contended that she was duly employed when she went on maternity leave and her contract should have been duly extended. Moreover, the termination, after the petitioner joined, was illegal since no reasons were assigned behind such action and hence the petitioner in her petition prayed for the maternity benefits and her re-instatement to the post of the stenographer. Whereas, the respondents contended that the petitioner being a contractual employee whose term was over was not entitled to any maternity benefit and the petitioner could not be appointed to the said position since, the said post had been abolished.

Analysis, Law, and Decision

The issues for consideration before this Court were:

1. Whether the woman working on contractual period might be extended maternity benefits beyond the period of her contract?

The Court relied on Kavita Yadav v. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Department, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 1067, wherein the law related to the accrual of the maternity benefits to the contractual employees was settled and Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Female Workers (Muster Roll), (2000) 3 SCC 224, State of H.P. v. Sudesh Kumari 2014 SCC OnLine HP 4844, State (NCT of Delhi) v. Shweta Tripathi, 2014 SCC OnLine Del 7138, Deepa Sharma v. State of Uttarakhand 2016 SCC OnLine Utt 2015, and Baba Saheb Ambedkaar Hospital v. Krati Mehrotra, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 742 and opined that the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 (‘the Act’) was the welfare and social legislation and thus, the legislature’s intention could not had been to limit or restrict the scope of reliefs that might be granted to all those falling within the ambit of the Act. The Court further opined that there was nothing in the language of the Act which suggested that a working expecting woman would be barred from getting the reliefs due to the sole reason of the nature of their employment.

The Court noted that in the present case also, Respondent 3 had extended maternity benefits to the permanent employees, but the same was denied to the contractual employees. The Court opined that “by not sanctioning maternity benefits, it would amount to a compulsory choice between work or motherhood for a mother. Not just that, making a mother compulsorily work even during her maternity times would have an adverse impact on child who in turn, is the future of the Nation.”

The Court noted that the petitioner was working with Respondent 3 since 2013, as stenographer and the petitioner’s contract was renewed on multiple occasions. For the same, she also received the remunerations in terms of her appointment. Moreover, the petitioner had to work for fixed hours similar to the other staff of Respondent 3. Since, the petitioner was being paid remuneration for her services and was also required to work as per a specific fixed time scheduled, therefore, it was established that the petitioner fell within the ambit of the Act.

Thus, the Court opined that the Act created a fiction in the petitioner’s favour to be treated as the employee of Respondent 3 for giving her maternity benefits. As per Section 5 of the Act, the petitioner was entitled to the maternity benefits, despite the fact that her contract ended during her pregnancy and upon fulfilment of the conditions specified in Section 5(2) of the Act, the maternity benefits extended beyond the contractual period of the petitioner’s employment.

The Court opined that it was ironic that the petitioner worked with the State Consumer Forum as a stenographer, was a court staff and had assisted in the dispensation of justice, but she herself had to approach this Court for justice since she was not being able to secure the benefits that were necessary for the best interest and welfare of her own child.

The Court opined that as a social welfare legislation, the Act did not discriminate on the basis of the nature of employment. However, creation of the welfare legislation was not enough and there was a duty upon the State and the subjects of the Act to uphold the integrity, objective and the provisions of the legislation in its true letter and spirit. Additionally, the Constitution of India also advances the ideals which culminated and translated into the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.

Therefore, the Court opined that Respondent 3 should had extended the benefits and reliefs under the Act to the petitioner.

2. Whether the writ of mandamus could be issued by this Court directing the respondents to allow the petitioner to continue on the post of stenographer on contractual basis?

The Court opined that under Article 311 of the Constitution, the State or any of its instrumentalities might create or abolish any position. The employee whose position had been abolished, if such employee is terminated or dismissed from the service, such termination or dismissal from service did not amount to violation of fundamental right. Since, the post was abolished and there was no wrongful action done against the employee, it was merely an executive decision taken by the authority in the best interest of the public authority.

Thus, relying on M. Ramanatha Pillai v. State of Kerala, (1973) 2 SCC 650 and Avas Vikas Sansthan v. Engineers Assn., (2006) 4 SCC 132, the Court opined that since the said post of stenographer did not exist anymore, the petitioner was not entitled to the re-instatement, and the Court could not issue a writ of mandamus to re-instate the petitioner to a position which was not in existence.

The Court opined that the writ of mandamus was issued in cases where there was a vested right and in the present case, since the said position was abolished, the petitioner did not have vested right of being appointed to the said position.

Thus, the Court partially allowed the writ petition and directed Respondent 3 to release all medical, monetary and other benefits that accrued in the petitioner’s favour as per the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017 and further stated that since no extreme medical or other exigencies were presented by the petitioner, she should be entitled for the benefits for the time period of twenty-six weeks and the needful should be done by Respondent 3 within three months from the date of receipt of the present order.

[Rehmat Fatima v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2023 SCC OnLine Del 6307, decided on 06-10-2023]

*Judgment authored by- Justice Chandra Dhari Singh

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For the Petitioner: Syed Hasan Isfahani and Syed Mohd. Hassan, Advocates;

For the Respondents: Jyoti Tyagi and Manisha, Advocates

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