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Delhi High CourtIndian Cases

Mrs. Bharti Gupta vs Rail India Technical And Economical … on 9 August 2005

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Delhi High Court
Mrs. Bharti Gupta vs Rail India Technical And Economical … on 9 August, 2005
Equivalent citations: 123(2005)DLT138, 2005(84)DRJ53
Author: S. Ravindra Bhat
Bench: S. Ravindra Bhat

JUDGMENT

S. Ravindra Bhat, J.

1. The petitioner, a qualified Architect, was initially appointed by the respondents (hereafter called as “RITES’) and was offered contractual appointment for a period of six months on 8.10.1997. Her contract was renewed after expiry of the six months period; she continued in the employment of RITES. By these proceedings, she is questioning the impugned order dated 13th December, 2000 which states that the contractual engagement ceased from 16.10.2000 and that she was no-longer in the rolls of the organisation after that date. The petitioner’s request for release of maternity leave benefits was also declined.

2. At the outset, Ms. Rachna Srivastava, learned counsel for the petitioner gave up the claim in prayer ‘B’ for reinstatement and consequential benefits. The claim in the petition was confined to the release of maternity benefits.

3. The petitioner avers that her services were continued and she was working uninterruptedly till she applied for maternity leave on 15.10.2000. It is averred by that application the RITES was intimated that the petitioner was proceeding on maternity leave from 11.11.2000 onwards till further notice. The petitioner further avers that RITES did not reply to this notice and by the impugned order, referred to the last letter dated 23.5.2000, and stated that the period of her engagement was to come to an end upon expirty of six months. The petitioner made representations on 10.11.2001 and 24.12.2001 inter alia for release of maternity benefits. The RITES however did not accept the request. Hence, she has approached this Court for appropriate directions.

4. The respondents in their counter affidavit have denied the claim. They averred that the petitioner was engaged on purely contractual basis and that her period of engagement came to an end on 16.10.2000. They have further denied the receipt of letter dated 15.10.2000; it is alleged that the letter was in fact given to the RITES on 17.11.2000. The respondents have also placed on record copies of letters written on 21.6.2000, 17.7.2000, 4.8.2000 and 19.9.2000 by which medical leave was sought. It is further alleged that the petitioner accepted her termination as evidenced by a duly filled form No. 19, which was an application for release of provident fund and other dues, furnished to the respondent RITES under cover of a letter dated 11.9.2001. In these circumstances, the respondents have alleged that the claims in these petitions are after thought and belated. It is also alleged that the petitioner collected all her dues on 7.12.2001 from the RITES.

5. Ms. Rachna Srivastava, learned counsel for the petitioner submitted that the provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 entitled the petitioner to leave as well as maternity bonus and irrespective of the merits of the claim for reinstatement, those benefits could not be withheld. She has relied upon Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Maternity Benefit Act 1961 to say that its provisions are universally applicable and that the RITES being a State agency is also bound by the Drective Principles of State Policy as also Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India. It is further submitted that the grant of maternity benefit is not a matter of charity; it is a positive mandate of law as has been held by the Supreme Court in its judgment reported as Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Female Workers (Muster Roll), . It was submitted that the Supreme Court held that even daily wage employees on muster rolls are entitled to the benefits under the Act.

6. Learned counsel for the respondent submitted that the entire attempt in these proceedings to paint RITES as a heartless employer is not justified. He submitted that the petitioner was well aware that her engagements were coming to an end on 16.10.2000. Hence, the question of granting or depriving her benefits did not arise. He also submitted that having secured all the benefits as a result of her ceasing to be in the employment, the petitioner could not have approached this Court, three years later, and agitated claims which were never made at the relevant time.

7. The pleadings in this case show that the petitioner, a qualified Architect had been engaged on contractual basis by the respondent RITES. Apparently, the contract was for spells of six months. As is evident from an examination of the last contract/order dated 23.5.2000, RITES was issuing the contracts/appointment letters, for fresh periods after the expiry of the previous period(s). For instance, the order dated 23.5.2000 states that the term of employment is six months from 17.4.2000 to 16.10.2000. The petitioner has further averred that her employment was continued on a routine basis and a fresh contracts were being issued subsequently. This fact has not been disputed. On the other hand, the case of the respondent RITES is that the letter by which the petitioner claimed maternity leave was in fact furnished by her on 17.11.2000. If these facts are kept in mind, it is apparent that though the period of contractual appointment came to an end on 16.10.2000, the petitioner continued to report for duties. The letter seeking leave does indicate that the petitioner would be on leave after 11.11.2000. The RITES does not dispute the existence of this letter; it only alleges that the letter in fact was given on 17.11.2000. It would thuse be clear that as per the understanding of the parties and the past practice, the petitioner continued to be with the respondents organisation after 16.10.2000.

8. In this view of the matter, and having regard to the fact that the petitioner is not pressing her claim for reinstatement the issue for decision is whether the respondent would have denied maternity benefits under the 1961 Act.

9. The nature of maternity benefits and the entitlement of employees have been clearly spelt out by provisions of the Act. The provisions of the enactment apply to establishments, which have been defined in an expansive manner. Being a benevolent and social welfare legislation, the term “”establishment” has to be construed liberally to include RITES.

10. Sections 4 & 5 of the Act oblige every employer of an extablishment to extend maternity benefits under the Act, including leave/pay and maternity bonus. Section 12 underscores the independent and inflexible nature of the liability to mandate that no-one can be dismissed on account of pregnancy. It is a non-discriminatory provision. Section 27 mandates that provisions of the Act would have overriding effect.

11. In the Municipal Corporation of Delhi case (supra) the need for the Act, and its objective being in furtherance to Articles 15(3), 21, 38-39 and 42-43 of the Constitution of India was noticed. The Court also noticed that the Act was in tune with the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 1979.

12. Articles 14 and 15 of the Constitution guarantee equality, Article 15(3) enables the State to make special provision for women. The Act makes provisions that are are in furtherance of two objectives- affirmative action (Sections 4, 5 and 27) and non-discrimination (Sections 12, 21 and 23). Their universality is undeniable.

13. RITES, in my considered opinion, is an establishment covered under the Act. Equally, it is an instrumentality of State (under Article 12 of the Constitution of India) and therefore bound by Part III of the Constitution. The record shows that the petitioner continued in employment till 11.11.2000, as per the RITES itself. The last order, extending the contract of appointment by 6 months, was issued on May, 2000,; the previous period had expired on 17.4.2000. Hence, the period commenced on 17.4.2000, and continued till 16.10.2000. In view of these admitted facts, and the circumstance that the petitioner went on leave with effect from 11.11.2000, after which she delivered a baby on 5.12.2000, the RITES cannot excape its obligation to pay benefits under the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961.

14. I accordingly, partly allow the petition. A direction is issued to the respondent RITES to calculate and release all amounts payable under the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961 (including full salary for the maximum periods of leave permissible under the Act and also the bonus amount admissible) within a period of six weeks from today. No costs.