Allowing relief to a university student who was denied maternity leave, the Delhi High Court has said that citizens cannot be forced to choose between their right to education and their right to exercise reproductive autonomy.
GS II: Government policies and Intetrventions
Dimensions of the Article:
- Maternity Leave for University Students: Delhi High Court’s Decision
- Constitutional Provisions and Rulings on Maternity Benefits
- Supreme Court’s Decisions on Reproductive Rights and Maternity Benefits
- Maternity Leave for MPhil/PhD Students and MEd Students
Maternity Leave for University Students: Delhi High Court’s Decision
Background and Request:
- In the case of “Renuka v. University Grants Commission and Anr,” a student from Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut, approached the Delhi High Court.
- The student sought relaxation of attendance requirements to complete her Master of Education (MEd) course.
- She requested a 59-day maternity leave, suggesting that it could be considered as part of “theory classes” to meet the 80% attendance criteria.
Equality and Reproductive Autonomy:
- The court emphasized that citizens should not have to choose between their right to education and their right to reproductive autonomy.
- It highlighted the contrast where men can become parents while pursuing higher education, whereas women must go through pre and post pregnancy care due to natural circumstances.
- The court clarified that it cannot create a separate category for relaxation of attendance under Article 226 of the Constitution.
- However, it acknowledged the need to balance attendance requirements with the interests of students seeking maternity leave.
Commitment to Equality:
- The court stated that the Constitution aims to move away from narrow societal beliefs and promote equality.
- It directed the university to reconsider the student’s application in light of the court’s observations.
- The court suggested that the student’s 59 days of maternity leave could be considered against theory classes.
- If the student missed any practical classes during her leave, the court suggested they could be rearranged as a special case.
Constitutional Provisions and Rulings on Maternity Benefits:
Amendment to the Concurrent List:
- In September 1949, Dr BR Ambedkar proposed an amendment to replace the existing Entry 26 of the concurrent list in the Constitution.
- The amended entry, adopted by the Constituent Assembly and now part of the Constitution, reads, “Welfare of labour, including conditions of work, provident funds, employers, liability, workmen’s compensation, invalidity and old age pensions, and maternity benefits.”
Article 42 – Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs):
- Article 42 of the Constitution falls under the Directive Principles of State Policy.
- It states that the State has the responsibility to ensure just and humane working conditions and provide maternity relief.
Court’s Reliance on Previous Rulings:
- The court also considered multiple rulings from higher courts on reproductive rights.
- These rulings likely played a role in shaping the court’s interpretation and decision regarding the student’s maternity leave case.
Supreme Court’s Decisions on Reproductive Rights and Maternity Benefits:
“Suchita Srivastava v. Chandigarh Admn” (2009):
- The Supreme Court held that a woman’s reproductive choices are inherent to her right to privacy, dignity, and bodily integrity, protected under Article 21 of the Constitution.
- Chief Justice KG Balakrishnan stated that a woman’s right to make reproductive choices is a dimension of personal liberty.
- The court emphasized that there should be no restrictions on the exercise of reproductive choices, respecting a woman’s right to privacy, dignity, and bodily integrity.
- Reproductive rights include a woman’s entitlement to carry a pregnancy to full term, give birth, and raise children.
“KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India” (2017):
- The Supreme Court ruled that the state must protect citizens’ ability to make decisions that facilitate the fullest sense of life.
- Article 21’s protection of life extends beyond physical integrity and encompasses one’s overall well-being and fulfillment of life.
“Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India”:
- While considering workmen’s rights, the Supreme Court held that the right to live with human dignity under Article 21 is derived from the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSPs).
- This right includes the protection of workers’ health, the well-being of children, educational facilities, just and humane working conditions, and maternity relief.
University Grants Commission (UGC) Regulations and Circular:
- The UGC Regulations of 2016 and the 2021 circular issued by the UGC include provisions for granting maternity or childcare leave to women candidates.
Maternity Leave for MPhil/PhD Students and MEd Students:
Maternity Leave for MPhil/PhD Students:
- In 2016, the University Grants Commission (UGC) introduced the “Minimum Standards and Procedure for Award of MPhil/PhD Degrees Regulations.”
- Under these regulations, women candidates enrolled in MPhil or PhD courses were granted maternity or childcare leave once during the entire duration of their course, for up to 240 days.
Maternity Leave for Other Courses:
- In 2021, the UGC issued a circular that amended the UGC Regulations of 2016.
- The circular provided maternity or childcare leave to “women students” enrolled in MPhil or PhD courses for up to 240 days.
- It also urged Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to establish their own rules and norms for granting maternity leave to women students and provide necessary relaxations or exemptions related to attendance, exam forms, or any other facilities.
Court’s Decision on MEd Course:
- In the specific case before the court, the petitioner relied on the 2021 circular for claiming maternity leave during her MEd course.
- However, the court rejected the petitioner’s reliance on the circular, stating that it does not directly apply to the facts of the present case.
- The court clarified that MEd courses are 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.
- These regulations do not include specific provisions for students to take maternity leave.
Maternity Leave for MEd Students:
- The National Council for Teacher Education Act, 1993, was established to coordinate the development of the teacher education system in India.
- The Act, along with the 2014 regulations, governs teacher education and the role of the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE).
- However, neither the Act nor the regulations provide specific provisions for students enrolled in MEd courses to take maternity leave.
Source: Indian Express