Evolution of Maternity Benefit laws in India

 Evolution of Maternity Benefit laws in India

Author:  Shipra Dwivedi,
BBALLB 3rd Year,
Banasthali Vidyapith.

Maternity Benefit laws in India
Maternity Benefit laws in India

The author, Shipra Dwivedi, through this research paper shall examine the evolution of research paper maternity laws in India and compare them with the laws of Denmark and Norway. The research paper aims to bring into light the needs that led to the enactment of maternity laws in the above mentioned countries and the developments thereunder till they become what they are at present. It shall also compare and analyse the similarities and differences among the maternity laws in these three countries. The research paper shall also attempt to highlight the needs and measures that will increase the efficiency of the application of these laws in India.
India is a nation where it has always been a belief that a woman is the gem of the family and the crown of a society. She is the home – maker, family – maker and the spine of a family hierarchy. Women are given a highly dignified and respectful place in the society which implies that they are treated with much respect both within the family as well as society. However, this situation drastically changed during the 16th and 17th century when women had begun to be considered as nothing more than an object of desire or a servant or slave. She was looked as some peasant meant to take care of family and fulfil all their wishes and still manage to keep her dignity intact in the society while men were entitled to control over both house and their wives’ lives. Instead of being regarded respectfully, they were treated as full – time slaves. Education and employment for women were a distant and forbidden dream. Those were the times when women were at the mercy of their husband and patriarchal guardians.

But as they say, time changes everything and so it did for women as well. During the 19th century, when mass revolution started against the British forces in India, did the leaders spread awareness about women empowerment and the vital role education and employment would play in such empowerment. Women educated and learnt to put forth their opinions and raise their voices against the injustices of the society. But their employment was still a major concern. Most of the jobs at that time required technical expertise, for which women were considered less appropriate. Some of them were hazardous and highly discouraged involvement of women. Some jobs were considered as demeaning to the Indian culture and values as they required frequent travels and meeting men, even if it was meant for professional ends only. Nobilities didn’t much allow involvement of women as that would be in disregard with their age old reputation. Women in India in the guise of culture and values were kept away from the development of society and their own. Their education till very long period of time had no purpose other than finding a worthy good man. Employment of women in those days was considered as a symbol of uncivilised and severity of survival crisis of a family. But even so, no woman could work in proper conditions at her work place, given the fact that there weren’t any. They were, like other workers, treated abhorrently and worked under adverse conditions such as, hostile factory assistance, adverse climatic conditions, antagonistic working hours, negligible health concerns for women, trivial sanitation facilities, etc. Their jobs were not a means to develop themselves but to sustain their survival.

For a great length of time, women struggled for their true rights and what they truly deserved. They had come a long way ahead of misery and passive existence. However, their distinction became their major drawback to their careers and employment. Marriage and pregnancy became a major solicitude as they to choose between marriage and their careers. Due to high social pressure they often had to choose marriage over their careers and end their efforts to achievements. For there were almost non – existent families who supported women for continuing their jobs even after marriage. For those who did continue their careers even after marriage had no scope of development as they had to resign as soon as their first pregnancy set in.

Nevertheless, clocks rolled bringing a significant change in the industrial sector as women paved their way into the industrial workforce and established themselves as an irreplaceable part of the industries. Laws, regulations and schemes framed by the Central and State Governments helped women sustain their employment along with managing their family. With the enactment of Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, many laws have been amended in the industrial legislations providing facilities and safeguards to women during their pregnancy, delivery of child, lactation and in case their child dies during pregnancy or during lactation. Maternity Benefit Act was created as an umbrella legislation to safeguard women’s rights against arbitrary rules of industries as a means of lay – offs.

Legislations providing rules and guidelines in accordance with the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 are:
  1. Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 [Sec. 10 (1) (d), 2(j) and Sch. III Item 4]
  2. Employees State Insurance Act, 1948 (Sec. 73 and 97)
  3. Plantations Labour Act, 1951 (Sec. 32)
  4. Uttar Pradesh Dookan Aur Vanijya Adhishthan Adhiniyam, 1962 (Sec. 40)
  5. Beedi and Cigar Workers (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1966 [Sec. 37(3)]
  6. Maharashtra Domestic Workers’ Welfare Board Act, 2008 (Sec. 10)
  7. Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 (Sec. 3)
  8. National Food Security Act, 2013 (Sec. 4)[1]

All these laws have been amended to ensure no woman suffers due to marriage and pregnancy; that she bestows her motherhood as she manages her professional life.

In Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India[2]Bhagwati, J. observed the scope of the word ‘personal liberty’ as:
“the expression ‘personal liberty’ in Article 21 is of widest amplitude and it covers a variety of rights which go to constitute the personal liberty of man and some of them have raised to the status of distinct fundamental rights.”

This celebrated case brought a lot of changes in the administration of exercising fundamental rights under Part III of the Indian Constitution[3]. Since then, many cases and issues were raised on the equality of men and women, their pay scales, the benefits availed by both men and women and some of the safeguards required for women in order to work in a secured and hustle free environment.

A year later, in C.B. Muthamma vs. Union of India[4], the Supreme Court ruled down the provision in the Government Services requiring women to take written permission in order to get married and denying themselves promotion and further incentives after marriage. It observed that unless otherwise required, the rule of equality must govern. As a result, women were begun to be given equal opportunities to prove their calibre and strive and compete with men to achieve the heights of success. It also established certain ground rules for companies in the private sector, which eventually emerged as a result of LPG Policy in 1991.

However, there still remained certain sectors who did not recognise these rules and continued tormenting women in the name of progress and promotion and forcing them to give up marriage and pregnancy, therefore denying them their sense of self – recognition. One such sector was airlines. The air hostesses had to take early retirement due to their marriage within four years of their service or as their first pregnancy set in. But, this situation changed with the landmark judgement delivered by the Supreme Court in Air India vs. Nargesh Meerza[5] wherein it was held that rules and regulations coercing women employees to retire on the grounds of her attaining 35 years of age or marrying or getting pregnant are inconsistent with Articles 14, 15 and 16 of the Indian Constitution. Such regulations were hence abolished marking a new beginning for women employees in airlines sector.

Also, in Mangalore Ganesh Beedi Workers vs. Union of India[6], the Supreme Court held that women working from home or home – workers could not be excluded on availing benefits of Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 as they require restrain from work before and after some period of delivery.

Since the judicial activism in empowering women, especially working women, has played a vital role, the legislation has too stepped up and revised the laws governing women working in both public and private sector, giving them comfort amidst the high pressure and even higher demanding jobs. The Government of India has launched various schemes for women to help them efficiently manage their home as well as work, such as:
  1. Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana Scheme
Enables the beneficiaries to receive the scheme benefitted through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) in furtherance of the objectives of encouraging improved health seeking behaviour among pregnant and lactating mothers.
  1. Working Women Hostel
To promote availability of safe and conveniently located accomodations for working women with day care facilities for their children.
  1. Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme
To provide nursery where babies and young children are cared for during working days.
  1. Nand Ghar Yojana
To provide supplementary nutrition to children in the age group of 0 – 6 y
ears and to pregnant or lactating mothers with the main objective to fight the problem of malnutrition.
  1. Maternity Benefit Programme
To promote appropriate practice, care and institutional service utilization during pregnancy, delivery and lactation.[7]

Such programmes have helped women to work even if they are away from their homes or hometowns. However, there still remains an acute problem of providing benefits to working women as they do not get to avail these benefits because of socio – economic conditions and even when they do get to avail such offers, they do not enough benefits from the organisation they are working in. the minimum time period of maternity leave after the 2017 Amendment[8], certain provisions regarding the number of days of leave before and after the delivery and accounting for payment of wages or salaries to working women on maternity leave were amended and therefore, it increased the scope of opportunities along with security for women in their professional spheres.


Even after proving great benefits and facilities to working women, India is still not able to rank the best countries to provide parental or maternity benefits in the world. Norway and Denmark are among the world’s finest countries to provide best parental securities and benefits to their citizens. Their schemes and laws are so efficient and also they are well – acknowledged across the nations so that people know how to avail these benefits. They pose a great deal of facilities to pregnant and lactating women.

Denmark provides 18 weeks of full maternity leave; 4 weeks before the birth and 14 weeks after the birth at full pay. During the 14 weeks leave, the father, too can take 2 consecutive weeks leave. Also the parents can split their 32 weeks leave as they think fit and can also take extra leave if either the parent or child falls sick. The government has the policy of paying 52 weeks’ salary to the parents.

Norway’s system is quiet flexible and generous, as the surveys say. They provide 35 weeks of leave at full pay or 45 weeks leave at 80% pay. The fathers can avail the parental leave from 0 – 10 weeks depending upon their wives’ income. Together, the husband and wife can take up to 46 weeks leave at full pay or 56 weeks leave at 80% pay.[9]

India provides highly integrated and exclusive maternity benefits to working women to help them progress and excel in their careers. Various laws and schemes provided by the Central and State Governments have improved the professional atmosphere and helped in a healthy competition among the workmen of the industries and other institutions. However, it still fails to rank among the best countries to provide paternal benefits. It is because maternity benefits for women are only restricted to women and ignore such benefits to fathers. They too are entitled to be the beneficiaries of these schemes because they need to look after their wives during their pregnancy and lactation period and pose a great responsibility to raise their child. Also the period of leave granted by the Governments is not enough to give a proper relaxation to women because often women are not able to recover fully in case they undergo surgery which leads to long – term health issues. In case a woman takes extra leaves they are considered as separate leaves and apart from maternity leaves which leads to reduced salaries and wages. Many women working in unorganised sector are unaware of their rights regarding maternity benefits making it easy for the employers to discard as soon as they set into pregnancy. It reduces salary expenses of the employer implying less liability.

As compared to the parental benefits availed by citizens in Norway and Denmark, citizens in India are given less and minimum conveniences in respect to parental benefits. Despite the cultural and geographical diversity, the G
overnment is not able to cope up with the economic crisis to provide basic amenities to working citizens of its nation. The laws and policies of Denmark and Norway are the golden standards for parental care services and India should appropriately adopt the policies of these nations as their policies reflect and equal apt working population with a hard – working and devoted employees and a better employer – employee relationship. Maternity is a part of a woman’s self – being and giving her benefits to preserve and cherish this gift in exchange for her services to the organisation and the nation is the necessary step towards a steady and equitable development of the country. India needs to improve and mobilize its resources in such a manner that it is used in its best possible manner to improve living and working conditions of the society.
  1. www.scconline.com
  2. Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India {AIR 1978 SC 597}
  3. C.B. Muthamma vs. Union of India {AIR 1979 SC 1868}
  4. Air India vs. Nargesh Meerza {AIR 1981 SC 1829}
  5. Mangalore Ganesh Beedi Workers vs. Union of India {1974 (4) SCC 43}
  6. https://wcd.nic.in Ministry of Women And Child Development
  7. The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017
  8. www.//amp.businessinsider.com/countries-with-best-parental-leave-2016-8

[1] www.scconline.com 
[2] AIR 1978 SC 597
[3] The Constitution of India, Part III: Fundamental Rights
[4] AIR 1979 SC 1868
[5] AIR 1981 SC 1829
[6] 1974 (4) SCC 43
[7] https://wcd.nic.in Ministry of Women And Child Development (last accessed on 12/October/2019)
[8] The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017
[9] www.//amp.businessinsider.com/countries-with-best-parental-leave-2016-8(last accessed on 12/October/2019 )

Leave a Comment