Lok Sabha passed the Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Bill, 2016 on 9th march this year, one day after the world celebrated women’s day. This bill seeks to amend the earlier Maternal Benefits Bill of 1961 by increasing the leave given to working women, including adopting and commissioning mothers within the provisions of the bill and establishing crèche facilities within the premises of the company. These changes will have a major impact on health, well-being and growth of a future generation of the country.  This act, if properly implemented will become one of the significant reforms done by the Modi government after coming to power. Since this bill not only increases the leave period for the working mother but also includes certain other provisions to give more rights to working-women.

Provisions of this bill

The key provisions of this bill are as under: –

Maternity Benefit Leave: – This bill extends the Maternity Benefit Leave to more than double, by increasing it from 12 to 26 weeks. As per the UNICEF standards, every woman should be given at least 6 months leave from her workplace after the birth of a child, as a women’s body needs time to repair. Hence, this bill in a way will ratify to the requirements set by the organisation. However, leave period for a woman with two or more children already, is kept at 12 weeks.

Secondly, companies cannot compel a woman to work immediately after birth, as her mind will be stuck in thoughts of her child, and she will not be able to concentrate on her work. Increasing the leave period will give the woman more time to take care of her child at the same time repairing her body. Lastly, breastfeeding is extremely important for nutrition of a child. WHO has recommended that a newborn baby should be given at least 6 months of breastfeeding. This reform will thus address the problem of malnourishment and stunting growth of children in India.

Crèche facilities: – This bill requires crèche facilities to be established in an establishment where more than 50 persons are employed. The woman would be allowed at least four visits a day, and the crèche should be made at nearby prescribed distance.

Work from home: – This bill encourages the employer to permit the woman to work from home if the nature of the work assigned allows doing so. This will reduce hassle and tassel for the woman and she will be able to concentrate on her work.

Adopting and commission mothers: – This bill includes specific provisions for adopting and commissioning mothers. For an adopting or commissioning mother (commissioning mother is defined as a mother who uses her egg to create an embryo implanted in any other woman) the leave period is kept at 12 weeks from the date she is handed over the child. Thus by broadening the bracket, this bill has made avail the rights to more people.

Lastly, every establishment shall intimate in writing and electronically to every woman at the time of her initial appointment about the benefits available under the Act.

Private sector

Besides, the government sector private sector is also supposed to comply with the provisions of this act, which means that woman working in private sector will also be able to avail benefits of the act. The act provides for stringent penalties, which includes imprisonment up to 1 year in case non-compliance is observed.

Contentions are raised that this act will deter the private companies from employing a woman, however that argument does not hold true, as no private company would ignore half of the country’s talent pool simply by the reason that they have to give paid leave to them.

This bill has its own loopholes too, such as women working in organized sector are neglected, but still this bill is an important step to start the reform process. If this bill becomes an act, will provide an impetus to further reforms and will prove to be a crucial reform for working-women.

(This opinion was prepared and submitted to by Aarsh Chokshi, Student at Gujarat National Law University.) 

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