Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Pregnancy not a permanent bar on employment in the Indian Army Medical Corps: High Court

In a decision which shall go a long way in assuaging procedural irritants related to women in uniformed services, the Punjab & Haryana High Court, in a landmark judgement, has ruled that a woman candidate could not be permanently debarred from joining as a doctor in the Army Medical Corps (AMC) on the pretext that she had conceived during the selection process and that such an action has no place in modern India.

The petitioner, who applied in early 2013 for a short service commission in the AMC was asked to join service in February 2014 after clearing all examinations and medical tests. Unlike other branches, married women till the age of 45 are eligible to join AMC and there is no training in a military academy and candidates join a hospital closest to residence and are made to complete a basic in-service course of 8 weeks within a flexible time period.

However, between the period of her application and joining, the petitioner conceived and disclosed this fact on the date of joining after which she was not allowed to assume duties. She was informed that she could not join since her pregnancy amounted to ‘deterioration in health’. Her candidature was cancelled and she was advised to undergo the entire selection process again in case she wanted to join AMC.

Aggrieved, the petitioner had moved the High Court in 2014 averring that pregnancy was not ‘deterioration in health’ but a mere incidence of marriage and womanhood. The Petitioner pointed out that there would have been no problem had she not disclosed her pregnancy or had conceived the day after joining or had given birth before the joining date and that in paramilitary forces uniformed doctors were simply asked to join after childbirth in case any problem was envisaged due to pregnancy.

Passing a 36-page landmark order on the petition discussing constitutional provisions, conventions and judicial precedents around the globe, the Punjab & Haryana High Court has held that forcing a choice between bearing a child and employment interferes both with a woman’s reproductive rights and her right to employment and such an action could have no place in modern India. The High Court has also held that in such cases, keeping the nature of employment in consideration, the Government could grant maternity leave or keep a vacancy reserved which could be offered to a candidate after childbirth.

The High Court has directed the Government to issue her the letter of appointment within a month.

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