Denying appointment to a woman in the Army Medical Corps on account of her pregnancy violates Article 14 and 16 of the Constitution

Punjab and Haryana High Court: While judging the validity of the decision of the respondents in denying the petitioner an appointment as a doctor in the Army Medical Corps due to her pregnancy, the Bench of H.S. Sidhu, J., held that denying appointment to the petitioner merely on account of her pregnancy is arbitrary and illegal and it is violative of the Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution. The Court further held that the action of the respondents is also contrary to the relevant provisions of Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

The petitioner had applied in response to the advertisement issued to invite applications for grant of Short Service Commission in the Army Medical Corps. After going through the mandatory fitness tests hereupon the advanced stage of her pregnancy was discovered. The petitioner was later denied an appointment via letter dated 20.02.2014 on the ground that she was unfit to join the service. Navdeep Singh representing the petitioner sought for the quashment of the aforementioned impugned letter. However Saurabh Goel on behalf of the respondents argued that the petitioner being seven months pregnant was in no position to undertake the training activities or service in field area expected out of a newly commissioned Medical Officer.

Thus faced with the abovementioned issue, the Court sought to peruse the relevant Constitutional provisions and the concerned International Conventions on the point. Relying on the landmark decisions of the Supreme Court in C.B. Muthamma v. Union of India, (1979) 4 SCC 260 and Air India v. Nergesh Meerza, (1981) 4 SCC 335, where termination of services in case of marriage and pregnancy was held to be arbitrary and unconstitutional, the Court observed that the decision of the respondents goes against the principles upheld vigorously by the Indian Judiciary. The Court further stated that forcing a choice upon a woman between bearing a child and employment, is interfering with her reproductive right and her right to employment. [Neetu Bala v. Union of India, 2016 SCC OnLine P&H 602, decided on 01.02.2016]

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