The Union Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and now Rajya Sabha, have approved the amendments to the existing maternity benefits laws that seek to double maternity leave for women from three months to six months for all companies that employ more than 10 people.
However, the six-month maternity leave benefit is only applicable for "two surviving children." For mothers with more than two children, the maternity benefits will only cover about 12 weeks.
To be sure, there are number of other proposed measures that are good news. The bill also introduces three-months of maternity leave for adopting and 'commissioning' mothers, meant for women who choose surrogate mothers for their children.
In addition, the new rules also seek to make it mandatory for mid-sized to large companies to support working mothers. Companies that employ more than 50 people will be mandated to provide creches for children, according to the new rules.
There aren't any proposed paternity benefits as part of the bill. The new bill was presented in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday and passed by a voice vote.
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, is aimed at protecting the employment of women during maternity, entitling them to a fully paid absence from work.
While many government employees already enjoy six-month maternity leave, most private sector companies in India offer maximum three months of such leave.
India has one of the worst records for women participation in the workforce. According to a recent study by Assocham-Thought Arbitrage Research, women participation in the workforce in India fell by 10 per cent in the past decade.
India also posted the lowest rate of female participation in the workforce among BRIC countries. India's performance in female workforce participation stood at 27 per cent, significantly behind China (64 per cent), Brazil (59 per cent), Russian Federation (57 per cent), and South Africa (45 per cent).
The report cited lack of access to higher education, fewer job opportunities, the lack of flexibility in working conditions, and domestic duties as factors behind the low rates.
With PTI inputs