The Rajya Sabha on Thursday passed the Maternity Benefit Act 2016 with an amendment, which increases maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, following the approval of the Cabinet.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given his ex-post facto approval for amendments to the Maternity Benefit Act 1961 by introducing the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill 2016 on Aug. 10. The Bill, which will now be tabled in the Lok Sabha, would benefit around 1.8 million women working in the organised sector. 

"The very purpose of this Bill is to increase the working women force because in the work force, participation of women is decreasing day by day," Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya said.

The Bill would result in the ratification of the International Labour Organisation convention number 183 that allows maternity leave of 14 weeks to women. Nursing mothers will be provided with the benefit of working from home at the end of their leave period. It would become compulsory for establishments with 50 or more employees to provide creche facility for children of their women employees, who would be given the right to visit the creche four times during duty hours. It would also include their period of rest.

India will become the third country with the highest number of weeks of paid maternity leave, after Canada (50 weeks) and Norway (44 weeks) if the new law is passed, Dattatreya said in Parliament.

Some members also directed attention to paternity leave so that parents can share the responsibility of bringing up the baby, the Hindustan Times reported.

Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had recommended increasing the maternity leave period from 12 weeks to eight months but employers thought it was too long.

She also said that the government is considering introducing direct benefit transfer for women.