The Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), based out of Punjab, has been in the news recently, though not for the best reasons. Earlier this week, they created ripples across social media with president Avtar Singh Makkar claiming that the Kohinoor diamond be returned to India from the UK, and that it belonged to the Sikh community. Newsminute reported his claim, where he said that the diamond was not gifted but forcibly ‘snatched’ from Maharaja Daleep Singh by Lord Dalhousie.
Soon after this, comes a corruption allegation. Dr.Prahlad Duggal, a local activist for tobacco victims has claimed that the SGPC has illegally pocketed a whopping 100 crores in the last decade or so by denying maternity benefits to its women employees across 82 educational institutions in Punjab, as per TOI. And how did they do this you might ask? Well, the mandate for entitlement of maternity benefits as per the Maternity Benefits Act is 160 days of employment. In other words a woman needs to be employed at an organisation for a minimum of 160 days for her to be entitled to maternity benefits. But the SGPC altered this, mandating a minimum employment period of two years.
Duggal’s wife(name undisclosed), who worked with the SGPC, faced a similar situation where her due leave benefits were not being granted to her. Consequently she had her own share of professional losses to bear. She was never compensated for the days of work she lost while dealing with the aftermath of the issue, and also had to do her senior residency year again while her colleagues made it to the position of assistant professors. Currently she works at a government hospital, a job she found on her own accord.
On questioning his grounds of making an allegation as big as 100 crore, Duggal explained to shethepeople:
If you check the website of SGPC, there are 81 educational institutions plus one university under it. My wife received a compensation of Rs 2,20,000 through the directives of the commission’s order. I used to work at one of the institution, so I can say that at least 10 women go on maternity leave each year. If you take an average compensation of Rs. 100,000, 82 institutions multiplied by 10 women each year gets multiplied with 13 years (since the resolution was passed), the figure easily grosses beyond my 100 crore claim. I personally know many female officers who have been chucked out for maternity issues.
There is also a rule that imposes on women to have a difference of three years between two pregnancies, if they wish to avail their benefits. Our appointment letter doesn’t have any clause on the same.
He filed a complaint with the Punjab State Women’s Commission (PSWC) that ordered the benefits be cleared, after which many more employees started approaching him for help. It is here that help came in the form of Paramjeet Kaur Landran, chairperson of the PSWC. She is also a member of the SGPC, so there was an official conflict of interest for her, though she followed what was constitutionally correct. “There are many more women in the SGPC, but no one ever raised their voice on the matter”, says Dr. Duggal.
Reacting to the allegations, SGPC spokesperson Diljit Singh Bedi had this to say to shethepeople:
We do not force any conditions which are not made known to the employees at the time of the service. If an employee does not feel satisfied with the conditions, he or she has the full liberty to leave the service.
Dr Duggal though is not backing down. He is putting together documents and press notes after which he plans to approach the National Commission for Women so that all employees affected by this oppressive bend of rules can be helped.
He has also written an open letter, which he shared with shethepeople:
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