The Indian parliament has passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 under which working women will be granted 26 weeks of paid leave. Earlier, women were provided 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. The move would benefit around 1.8 million women working in the organised sector.

The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha or lower house of parliament on Thursday (10 March) after the upper house had approved it in August 2016. The bill will also protect employment of women during maternity leave.

Under the bill, 12 weeks of maternity leave will be provided to "commissioning and adopting" mothers while introducing an option of working from home for nursing mothers. A commissioning mother or a biological mother is one who gets a baby through surrogacy.

The bill also states that those women who adopt a child can avail three months of paid leave if the child is below three months of age. In such cases, the 12-week period will be calculated from the date the child is handed over to the adoptive or commissioning mother.

According to reports, the law is applicable to all companies that have 10 or more employees. However, it will imply only for the first two children and those having their third child will be entitled to only 12 weeks paid leave.

India now joins 40 other countries where maternity leaves surpass 18 weeks. It follows Canada that offers 50 weeks of paid leave, while 44 weeks of maternity leave is given to women in Norway.

Soon after the bill was passed, Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya said that he would try and ensure that maximum benefits are provided to pregnant women in the country.

"This is my humble gift to women, a day after the world celebrated the International Women's Day," he said.

During a four-hour parliamentary debate, some members reportedly demanded paternity benefits for men.

However, Congress MP Sushmita Dev argued that the new law could prevent the private sector from recruiting women employees. "Since the employer has to pay the salary during the leave period, the amendment might turn out to be counterproductive. Innovative thing to do would be to bring in paternity benefit," Dev said.

She added that similar benefits should also be granted to single fathers who wish to adopt a child.