Lack of committees against sexual harassment is disquieting, says SC

The Supreme Court on Friday, in a judgment, said there are “serious lapses” and “uncertainty” in the implementation of the Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment (PoSH) Act, leaving many working women no choice but to leave their jobs.

A Bench of Justices A.S. Bopanna and Hima Kohli, in a 62-page judgment, said the “sorry state of affairs” concerning the anti-sexual harassment at workplace law even after a decade of its introduction was “disquieting”, and it was time for the Centre and States to take affirmative action.

“Being a victim of such a deplorable act not only dents the self-esteem of a woman, it also takes a toll on her emotional, mental and physical health. It is often seen that when women face sexual harassment at the workplace, they are reluctant to report such misconduct. Many of them even drop out from their job,” Justice Kohli, who authored the judgment, observed.

Working women were reluctant to report instances of sexual harassment either due to uncertainty about whom to approach or because of their lack of confidence in the process itself and its outcome, Justice Kohli noted.

“However salutary this enactment may be, it will never succeed in providing dignity and respect that women deserve at the workplace unless and until there is strict adherence to the enforcement regime and a proactive approach by all the State and non-State actors. If the working environment continues to remain hostile, insensitive and unresponsive to the needs of women employees, then the Act will remain an empty formality,” Justice Kohli stressed.

The top court referred to a newspaper survey which revealed that out of 30 national sports federations in the country, only 16 had constituted Internal Complaints Committees mandated under the 2013 Act.

‘Sorry state of affairs’

“This is indeed a sorry state of affairs and reflects poorly on all the State functionaries, public authorities, private undertakings, organisations and institutions that are duty bound to implement the PoSH Act in letter and spirit,” Justice Kohli noted.

The court directed the Union, States and Union Territories to undertake a time bound exercise to verify whether Ministries, Departments, government organisations, authorities, public sector undertakings, institutions, bodies, etc. had constituted
Internal Complaints Committees (ICCs), Local Committees(LCs) and Internal Committees(ICs) under the Act. These bodies have been ordered to publish the details of their respective committees in their websites. They were given eight weeks to comply and file affidavits in the topcourt.

The judgment came in an appeal filed against a March 15, 2012 judgment of the Bombay High Court dismissing a Goa University employee’s writ petition against a disciplinary authorities’ decision to dismiss him from services on the basis of complaints of sexual harassment. The case has been remanded back to the complaints committee.