On Oct 19 in New Delhi all the states and union territories were got directed by The Supreme Court to amend their civil services rules to incorporate provision for the effective enforcement of Vishaka guidelines for the prevention and redressal of sexual harassment of women at workplaces.
These guidelines were laid down by the apex court on Aug 17, 1997, for the prevention and redressal of sexual harassment and the court had directed their due compliance under Article 141 of the Constitution until such time appropriate legislation was enacted by parliament.
The court noted that though 15 years have passed since apex court laid down the Vishaka guidelines, yet “many women still struggle to have their most basic rights protected at workplaces”.
Court said that, “The belief of the Constitution framers in fairness and justice for women is yet to be fully achieved at the workplaces in the country,”
Noting that the statutory law for protecting women from sexual harassment at work places was not in place, the court said that the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill, 2010 was still pending in parliament though Lok Sabha passed it in September this year.
A bench of Justice R.M.Lodha, Justice Anil R. Dave and Justice Ranjan Gogoi said,
“We are of the considered view that guidelines in Vishaka should not remain symbolic and the following further directions are necessary until legislative enactment on the subject is in place,”
Pronouncing the judgment, Justice Lodha gave two months time to the state governments to incorporate a provision stating that the “report of the Complaints Committee shall be deemed to be an inquiry report in a disciplinary action under such Civil Services Conduct Rules”.
In other words, the judgment said that “the disciplinary authority shall treat the report/findings etc of the Complaints Committee as the findings in a disciplinary inquiry against the delinquent employee and shall act on such report accordingly”.
“The findings and the report of the Complaints Committee shall not be treated as a mere preliminary investigation or inquiry leading to a disciplinary action but shall be treated as a finding/report in an inquiry into the misconduct of the delinquent,” the court said.
The states and union territories, the judgment said would form adequate number of Complaints Committees so as to ensure that they function at sub-district, district and state level.
Court said, “Those states and/or union territories which have formed only one committee for the entire state shall now form adequate number of Complaints committees within two months from today.”
“Each of such Complaints Committees shall be headed by a woman and as far as possible in such Committees. an independent member shall be associated,”
All forms of organization be it under the government or in private sector shall put in place sufficient mechanism to ensure full implementation of the Vishaka guidelines, the judgment said adding that the victim of the sexual harassment at work places would not be forced under the harasser and “where appropriate and possible the alleged harasser should be transferred”.
The court said that the Bar Council of India would ensure that all bar associations in the country and persons registered with the State Bar Councils follow the Vishaka guidelines.
Similarly, the court said that the Medical Council of India, Council of Architecture, Institute of Chartered Accountants, Institute of Company Secretaries and other statutory Institutes shall ensure that the organisations, bodies, associations, institutions and persons registered or affiliated with them follow the guidelines laid down by Vishaka guidelines and the guidelines in the present order.
The judgment said, “We are of the view that if there is any non-compliance or non-adherence to the Vishaka guidelines, orders of this Court following Vishaka and the above directions, it will be open to the aggrieved persons to approach the respective high courts”