Harassment at workplace: SC seeks reply from Centre, states

The Supreme Court today sought response from the Centre and state governments on a plea for the protection of women from sexual harassment at workplace, cases of which the petitioner claimed were on the rise.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra was hearing a PIL which has sought immediate and proper implementation of the provisions of the Sexual Harassment At Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition) Act and for setting up redressal mechanism.

The bench, which also comprised justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, was told by the petitioner that even the local district officers and complaints committees were not being appointed and the victims did not have a forum to file complaints even as such cases were on the rise.

"It will not be possible to effectively implement the provisions of the Act unless district officers are notified in all the districts of the states and UTs and Local Complaints Committees are constituted," the PIL, filed through advocate Esha Shekhar by Delhi-based NGO Initiatives for Inclusion Foundation (IIF), said.

The PIL sought a direction to the state governments to give full support to district officers, ensure collection of annual compliance reports from all organisations.

It alleged that various RTIs filed by the NGO shows that a very little progress has been made by the states to implement the Act.

"The data collected nationwide presents a picture of apathy and inaction in implementation of an Act which was originally brought in to eradicate sexual harassment from workplace and subsequently to create an enabling, safe and secure working environment for women.

"There is practically no avenue, both in organised and unorganised sector, for women who experience sexual harassment at workplace to lodge their complaints and seek redressal," it said.

The PIL claimed that the 2013 Act envisaged the setting up of district officers, nodal agencies as well as other redressal mechanisms at district level, in the form of local complaints committee in each state for redressal of sexual harassment complaints.

"However, it is seen that after four years of the Act coming into force throughout India, such mechanisms have not been created by many state governments/UTs," it alleged.

It added that the women working at the grass-root level are victims of sexual harassment and in the absence of any grievances redressal mechanism available to them for making complaints, they suffer.

"This is a very shocking state and unless appropriate directions are passed by the Supreme Court, the situation which women were facing in spite of the Vishaka Guidelines will continue," it said.

The present issue was earlier addressed by the Supreme Court in 1997 in its famous Vishaka judgement where the court had formulated guidelines to check the sexual harassment of working women in all workplaces in consonance with the international conventions and the fundamental rights.

It was directed that the guidelines, popularly known as Vishaka Guidelines, would be observed in all workplaces and they would be binding and enforceable under law until suitable legislation was enacted to occupy field.

Later, Parliament enacted the Act in December, 2013.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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