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HC asks BARC to promptly look into sexual harassment complaint


Press Trust of India Mumbai
The Bombay High Court has asked the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) to expeditiously look into complaint of sexual harassment made by a woman employee and place it before its internal complaints committee.
In an order passed on Wednesday, a bench of Justices Akil Kureshi and S J Kathawalla directed BARC to communicate its decision over the petitioner's complaint to her within the next three months.
It also directed BARC to look into any other pending complaints of sexual harassment in the government organisation, which comes under the Department of Atomic Energy, and place the same before the committee.
The directions came while the bench was hearing a plea filed by the petitioner, who works with BARC here, challenging an October 2012 decision passed by the "Women's Cell" at the research facility that had dismissed her complaint of sexual harassment.
The petitioner had made the said complaint before her employers in May 2012. She had made complaints against several of her colleagues and requested the Women's Cell to take appropriate action.
However, as per the HC order, the cell ruled that her complaint "did not fall within the purview of sexual harassment."

She then approached the HC challenging the cell's ruling and also alleging that BARC did not have a proper sexual harassment committee constituted in accordance with the Vishaka guidelines.
As per the Supreme Court's ruling in the Vishaka case, and the 2013 Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, all workplaces must have an internal complaints committee.
Such a committee must be headed by a woman employee, a majority of its members must be women, and there must also be an independent member belonging to a third party such as an NGO or any other expert body capable of dealing with sexual harassment complaints.
As per the petitioner, though the Women's Cell at BARC was headed by a woman employee and majority of its members were females, it did not have any independent member.
Therefore, she alleged, the cell was not in accordance with the Vishaka guidelines and the Act, and was thus, unfit to deal with her complaint.
The counsel for BARC, however, maintained before the HC that its cell was proper and that the petitioner's complaint did not "prima facie disclose any element of sexual harassment."

The bench, however, ruled that the foremost issue was that BARC should have a legally valid internal complaints committee.
It said since the complaint had been made in 2012, a year before the Act came into force, it was assuming that with the legislation in place, BARC would have constituted a proper internal complaints committee by now.
"In the present case, we find that the petitioner has correctly pointed out that the Women's Cell constituted did not conform to the directions of the Supreme Court in the case of Vishaka & others," the HC said.
"Now even Parliament has stepped in and a law has been (on such committee). We believe respondent no.2 (BARC), as a government organisation, must have by now constituted such a committee," the bench said.
Therefore, the petitioner's complaint must be considered afresh by such committee before the court could get into examining whether or not the complaint established a case of sexual harassment at workplace, the judges said.
"This is so for the simple reason that such complaint must first be examined by a properly constituted committee by the employer for such purpose.
"Only once this task is completed, the role of the court in scrutinising such decision would commence," the HC observed.
"Any pending complaint on record shall also be simultaneously dealt with by the said committee along with the complaint at Annexure A (petitioner's complaint).
"The decision will be communicated to the petitioner expeditiously and preferably within three months," it said.

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First Published: Aug 30 2019 | 3:10 PM IST

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