The Kerala High Court (“Court”), on 17th March 2022, in the judgment of Centre for Constitutional Rights Research and Advocacy vs State of Kerala & Ors., 2022 upheld that political parties are under no compulsion to establish an Internal Complaints Committee (“ICC”) as mandated under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“POSH Act”) due to the absence of an employer-employee relationship among their members.
Centre for Constitutional Rights Research and Advocacy (“CCRRA”/”Petitioner”) filed a Public Interest Litigation (“PIL”) against INC, BJP and the CPI(M) (“Respondent”) seeking directions to establish an ICC within their political parties under the POSH Act.
The main contention was that all organisations employing more than 10 employees were required, as under the POSH Act, to set up an ICC. Howbeit, despite having a legislation in place, the implementation has neither happened in letter nor in spirit in these organisations and as such, the State Government must take action against them. It was further contented that the absence of an ICC or a grievance redressal mechanism was violative of Articles 14, 15, 10, and 21 of the Constitution of India.
Are political parties required to have ICCs?
The Court, first, made an endeavour to understand who an “employee” was. After analysing the provisions of the POSH Act, it understood that the basic requirement for someone to be regarded as an “employee” was for them to be employed at a workplace. Adding to the same, the Court observed, “This would be more clear, if we analyse the definition of employer contained under section 2(g)(ii).
Section 2(g)(i) in fact deals with the department, organisation, undertaking, establishment etc. of the appropriate Government or a local authority, head of that department, an organisation etc. So that clause 2(g) (i) would not come into play so far as the contentions advanced in the writ petitions are concerned against the respondents in the writ petition because there is no case for the petitioners that any of the organisations and the political parties would come under the term “appropriate Government” or “local body” so as to persuade such organisations to constitute an Internal Complaints Committee.”
In conclusion, it was held that since there existed no employer-employee relationship between the members of the political parties, they were not required to have an ICC.