When disposing all three criminal original petitions i.e., X v. State and Ors., Y v. The State and Ors. and Z v. The State of Tamil Nadu and Ors.( Crl. O.P. Nos. 13082, 12317, 13366 of 2022, Crl. M.P. Nos. 7912, 6885 and 7014 of 2022), the High Court of Madras on 17.08.2022 observed that “there must be an indecent conduct or act by a man which cause or is likely to cause intimidation, fear, shame, or embarrassment including abusing or causing hurt or nuisance or assault or use of force. Mere ventilation of grievance by some other method by bringing in outside influence and giving a complaint to higher officials, it cannot be said that there was indecent conduct or act by the accused so as to bring such act within the ambit of Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 1998)”
Two separate criminal original petitions were filed by X and Y to quash FIR in Crime No. 164 of 2022 for offence punishable under Section 3 (1) (r) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
A third criminal original petition was filed by the defacto complainant (Z) in Crime No. 165 of 2022 to quash FIR in Crime No. 165 of 2022 for offence punishable under Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Woman Act, 1998.
Since the case and counter case are registered against both sides, this Court was inclined to dispose of all three criminal original petitions together by a common order.
The two relevant sections here are Sections 2(a) and 4 of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act, as follows:
Section 2 (a): harassment: means any indecent conduct or act by a man which causes or is likely to cause intimidation, fear, shame or embarrassment, including abusing or causing hurt or nuisance or assault or use of force.
Section 4: Penalty for harassment of woman: Whoever commits or participates in or abets harassment of woman in or within the precincts of any educational institution, temple or other place of worship, bus stop, road, railway station, cinema theatre, park, beach, place of festival, public service vehicle or vessel or any other place shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine which shall not be less than ten thousand rupees.
Facts leading to the filing of FIR in Crime No. 164 of 2022
- Z was working as Senior Assistant Director (Administration) at National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT), Chennai and X was working as the Director of NIFT, and Y was the former Director of NIFT.
- Z was allotted a separate cabin when he was working as the Assistant Director of NIFT but later was relieved from work and was allotted separate room in the hostel by X due to caste discrimination as he belonged to the Scheduled Castes. After complaining to the Head Office, he was recommended to permit him to work in his original place.
- After being promoted to the post of Senior Assistant Director, X did not allow him to work in a regular cabin. On the contrary, he was directed to work in Civil and Electrical Unit. According to him, this was done by X due to caste discrimination. X also filed a complaint of sexual harassment against Z. The Internal Committee in its report stated that the allegation of sexual harassment is false.
- X also made adverse entries in the Performance Appraisal Report and asked Z to take his car from the car park. He was not given proper seat in the office, and he also gave complaint against X for irregularities.
Facts leading to the filing of FIR in Crime No. 165 of 2022
- X in this FIR alleged that the accused Z was constantly harassing her in various forms and not allowing her to perform her duties.
- The accused published false news in the newspaper and media to defame and humiliate her. His false complaints are based on internal transfer and postings which is the normal official procedures as per Vigilance Rules of Government of India.
- She was under media trial and is being harassed for more than 5 years.
Arguments by X
- X contended that the allegation of caste discrimination is nothing but false imagination. Z was aggrieved over the regular transfer of office and in order to take revenge, filed a false complaint.
- The allegation of caste discrimination was found to be false in the internal enquiry and the report given by the Internal Complaints Committee, NIFT Head Office clearly indicates that the allegation is baseless and devoid of any truth.
- Various official orders of transfer of staff are based on the CVC guidelines with the approval of the Head Office.
- It was contended by X that the defacto complainant brought an external force like Member of Parliament and gave false news in the newspapers and consistently harassed X. Therefore, the FIR is an abuse of process of law.
Arguments by Z
He contended that prima facie, the offence of caste discrimination has been made out in the FIR. Even assuming that it has not been made out, offence under Section 3 (1) (y) would clearly be made out and it can be seen only during the course of the investigation. Therefore, at this stage, quashing of FIR does not arise at all.
With regards to the other FIR in Crime No. 164 of 2022:
It was held by the Court after perusal of the records produced before it with regard to relieving Z from his post and allotment of a separate room, that it was made only as per the CVC Guidelines and with approval of the Head Office. Therefore, any subordinate officer who is not happy with his transfer cannot contend that it has been made only based on caste discrimination, if such trend is encouraged, there will be no discipline in the administration.
The court, after thorough perusal of the FIR, held that the offence punishable under Section 3 (1) (r) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 would not get attracted.
With regards to the other FIR in Crime No. 165 of 2022:
It was held by the Court that though the act of the accused was contrary to the Rules, insubordination, the action will be by way of disciplinary proceedings by following appropriate Rules and not by way of lodging a complaint of sexual harassment.
On a careful perusal of the definition of harassment under the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 1998, there must be indecent conduct or act by a man which cause or is likely to cause intimidation, fear, shame, or embarrassment including abusing or causing hurt or nuisance or assault or use of force. Mere ventilation of grievance by some other method by bringing in outside influence and giving a complaint to higher officials cannot be said to be an indecent conduct or act by the accused so as to bring such act under the ambit of Section 4 of the Act. Further, the Internal Committee had also found that sexual harassment is not established and found to be false.
Therefore, the Court concluded that both FIRs are cases of abuse of process of law and that both the complaints have been filed due to misunderstanding and ego between two officers who are working in the same institution.
Hence, both the FIRs are quashed, and all three criminal original petitions are allowed.