Court- Industrial Tribunal-01, Rouse Avenue Court, New Delhi
Case Number- RCA DJ NO. 01/22
Date of Judgement: 10th April 2023
X (Appellant) was a Ph.D. student at Centre for Biomedical Engineering (CBME), Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi (IIT Delhi- Respondent). On 23rd June 2021, she had filed a sexual harassment complaint before the Internal Committee (IC) under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH Act) against her Ph.D. supervisor (charged official). Upon inquiry, the IC found the charged official guilty and recommended the following-
- IC recommended that disciplinary authority takes various steps at the very least which include “a stern warning to respondent of serious misconduct as per IIT Delhi norms.”
- Respondent may not be considered for promotion to full professorship for the next five years and respondent should be asked to give a written apology to the complainant and a bond of good conduct to the disciplinary authority.
- In case of any future complaint against the respondent, the report of the current case will be included and treated as part of the records of the new case.
Aggrieved by IC’s recommendation, stating it to be too less to be considered as a “punishment” and the delay by the Respondent in implementing the said recommendation, the Appellant filed an appeal with the Industrial Tribunal u/s 18(1) of the POSH Act. In the said appeal, the Appellant prayed that:
- Respondent be directed to strictly implement IC’s recommendations.
- IC be directed to enhance the punishment against the charged official.
- Imposition of heavy cost/punishment upon the Respondent for not implementing the recommendations of IC within 60 days as stipulated u/s 13(4) of the POSH Act.
- Can this appeal be admitted even though the charged official has not been made a party?
- Is the appeal before the Industrial Tribunal maintainable considering that the Respondent is governed by the IIT Delhi Rules and Procedures for the Prevention, Prohibition and Punishment of Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace, 2014 which further relies on the Central Civil Services (Classification, Control and Appeal) Rules, 1965 [CCS (CCA) Rules] for appeal-related provisions.
- Whether the punishment needs to be enhanced?
On Issue 1-
The Tribunal allowed the appeal although the charged official was not made a party stating that the appeal will be decided on merits and cannot be dismissed on this technical point.
On Issue 2-
On perusing the IIT Rules and the CCS (CCA) Rules, the Tribunal held that the present appeal is not maintainable, and it should have been filed before the concerned Appellate Authority. However, it further stated that it will decide the appeal on merits as the Appellant “should not be thrown away now on this technical issue because this is choice of her advocate and she should not suffer for same, if she through her advocate has chosen the provision as per POSH Act supra.”
On Issue 3-
After perusing the inquiry report prepared by the IC and other relevant documents, the Industrial Tribunal held that the IC had rightly concluded the inquiry with the recommended quantum of punishment being appropriate. It stated that the “Tribunal does not find any illegality and infirmity in the observations made by ICC and there is no error in recommending punishment to respondent through disciplinary authority.”
The Tribunal further went on to mention that the recommendations will have severe effect on the charged official’s career, however, it refrained from commenting on IC’s findings of holding the charged official guilty as an appeal challenging this was already filed by him and is pending.
Other Important Observations by the Tribunal-
Apart from adjudicating on the issues raised in the appeal, the Tribunal further went on to comment on the issue of sexual harassment at workplace stating it to be a universal problem. It added “Sexual harassment is the expression of unhealthy human relationship. It is not just the violation of dignity, right to social security and right to equality guaranteed to human beings in every social system but it is also a violation of right to life and peaceful existence guaranteed by law.”
The Tribunal also stated that “With the new law in India relating to safety of women in workplace with all stringent provisions for awareness and preventive measures, every woman at the place of work and study, who fall within the jurisdiction of educational institution, including its academic, non-academic staff and students should be protected from sexual harassment, intimidation and exploitation while they are associated with the campus.”
Hence, to avoid such incidents in future, the Tribunal issued guidelines to be implemented in the IIT Delhi campus, keeping in view the objects and reasons of the POSH Act.
Some of the POSH guidelines are-
- Greater awareness should be created on what constitutes bullying, harassment and unwanted sexual attention and behaviour to build a safe environment. Administrators and the management must clearly communicate the policies and the available redressal mechanisms to all the students.
- The concept of ‘active consent’ in intimate relationships should be explained to the students keeping in mind the seriousness of this subject.
- Management must ensure that the mechanism for registering complaints is safe, accessible and sensitive.
- There must be provision to seek medical, police and legal intervention with the consent of the complainant and further to make arrangements for appropriate psychological, emotional and physical support (in the form of counselling, security and other assistance) to the victim, if so desires.
- In order to instil some fear, there should be proper lighting and working CCTV cameras at different places. Regular inspection should be conducted to ensure that the CCTVs are operational.
- As far as possible, the cabin or the rooms of the Professors etc. should be visible from outside so that there is no occasion of any harassment to any single girl discussing her thesis with the Professor and feeling uncomfortable. Siren/panic buttons and CCTVs should be installed there.
- As far as possible, proper lights should be installed at all the blind spots.
- The respondent must inform their students and staff about the sexual harassment guidelines, prominently display the guidelines in the college and hold workshops and seminars for both students and staff and publicly declare a zero-tolerance stance towards sexual harassment.
The Respondent was directed to the send compliance to the Tribunal within one month.
– Bhumika Jain(She/Her) – Associate, External Member