Supreme Court has expressed concern over the “serious lapses” in the implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, 2013, commonly known as the POSH Act.

The Court specifically noted a report in a national daily that revealed 16 out of the 30 national sports federations in the country which have not established an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) as required by the law. Even in cases where an ICC was found to be in place, they often lacked the mandated number of members or did not have an external member, which is also mandatory under the law.

The POSH Act was enacted in 2013 to prevent and address sexual harassment against women in the workplace. It requires employers, both in the public and private sectors, to establish an ICC to handle complaints related to sexual harassment. The committee should consist of specific members, including an external member who is knowledgeable about the issue.

The Supreme Court’s expression of disquiet highlights the inadequate implementation and non-compliance with the POSH Act in the national sports federations. This emphasizes the need for effective measures to ensure that organizations across various sectors adhere to the provisions of the law, thereby providing a safe and harassment-free working environment for women.

The bench, comprising Justices AS Bopanna and Hima Kohli, expressed their concern about the state of affairs regarding the implementation of the POSH Act and issued a set of directions to strengthen its implementation. They acknowledged that being a victim of sexual harassment not only affects a person’s self-esteem but also has negative impacts on their mental and physical health.

The bench identified two factors that might discourage victims from reporting instances of sexual harassment:

uncertainty about whom to approach for redressal under the Act and a lack of confidence in the process and its outcome.

The court emphasized the importance of creating awareness among victims of sexual harassment. It stressed the need to educate them about how to register a complaint, the procedural aspects involved in processing the complaint, the expected functioning of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), Local Committee (LC), or Inquiry Committee (IC) under the statute, the potential consequences for the accused if the complaint is substantiated, the implications of lodging a false or malicious complaint, and the available remedies for complainants who are dissatisfied with the ICC/LC/IC’s report.

By emphasizing these points, the court aims to empower victims with the necessary knowledge and understanding of the redressed process, as well as the potential outcomes and remedies available to them. This increased awareness may encourage more victims to come forward and report instances of sexual harassment, contributing to a more effective implementation of the POSH Act.

Direction Issued:

“To fulfil the promise that the PoSH Act holds out to working women all over the country”, the Court has issued the following directions:

  • The Union of India, all State Governments and Union Territories are directed to undertake a time bound exercise to verify as to whether all the concerned Ministries, Departments, Government organizations, authorities, Public Sector Undertakings, institutions, bodies, etc. have constituted Internal Complaints Committee/Local Committees/Internal Committees, as the case may be and that the composition of the said Committees are strictly in terms of the provisions of the PoSH Act.
  • To ensure that necessary information regarding the constitution and composition of the ICCs/LCs/ICs, details of the e-mail IDs and contact numbers of the designated person(s), the procedure prescribed for submitting an online complaint, as also the relevant rules, regulations and internal policies are made readily available on the website of the concerned Authority/Functionary/ Organisation/Institution/Body, as the case may be. The information furnished should be updated from time to time.
  • A similar exercise to be undertaken by all the Statutory bodies of professionals at the Apex level and the State level (including those regulating doctors, lawyers, architects, chartered accountants, cost accountants, engineers, bankers and other professionals), by Universities, colleges, Training Centres and educational institutions and by government and private hospitals/nursing homes.
  • The authorities/management/employers to regularly conduct orientation programmes, workshops, seminars and awareness programmes to upskill members of the ICCs/LCs/ICs and to educate women employees and women’s groups about the provisions of the Act, the Rules and relevant regulations.
  • The National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) and the State Legal Services Authorities(SLSAs) to develop modules to conduct workshops and organize awareness programmes to sensitize authorities/managements/employers, employees and adolescent groups with the provisions of the Act, which shall be included in their annual calendar.
  • The National Judicial Academy and the State Judicial Academies shall include in their annual calendars, orientation programmes, seminars and workshops for capacity building of members of the ICCs/LCs/ICs established in the High Courts and District Courts and for drafting Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to conduct an inquiry under the Act and Rules.
  • To transmit a copy of this judgment to the Secretaries of all the Ministries, Government of India who shall ensure implementation of the directions byall the concerned Departments, Statutory Authorities, Institutions, Organisations etc. under the control of the respective Ministries. A copy of thejudgment shall also be transmitted to the Chief Secretaries of all the States and Union Territories who shall ensure strict compliance of these directions by all the concerned Departments. Further, the Secretaries of the Ministries, Government of India and the Chief Secretaries of every State/Union Territory are responsible to ensure implementation of the directions issued.
  • The Registry of the Supreme Court of India shall transmit a copy of this judgment to the Director, National Judicial Academy, Member Secretary, NALSA, Chairperson, Bar Council of India and the Registrar Generals of all the High Courts. The Registry shall also transmit a copy of this judgment to the Medical Council of India, Council of Architecture, Institute of Chartered Accountants, Institute of Company Secretaries and the Engineering Council of India for implementing the directions issued.
  • Member-Secretary, NALSA is requested to transmit a copy of this judgment to the Member Secretaries of all the State Legal Services Authorities. Similarly, the Registrar Generals of the State High Courts shall transmit a copy of this judgment to the Directors of the State Judicial Academies and the Principal District Judges/District Judges of their respective States.
  • The Chairperson, Bar Council of India and the Apex Bodies mentioned in sub-para (ix) above, shall in turn, transmit a copy of this judgment to all the State Bar Councils and the State Level Councils, as the case may be.

Without strict enforcement, dignity of women can’t be ensured.

Author – Gunjan Arora, Senior Associate