The principal bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) in New Delhi has dismissed the contention of a serving Colonel that he cannot be made to face an inquiry for sexual harassment under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
Disposing of a petition by Colonel Youdhvir Singh, serving in National Cadet Corps (NCC), the AFT bench last week said that it was incorrect to claim that a serving Army officer cannot be made to face a committee constituted under the Act. The AFT observed that the Act was a comprehensive legislation to provide for a safe environment, free from all forms of sexual harassment, to every woman irrespective of her age or employment status, by fixing the responsibility on the employers and public authorities.
“We find no merit in the case projected by the applicant that he being an Army officer, inquiry into any complaint of sexual harassment against him can be conducted only by a Court of Inquiry covered by the Army Rules and not by any committee constituted under the Act,” the bench said. It also observed that the Colonel had been asked to appear before a statutory committee constituted under the Act after a woman complained of misbehaviour.
“Whatever be his defence or challenge to the constitution of that committee, he can present them before that committee or any other authority as provided by law, but he cannot rush to this tribunal invoking its jurisdiction when an order is issued directing him to appear in any part of the inquiry,” the tribunal said.
The AFT also dismissed the petition, saying that it did not have jurisdiction to hear petitions of this kind. The case against the Colonel pertains to allegations made by a woman canteen attendant at the Delhi-based NCC headquarters, accusing him of inappropriate behaviour. Following the allegations, the NCC headquarters constituted a probe committee under the Act.
However, the Colonel represented against the committee, alleging that he had been framed. The Colonel said in his petition that a “trap” had been laid for another officer serving in NCC headquarters and the allegations were made “mistakenly” against him. The Colonel has claimed that the “trap” had been laid against the other officer as he had highlighted alleged irregularities in the NCC headquarters.