In a fresh set of instructions, the Centre has stated that the Complaint Committee examining a sexual harassment complaint will have the power to recommend — as initial relief — a three-month paid leave for the aggrieved woman. It will also have the authority to recommend the transfer of the complainant or the accused to another workplace, the guidelines said.
“The leave will not be deducted from her leave account,” the guidelines said.
The guidelines, issued by the Department of Personnel & Training (DoPT), also said that a government servant accused of sexual harassment “may also be placed under suspension before or after issue of a chargesheet where his continuance in office will prejudice the investigation” or if there is an apprehension that he may tamper with witnesses or documents.
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“Suspension may also be resorted to where continuance of the government servant in office will be against wider public interest, like if there is a public scandal and it is necessary to place the government servant under suspension to demonstrate the policy of the government to deal strictly with officers involved in such scandals. It may be desirable to resort to suspension in case of misdemeanour involving acts of moral turpitude,” the latest guidelines said.
The guidelines also stated that the disciplinary authority is not expected to dispense with the inquiry “lightly, arbitrarily or with ulterior motive or merely because the case against the government servant is weak”.
The guidelines also said that the charged officer has to be given an opportunity to cross-examine all witnesses that appear on behalf of the prosecution. Failure to do so may result in vitiation of the inquiry.
“If the complainant appears as a witness, she would also be examined and cross-examined. The inquiry officer may, however, disallow questions which are offensive, indecent or annoying to the witnesses, including the complainant,” the guidelines stated.
The guidelines further stated that the disciplinary authority may also take action without the inquiry if it concludes that it is not reasonably practicable to hold one. Circumstances where the accused threatens or intimidates witnesses will be considered reasons enough to take action without an inquiry.
The Complaints Committees, set up in all ministries and organisations under them in accordance with the Supreme Court judgement in the Vishakha case, are to be headed by a woman and at least half of its members should be women.
“In case a woman officer of sufficiently senior level is not available in an office, an officer from another office may be appointed. To prevent the possibility of any undue pressure or influence from senior levels, such complaints committees should involve a third party, either an NGO or some other body familiar with the issue of sexual harassment,” the government said.
The aggrieved woman or complainant is required to make a complaint within three months of the incident, the guidelines said.