THE DELHI High Court on Friday said that in cases of complaints of sexual harassment against high ranking officers of the Union govermment, a majority of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) members preferably ought not to be from the same department or ministry in order to obviate any allegation of unfairness and bias.
The court made the observation while directing the Cabinet Secretariat to constitute an independent ICC within four weeks to probe allegations pending against a former Chairman of the Rehabilitation Council of India.
While rejecting the Centre’s review petition in which it contended that the ICC is to be constituted by the respective ministry, Justice Prathiba M Singh asked authorities to consider constituting an independent ICC to deal with sexual harassment complaints against high ranking officers of the level of Joint Secretary and above in government departments and ministries.
“The question that arises is that if the allegations are against the person heading the Department or the Ministry itself or a person of the same/equivalent Rank, should the Committee still be constituted by an official of the same Department or Ministry where the person was working. In the opinion of this Court, that would be completely contrary to the basic tenets of fairness and impartiality as a Secretary level officer is the head of the Department/Ministry and he would be superior to almost all the personnel working therein,” the court said.
In December 2019, the high court had directed that ICC in the case against the former RCI Chairman be constituted in terms of a 2008 office memorandum issued by the Cabinet Secretariat. However, the Centre said in the review petition that the ICC has to be constituted in accordance with Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 in the respective ministry itself and that the 2008 office memorandum, regarding constitution of a committee to enquire into complaints against high ranking officers, was applicable only in absence of the law.
However, the judge said that if the ICC consists of the members from the same department or ministry, there is every possibility of them being required to entertain and decide allegations against their own superior officer who may be able to exercise influence on them.
“Therefore, such a possibility ought to be avoided in order to ensure that there is no institutional bias in the conduct of the inquiry,” it said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines