The Bombay High Court has ruled that the National Commission for Women (NCW) does not have “unbridled power” and “is not entitled to arrive at final conclusions or grant reliefs that a civil or criminal court can.”
The court’s ruling came while allowing a petition filed by a multinational company seeking quashing of proceedings initiated by NCW on a complaint of an ex-employee.
The complainant was appointed to the post of associate director at the company on September 19, 2005, but the appointment was terminated on November 30, 2006, for “not being open and honest in her communication and escalating issues”, the company’s petition said.
The complainant subsequently sent legal notices to the company, asking them to withdraw her termination and tender a written apology. Four months after termination of services, she complained that she suffered sexual harassment at the work place during her tenure with the petitioner company.
The employee later approached the Maharashtra State Commission for Women. In December 2010, the State Commission expressed their inability to process the complaint for want of resources. The employee, therefore, filed a complaint with the NCW.
On October 26, 2013, the NCW inquired into the complaint and framed the terms of reference. The company questioned the jurisdiction of the NCW arguing that it had acted in an “illegal and arbitrary” manner by conducting the proceedings without notifying.
Justices V M Kanade and A K Menon observed that if a prima facie case is made out, the commission must issue notice to the organisation and hear them before making or recommending remedial measures.
“The commission is, however, not empowered to decide the rights of parties and due care must be taken in this behalf… Moreover, no purpose will be served by the commission arriving at findings or granting reliefs or issuing directions since the commission is not a court,” said the judges.
In the present case, therefore, the High Court said, the commission has no jurisdiction to determine whether or not there was an unfair dismissal or whether such dismissal has caused loss of future career opportunity. “Nor can the commission demand a letter of apology, direct payment of compensation, or grant relief by way of ordering payment of bonus,” the HC observed.
In the court’s view, the NCW was empowered to look into complaints relating to deprivation of women’s rights, non-implementation of laws enacted to provide protection to women.
“We are of the view that the commission may after investigating the complaint take up the matters with appropriate authorities including the employer or such other persons whose action or inaction have given rise to such complaints. We are of the view that the commission is not entitled to arrive at final conclusions or grant reliefs that a civil or criminal court can,” the High Court ruled.