‘Inconsistent and contrary to 2013 Act’: Petition challenges norms for handling sexual harassment plaints in Maharashtra district courtshttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/petition-challenges-norms-for-handling-sexual-harassment-plaints-in-maharashtra-district-courts-5776004/

‘Inconsistent and contrary to 2013 Act’: Petition challenges norms for handling sexual harassment plaints in Maharashtra district courts

The petitioner, a 39-year-old prosecutor, who had filed sexual harassment complaints against two lawyers in 2017, has said the District Court Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee (DCGSICC) had failed to give her a “fair hearing”.

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On two separate occasions in December 2017, the petitioner had faced sexual harassment in court. (Representational)

THE MAHARASHTRA regulations to handle cases of sexual harassment of women in all district courts are in violation of the Vishakha Guidelines and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013, states a writ petition filed by a public prosecutor before the Bombay High Court.

The petitioner, a 39-year-old prosecutor, who had filed sexual harassment complaints against two lawyers in 2017, has said the District Court Gender Sensitisation and Internal Complaints Committee (DCGSICC) had failed to give her a “fair hearing”. She told the court that neither was she provided copies of her statement, those of witnesses and the two respondent lawyers, nor was she given an opportunity to lead evidence or even told about the composition of the committee which verified her complaint, despite requests.

The petition, heard on Monday, by a division bench of Justice R M Borde and Justice N J Jamadar challenges the Gender Sensitisation and Sexual Harassment of Women at the District Courts in the State of Maharashtra and Goa (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations, 2014, which were brought into effect on August 26, 2015.

The petition states that the regulations are “inconsistent with and contrary to” the 2013 Act. In 2013, the Supreme Court had accepted a set of regulations with regard to gender sensitisation and sexual harassment of women and directed the High Courts to formulate their own regulations and implement them at the district level as well.

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The petition states that after the Act was passed in 2013, it was “imperative” for the regulations to conform with it but it does not do so. It states that while the Act provides for a standing internal complaints committee (ICC), the Maharashtra regulations state that only after the DCGSICC receives the complaint, can an ICC be appointed to conduct an inquiry. The regulations also do not mandate that the committee should be headed by a woman or to have women as majority of its members, the petition states.

On two separate occasions in December 2017, the petitioner had faced sexual harassment in court. The petitioner submitted a complaint to the judge of the courtroom where the incident took place, who subsequently informed her that it has been placed before the committee.

In April 2018, she was informed that the DCGSICC had decided to conduct an inquiry and asked her to remain present before an internal sub-committee in May. The petition states that three members were present in the sub-committee but neither was she given an introduction nor did she receive copies of her statement or minutes of the meeting. On June 11, 2018, she was informed that the recording of evidence was complete and she would get seven days to submit written arguments.

The petition states that she sought copies of documents but received no response. On August 7, 2018, she was informed that the sub-committee’s report stating that both the complaints were “not proven” was accepted by the DCGSICC. While one of the members in her minority opinion had said the second incident of harassment was proven and action was recommended.

On August 8, 2018, the petitioner wrote to the DCGSICC, challenging the findings of the report since provisions of the Act were not followed and sought documents from the hearings, but did not receive a response. The petition states that the DCGSICC and internal sub-committee did not fulfil its obligations as she had “persistently” sought information on the status of her complaint. On Monday, advocate Veena Gowda sought time to file a reply to an affidavit against the petition being submitted, by one of the two lawyers. The petition will be heard on July 4.