A Public Interest Litigation has been filed before the Bombay High Court raising concerns over challenges faced by the members of Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Internal Complaints Committees (ICC) in private sector, urging that their service conditions should be similar to public servants having protection with stability of tenure and without any ‘hire and fire’ policy.
The PIL sought constituting a commission to review deficiencies in the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and make recommendations for protection of ICC members regarding rights of ICC members and their protection from persecution.
The PIL has been filed by a Mumbai resident, who was working in a corporate firm and used to head the POSH committee for over two and half years there, along with social activist and advocate Abha Singh. It stated that members of such committees in the private sector are not provided with any safeguards.
The PIL stated, “Members of such committee are tasked with the statutory duty of adjudicating sexual harassment complaints while being on the payroll of the company and can be terminated… The members are akin to judges and have not been provided with any safeguards which will enable them to act without fear and favour. The members have been conferred quasi-judicial powers without the requisite independence. This creates a highly unjust and iniquitous situation for ICC members as well the parties to the case.”
It added, “If the member takes a decision that goes against the will of the senior management (of the firm), then they are susceptible to victimisation and targeting.” Petitioner Chaudhary further said that she herself had experienced such challenges while heading the ICC at her workplace.
The petitioner said, “Thus, the present law, as it stands, leaves room for arm twisting of ICC members by the senior management of the company in the form of arbitrary transfers, termination, victimisation in unrelated areas of work. The risk of this form of retribution is more likely in cases where the respondent is a senior official with considerable influence in the company.”
“This conflict of interest, where the ICC members are on the payroll of the company and may have to take decisions against their seniors, creates a precarious situation for ICC members as well as women members at the workplace,” the plea added.
The PIL also said that ICC members of government or public sector departments have several safeguards such as fixed tenure, protection from arbitrary termination among others and the same should be given to those in ICCs in the private sector.
While the PIL could not be heard on Monday due to paucity of time, a division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni is likely to take it up for hearing this week.
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