The Supreme Court today agreed to constitute a committee headed by an eminent jurist to finalise the draft rules for dealing with sexual harassment complaints of women,including lady lawyers,working at the apex court.
A bench,headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir,said the name of the chairman of the Committee,which will also go into various other issues raised in the report prepared on its order,would be decided on Thursday.
A report placed today before the bench said the sexual harassment complaint committees at various high courts and district courts across the country existed only on paper without much power or guidelines and there is a lack of space for their working.
The report was prepared by Asha Menon,Member Secretary,National Legal Services Authority,who was asked by the apex court on March 21 to provide data on the establishment of committees constituted in different courts across the country as per the Vishaka judgement dealing with the issues of sexual harassment of women at workplace.
“The picture that emerges from this report is that the committees are only on paper,” advocate Binu Tamta told the bench,also comprising justices A R Dave and Ranjana Prakash Desai.
Tamta,who filed the petition on the issue along with another lady advocate Vibha Dutta Makhija,said the report is clear that “there is a need to have rules to empower the committee”.
Makhija said they have prepared the draft rules which can be considered by the committee to be appointed by the apex court.
She submitted that there was a need for two separate committees which could go into the complaints of the employees of the court and another can look into the complaints of women lawyers working in the Supreme Court and other courts.
Attorney General G E Vahanvati told the bench that the apex court had on October 19,2012 considered the 1997 Vishaka verdict and addressed the issue by directing all regulatory bodies like Bar Council of India (BCI) and Medical Council of India (MCI),which regulate different professions,to set up a committee to deal with all cases of sexual harassment at the workplace.
The apex court had directed the regulating bodies and all the institutions affiliated to them to implement the guidelines framed in the Vishaka case within two months on the PIL filed by one Medha Kotwal Lele.
Vahanvati said “once we are clear of terms of reference of the committee,everything will be in place”.
The bench said it will also have to consider whether it will be only the courts or also the lawyers office which can be covered under the ambit of workplace.
“If the harassment is at lawyers office,will it be covered by the Vishaka judgement,” the bench asked.
“Let us constitute a committee which will consider various aspects including the draft rules,” the bench said and posted the matter for May 7 when it will deal with the likely guidelines for the committee to deal with the complaints.
The draft rules under the nomenclature of Sexual Harassment of Women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention,Prohibition and Redressal) Rules,2013 placed before the court said no woman shall be subjected to sexual harassment at the apex court precincts.
Further,it said acts which would amount to sexual harassment include implied or explicit promise of preferential or threat of detrimental treatment in her legal career,threat about her present of future legal career,interference with her work or creating an intimidating,offensive or hostile work environment or humiliating treatment likely to affect her health or safety.
The draft rule states that the CJI will constitute a “Supreme Court Internal Complaints Committee” for inquiring into and passing orders on a complaint made against any delinquent behaviour.
The rules also state that depending on the gravity of the harassment,the internal committee shall have the power to impose penalties including admonition and its publication in the court precincts including the cause lists and the Supreme Court website,prohibition from harassing the victim in any manner or communicating with her,debarment from entry into the Supreme Court precincts for a specified period extending up to one year and fines or compensation to the complainant.