Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister Arun Jaitley has turned down his cabinet colleague Maneka Gandhi’s request to make it mandatory for companies to reveal whether they have put in place an Internal Complaints Committee to inquire into sexual harassment complaints of women employees.
In his letter, Jaitley objected to Maneka’s suggestion on the ground that industry representatives were against “enhanced disclosures under the Companies Act, 2013 and adding to these may not be desirable”.
The Woman and Child Development (WCD) Minister has now asked Jaitley to reconsider his decision in view of effective implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal), 2013 “in its true spirit”.
Watch Video: Sexual Harassment In Workplace- Jaitley Rejects Maneka’s Proposal
In a strongly worded reply, Maneka said, “I would beg to differ with the view that mandating this would add any burden on the companies as the only information required to be disclosed in the Board/ Director’s report is that the companies have actually constituted the Internal Complaints committee”. She added that making such a disclosure compulsory would compel companies to put in place a functioning complaints committee. “And if all the companies in the country have a functioning ICC, this itself will be a great step towards women empowerment,” she wrote.
The Act defines what constitutes sexual harassment at workplaces and requires all employers to set up the Internal Complaints Committee. Under the Act, such a committee will have powers similar to that of a civil court and has to complete its inquiry within 90 days.
On Monday, while releasing a handbook on sexual harassment in the workplace for employers, Maneka said there is no data available with the ministry on compliance as there is no way to collect it unless it is reported to the police. “Most companies do not want to malign their image, so they don’t bother going to police. But the first stage is setting up a functioning internal committee in the firm that will hear the matter and decide on the course of action, which many companies are yet to do. This is why we have written to the Finance and Corporate Affairs Minister asking that firms should reveal it in their annual reports.”
Under the Companies Act, 2013, every firm is required to file annual reports where they have to mandatorily disclose a host of details including assets, liabilities, salaries of directors. These disclosures are public documents and non-disclosure can amount to revocation of their licence.
Ministry officials added that letters to industry bodies such as Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, The Associated Chambers of Commerce of India, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Confederation of Indian Industry seeking a compliance report have evinced poor response. “We regularly get sexual harassment complaints from women employees in well known firms that still don’t have a panel. Many firms believe that having such a cell will lead women employees to create nuisance,” said officials.