An inter-ministerial sub-committee of officials, set up by the Group of Ministers (GoM) constituted in the wake of the MeToo India movement last year, has proposed that women who are apprehensive of approaching their organisation’s Internal Complaints Committees (ICC) should be allowed to complain directly to the National Commission for Women (NCW) and state commissions for women.
The sub-committee, in its report, has suggested several amendments to the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, and effective implementation of sections in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) relating to sexual violence.
The GoM, headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, was announced on October 24 last year, to examine the legal and institutional frameworks for addressing the issue of sexual harassment of women at the workplace. The panel was given a three-month deadline. However, the final report of the GoM, which was due by January-end, is still awaited.
The GoM, which includes Minister of Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Women & Child Development (WCD) Minister Maneka Gandhi, has met just once so far — in the first week of December. Following that meeting, the panel ordered that a sub-committee be set up under Special Secretary (Home Ministry) B R Sharma. It was left to this sub-committee, with bureaucrats from law, WCD and other ministries, to study the matter and give its suggestions to the GoM.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development has held that Section 9 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, which mandates that a women has to file a complaint within three months of the incident, should be done away with, and there should be no time restriction for filing complaints.
This was in view of the fact that almost all complaints that came to the fore during the MeToo movement were related to incidents that happened years, and sometimes decades, ago. “The WCD ministry felt that if a women has been quiet for long, it is because there are psychosocial issues involved that prevent her from speaking out. On the other side, some members felt that having no time limit at all is also not right,” said sources.
Saying that “in the existing patriarchal structure of our country, women who face sexual harassment need time to build up requisite courage for filing complaint regarding such abuse,” the sub-committee has proposed that the ICC could extend the three-month period by another three months. It has said that in case of complaints that are filed very late, the ICC should use its discretion.
The sub-committee has also proposed that the ICC should have at least one person “who is familiar with labour, service, civil or criminal law”; the nominal remuneration of Rs 200 per day paid to the external ICC member should be increased; employers should be mandated to implement the ICC’s recommendations with a 60-day time-frame; and district collectors should be given the powers of a civil court so that they can act against erring employers.
With regard to the IPC, the suggestions mainly pertain to effective implementation of the amendments made in 2013 and 2018 to strengthen laws against sexual violence, and measures for gender sensitisation of police personnel.
Officials said a final report will be prepared as and when the GoM decides to meet again.