Outlining seven offences, the government has tabled a bill in Parliament to control sexual harassment at workplace. The use of words, pictures, visuals, and audio materials relating to sexual and vulgar activities will be punishable once the bill becomes an Act although the legislation does not clearly define a “vulgar” act.
The bill registered on Monday provisions jail term up to three months and a fine of Rs 25,000 for a person committing sexual harassment at work. The bill also envisages a mechanism at the workplace to hear complaints.
A similar bill was tabled in the earlier Parliament but it was not passed. The bill requires the manager of an office to receive complaints of sexual harassment from any staff or a service seeker within seven days of the offence. S/he will have to address the complaint within 15 days of its registration, mediating between the victim and the accused or asking the latter to apologise with the victim. The manager is responsible for ensuring adequate compensation for the victim from the accused. If the manager fails in his/her duty, the victim may file an appeal with the Chief District Officer within 70 days of the expiry of the 15-day limit.
If the manager fires any staff for filing a complaint, against the bill’s provision, the victim can take the case to the CDO. A petition against the CDO’s decision can be filed in an appellate court.
Critics of the bill, however, say it is not a good idea to authorise the CDO to hear appeals on sexual harassment. “CDOs already have their hands full and are not in a position to pay due attention to such matters,” said Mohana Ansari, former member of the National Women Commission. She recommends that such authority be vested in the police, or a commission such as the NWC or the National Human Rights Commission.
Ansari also calls for increasing the punishment to at least one year from the proposed three months in addition to providing adequate compensation.