The Centre on Friday told the Supreme Court that the government has requested leading business organisations Assocham, Ficci, Confederation of Indian Society, Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) and Nasscom to ensure effective implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013.
Appearing for the Ministry of Women and Child Development, advocate Madhvi Diwan told the bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud that the ministry has issued advisories to all states and union territories (UTs) for effective implementation of the Act advising them to organise workshops and awareness programmes in the departments/offices for sensitising the employees about the provisions of the Act. She also said a detailed affidavit was filed by the government.
Appearing for petitioner NGO—Initiatives for Inclusion Foundation, senior advocate Sanjay Parekh, assisted by advocate Esha Shekhar, contended that the affidavit has not mentioned about the implementing bodies at various levels. He also raised sexual harassment complaints in the private establishments.
The bench asked the counsel to file suggestions within two weeks and posted the matter for March 12 for further hearing of the PIL. The bench also sought the states to file their affidavits in two weeks.
Petitioner NGO, through a PIL, has sought implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, Redressal) Act, 2013.
According to the government affidavit, the ministry has published a handbook on the Act with an objective to provide information about the provisions of the Act in an easy to use practical manner.
“Ministry in collaboration with Institute of Secretariat Training and Management (ISTM), New Delhi has prepared a training module to build the capacities of government officials on the provisions of the Act and develop in them professional competence to implement the same.
Private organizations are also encouraged to customize the module as per their extant service rules and disciplinary procedures prescribed therein.”
“Request was made to leading business organizations- Assocham, Ficci, Confederation of Indian Society, Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Nasscom to ensure effective implementation of the Act amongst their members in private sector entities.”
It was also stated in the affidavit that “the ministry has empanelled institutions/ organizations willing to conduct training programs/ workshops on the Act. In the first round 29 institutes were selected and empanelled vide notification dated 16, February, 2017… Ministry has also invited proposals from organizations , both public and private, conducting training programs/ workshops on the Act. Now the pool of empanelled institutes has been expanded to 112”.
In the PIL, it was alleged that local district officers and complaints committees were not being appointed and victims had no legal forums to go to with their complaints.
In its August 13, 1997 verdict, the Supreme Court had in the Vishaka case laid down detailed guidelines for setting up of internal complaints committee headed by a woman in every government and private organisation to deal with complaints of sexual harassment at workplace.
But after the enactment of the Act in 2013, the apex court’s Vishakha guidelines ceased to exist. The Act, which replaced the top court’s guidelines, is more elaborate and covers unorganised sector and domestic workers.
The Act provides for setting up of internal complaints committee, appointment of district officers, constitution of a local complaints committee and nodal officers.