This is to avoid allegations of bias in sexual harassment cases against high-rank officers, says HC
To avoid allegations of unfairness and bias in case of complaints of sexual harassment against high-rank officers of the government, majority of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) members preferably should not be from the same Ministry or Department, the Delhi High Court ruled on Friday.
Justice Prathiba M. Singh said that persons, who have served under high-rank officers or in the same department, may face difficulty in treating the complaint in an unbiased manner.
This would be in accordance with the purpose and spirit of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, Justice Singh stressed.
The High Court’s remark came while adjudicating legal questions arising out of a sexual harassment complaint made by a contractual employee against Kamlesh Kumar Pandey, a Secretary-level officer, who was then the Chairman of Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI).
The case of the woman was that her complaint of sexual harassment against the former Chairman was not being considered in accordance with law. She claimed her services was terminated with effect from October 3, 2018.
Since RCI comes under the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD), the question which came up before the High Court was whether the ICC constituted by the DEPwD would be fair and unbiased.
The ICC constituted in this case consists of three officers from the same department where the former Chairman was working and one academician from Delhi University.
Justice Singh noted that if the ICC consists of members, who are from the same Department or Ministry, there is every possibility of them being required to entertain and decide allegations against their own superior officer who may be able to exercise influence on them.
The High Court directed that the a fresh committee be constituted by the Cabinet Secretariat, consisting of such persons who are independent and unbiased, to enquire into the allegations made by woman within four weeks.
“External members are appointed on the ICC to ensure neutrality of the ICC… the age-old aphorism that ‘Justice must not only be done but also be seen to be done’ is apt in this context,” Justice Singh said.
The High Court also noted that the former Chairman appears to have continued association with the RCI and the Department concerned. It remarked that he is also currently stated to be under consideration for appointment on senior level positions. “Hence, there is a greater need to ensure that the ICC is independently constituted and the inquiry is conducted fairly to both parties,” it said.