Expressing concern at the increase in sexual offences against women, the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday approved the amended Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, that seeks to provide protection to women in unorganised and organised sectors including the private sector. The Bill covers sexual harassment of domestic help and agriculture workers.
The Bill, which has already been passed by the Lok Sabha, was approved unanimously after Minister of State for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath gave an assurance to the House that stringent rules would be framed to ensure that the Bill was not just “another piece of legislation’’ without an implementation mechanism and effective monitoring.
Cases of sexual harassment of women at workplace will have to be disposed of by in-house committees (that must be set up) within a period of 90 days failing which a penalty of Rs. 50,000 would be imposed.
Repeated non-compliance with the provisions of the Bill can attract higher penalties and may lead to cancellation of licence or registration to conduct business.
Sexual harassment, says the Bill, includes any one or more of unwelcome acts or behaviour like physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours or making sexually coloured remarks or showing pornography.
The acts or behaviour whether directly, or by implication, include any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
The Bill makes it mandatory that all offices, hospitals, institutions and other workplaces should have an internal redress mechanism for complaints related to sexual harassment.
'Society itself will have to implement law'
Responding to the across-the-board concern expressed by members at non-implementation of earlier legislation for safety and protection of women, Ms. Tirath said: “The system, the elected representatives and society itself will have to implement the Bill.” She clarified that the Bill was not related to the Delhi gang rape case.
She rejected a suggestion for monitoring by gram panchayats, saying “it might be politicised.”
She also did not accept the BJP’s Najma Heptulla’s suggestion that the word ‘sexual’ be dropped from the Bill’s title as harassment could be also be “mental harassment.” Ms. Tirath said “sexual harassment” was all encompassing and included mental harassment.
A Parliamentary Standing Committee, which had examined the Bill, recommended that the preventive aspects be in line with the Supreme Court’s guidelines in the 1997 Vishaka case. The judgement not only defines sexual harassment at workplace but also lays down guidelines for its prevention and disciplinary action.
Several members objected to the clause for “conciliation” and for “punishment to the complainant for false or malicious complaint and false evidence” saying it took a lot for a woman to come up and make a sexual harassment complaint. A member wanted to know why offences under the Bill were not non-cognisable.
Among those who participated in the discussion were Pratibha Thakur (Congress), T.N. Seema (CPI-M), D. Bandopadhya (AITC), Vandana Chavan (NCP), Ashok Ganguli (Nom), B.S. Raut (Shiv Sena), Maya Singh and Smriti Irani (both BJP), Gundu Sudha Rani (TDP), Kanimozhi (DMK), Renubala Pradhan (BJD) and Vijaylaxmi Sadho (Cong).