Assent to Bill to curb harassment of women

In an interesting coincidence, President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Bill, 2012, on the night of April 22, when Justice J.S. Verma, whose guidelines in the Vishaka case, the Bill aimed to replace, passed away.

The Bill was first passed by the Lok Sabha with some amendments, as recommended by the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, on September 3 last year. The Rajya Sabha passed it without new amendments on February 27.

With the legislative void which the then Chief Justice of India, Justice Verma sought to fill through his judgment on August 13, 1997, having now been occupied by an Act of Parliament, the guidelines laid down in that judgment will no longer be mandatory. Critics of the Act hold, however, that the guidelines in the judgment were far more effective than the Act itself; therefore, the President’s assent to the Bill which ignored the reservations expressed by Justice Verma himself over some of its provisions, has raised the question whether it can indeed be called a tribute – despite the coincidence.

The Justice Verma Committee report on amendments to criminal laws, had made specific recommendations on the Bill. Among these were creation of a separate Employment Tribunal outside the organisation to deal with complaints, deletion of the requirement for conciliation between the complainant and the accused, option to the complainant to work at a place other than the one where the accused works till the disposal of the complaint, and deletion of the provision which penalises complainant for false and malicious complaints. The Bill, which has now become the Act, ignores all these recommendations.

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