Bill makes it mandatory for all workplaces to have internal redress mechanism

An important bill that seeks to protect women, including domestic workers, from sexual harassment at workplace was passed in the Lok Sabha on Monday, even as the House witnessed din and disruption over coal blocks allocation for the ninth day.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2010, was passed without discussion, as BJP members stood in the well, shouting slogans demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister over coalgate.

According to the bill, piloted by Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath, sexual harassment includes any unwelcome act or behaviour such as physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours or making sexually coloured remarks or showing pornography. The acts or behaviour — direct or by implication — will also include any other physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of a sexual nature.

Non-compliance with the provisions of the law will be punishable with a fine of up to Rs 50,000. Repeated violations may lead to higher penalties and cancellation of licence or registration to do business.

The bill defines domestic worker as a woman employed to do household work for remuneration. A Parliamentary Standing Committee, which examined the bill, held the firm view that preventive aspects had to be strictly in line with the Supreme Court guidelines in the 1997 Vishaka case. The judgment not only defines sexual harassment at workplace but also lays down guidelines for its prevention and disciplinary action.

The bill makes it mandatory for all offices, hospitals, institutions and other workplaces to have an internal complaints redress mechanism.

The Lok Sabha passed by voice vote, amid pandemonium, a bill to bifurcate the civil services cadre of Manipur and Tripura — The North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Amendment Bill, 2011. At present, the two States have a joint cadre of the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Police Service and the Indian Forest Service.

Tripura raised the demand for bifurcation in 2004. A meeting in January 2009 of the Department of Personnel and Training, the Home Ministry and the Ministry of Environment and Forests — which are in charge of the all-India services — recommended that the cadre be bifurcated. The Centre considered the proposal after consultations with all stakeholders.

The other Bill passed by the Lok Sabha, without discussion, is to expand the National Highways Authority of India.

At present, the NHAI consists of a Chairman, up to five full-time members and up to four part-time members. The National Highways Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 2011, seeks to increase the strength to six full-time members and six part-time members, besides the Chairman. At least two of the part-time members should be non-government professionals with knowledge of, or experience in, financial management, transport planning or any other relevant discipline.

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