In a setback to the prestigious Indian Institute of Science (IISc.), the Karnataka High Court on Tuesday not only set aside the action initiated against a senior professor in a sexual harassment case but also directed the authorities concerned to initiate action against the director and members of its inquiry committee for violating the rule prohibiting disclosure of the contents of a complaint of sexual harassment and inquiry proceedings.
The court also held that the IISc. and its inquiry committee committed several errors since the receipt of the complaint, and failed to follow statutory rules and procedures prescribed under the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, and the Central Civil Services Rules.
Also, the court asked the Union Ministry of Personnel and Training to conduct training and refresher courses by experts on how to conduct an inquiry in cases of sexual harassment at the workplace for avoiding errors in following statutory rules and procedural lapses.
Justice B.P. Bajanthri delivered the verdict while allowing a petition by eminent scientist Giridhar Madras, a 51-year-old senior professor who was decorated with prestigious national awards like Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award and the nationally competitive J.C. Bose National Fellowship for scientists. Prof. Giridhar had questioned IISc.’s inquiry report dated February 28, 2018 and the order of compulsory retirement, dated October 17, 2018.
While denying allegations levelled against him, the petitioner had claimed that he was compulsorily retired from service without being given a show cause notice, and questioned the inquiry report, which was based on “perceptions” and not any evidence, besides contending serious failure in following the law governing conduct of an inquiry in sexual harassment cases.
The court said that the IISc. authorities have not followed statutory provisions like providing a copy of the complaint, which was originally made in November 2016, to the petitioner within the prescribed period, failed to adhere to rules in constitution of an inquiry committee, manner of conduct of inquiry and submission of report. The court also found that IISc. did not follow the Central Civil Services Rules before taking disciplinary action of compulsory retirement against the petitioner.
Though the IISc. has denied the allegation of disclosing the petitioner’s name to mediapersons in violation of Section 16 of the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, the court observed that it is evident from the contents of the reports published in newspapers that both the IISc. director and the committee had given statements. Also, the court noted that both the director and the committee had not approached the authors of the news reports contending that they had not issued any statement about the case.