In the wake of the upcoming Lok Sabha and assembly elections, the state government plans to crack the whip on establishments that do not have sexual harassment redressal committees as mandated by the Supreme Court under the Vishaka guidelines. Mantralaya sources told dna that the labour department has moved a proposal under which owners of such errant companies may face imprisonment up to three years and a fine of up to Rs50,000.
Sources said the state labour minister has approved the proposal which has now been sent to the law and other deparments for their views. They are expected to respond in a week.
The proposal also suggests changes in the Shops and Establishment Act. According to data provided by the labour department, only six per cent of the establishments in the state have constituted the committee. “The department is trying to make it an ordinance by February before the election code of conduct starts. Else, the process will be postponed by six months,” a source said.
Arvind Kumar, principal secretary of the state labour department, confirmed the news. “The government is fulfilling the promise it had made. The proposal to ensure compliance to the Supreme Court guidelines is underway,” he told dna. “It will give authorities the power to act against errant companies. They did not enjoy such power till now.”
So far, there were no clauses in the act which talked about the compulsory creation of the redressal committee to address sexual harassment cases at workplaces. “There were clauses on minimum wages, overtime, working hours, but none on the constitution of the committee. If the ordinance is passed, it will ensure that the guidelines are strictly enforced,” the source said.
Nirmala Samant-Prabhavalkar, member of the National Women’s Commission, welcomed the move. “Fearing penalty, the authorities will constitute such committees, which will be in the interest of all women employees. It will also create greater awareness about the internal mechanism and will ensure necessary redressal of complaints,” she said. Samant-Prabhavalkar added that the authorities should adhere to the guidelines in the true spirit and that there should be inspections to ensure that.
Joint commissioner of police (crime) Himanshu Roy said the proposal, when turned into an ordinance, will act as a proper penal provision for those violating the Supreme Court guidelines. “Once implemented, one can expect cases of sexual harrassment at workplaces to go down over a period of time,” he said.
As per the Vishaka guidelines, the employer or other responsible persons at an establishment or institution having more than 10 members should form a sexual harrasment redressal committee to prevent cases of sexual harassment and provide mechanisms for the resolution of complaints. All workplaces should have an appropriate complaints mechanism with a complaints committee, special counsellor or other support services.
A woman must head the complaints committee and not less than half of its members should be women. The committee should include an NGO/individual familiar with the issue of sexual harassment.