The Bombay High Court has said that the National Commission for Women (NCW) is not a judicial body and, therefore, cannot grant relief, which power rests only with the courts.
The commission, though, can pursue the complaints it receives with the appropriate authorities.
A division bench of judges VM Kanade and AK Menon stated this while allowing a petition by KPMG challenging a direction by the NCW that the private accounting firm should apologise to its woman employee and pay her compensation with bonus.
The employee had complained about sexual harassment against her seniors at the workplace in 2006. KPMG terminated her services after she had worked with the company for 14 months.
In late 2007, she sent legal notices to her senior colleagues, including KPMG India senior partner and head of its financial services, Vikram Uttam Singh. Singh was arrested by the Mumbai police.
She also approached the NCW, the Maharashtra State Commission for Women, the Cyber Cell and the National Human Rights Commission.
The HC said: "We are of the view that the commission is not entitled to arrive at final conclusions or grant reliefs that a civil or criminal court can."
The judges explained that the NCW should look into individual complaints on violation of women's rights, non-implementation of the laws providing protection for women, non-compliance of policy decisions, investigate them to verify genuineness and take them up with the appropriate authorities.
"However, it does not have unbridled power or authority. The commission functions in a recommendatory capacity and not as an adjudicatory body," the HC stated.
The HC stayed the process of the NCW, but granted liberty to pursue with the criminal complaint and the cyber crime complaint lodged against the accused.