The Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal (MAT) last week said that the Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) (POSH) Act 2013, is a progressive law brought in to socially protect women from harassment at their workplaces. It also held that a woman, public servant, who is a victim of such harassment, if aggrieved by the decision of the internal complaints committee, can approach the MAT and challenge the decision.
A bench of Justice (retd.) Mridula Bhatkar, chairperson and Medha Gadgil, member, was hearing a plea filed by a female junior clerk, of the Sangli district RTO, who was allegedly harassed sexually by her senior. However, the internal complaints committee filed a report that it didn't found any material against the senior and accordingly didn't initiate any action against him.
Aggrieved by this report, the victim had file an appeal before Justice Bhatkar's bench questioning the legality and validity of the said report.
However, the accused urged the bench to dismiss the victim's plea on the ground that the POSH Act wouldn't apply in the case as the enquiry was conducted as per the Maharashtra Civil Services (Discipline & Appeal) Rules, 1979, since both th accused and the victim were government employees.
The accused argued that the victim, if wants to question the report, she can file an appeal in a court but not in the MAT.
Having heard the contentions, the bench said, "Article 14 and Article 15 of the Constitution of India guarantee equality of all irrespective of the religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth or any of them. In late 19th century women started occupying offices, institutions, corporate sectors, different services in the society."
"Thus, the Union of India being the party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) adopted many policies and enacted various laws to protect the women not only against harassment but eliminating discrimination against them and to provide them gender equal surrounding at work place," the bench added.
The bench further said that the POSH Act 2013 is a progressive and social legislature. "Being a special legislature specific procedure in respect of
sexual harassment of women at work place is laid down and to be followed," the bench added.
The bench further noted that the provisions to protect women from sexual harassment at workplaces was included in the Maharashtra Civil Services (Discipline & Appeal) Rules, 1979, only after the POSH law was brought in force. It further noted that the MCS rules only provide for appeals to be filed by accused or offender against the internal complaints committee's report and is silent on the procedure to be followed by the victim.
Accordingly, the bench held that the victim can file appeal before the MAT and the same is tenable in law and can be heard by the tribunal.
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