Govt offices in Bengal lack panel to deal with sexual harassment complaints


By bappaditya paul

The uproar over the Tejpal case or the Justice A K Ganguly case notwithstanding, most of the state government offices in West Bengal, including the state secretariat Nabanna, do not have the mandatory internal complaints committee (ICC) in place to deal with allegations of sexual harassment at workplace.Photo 2In the very few government offices or departments where ICCs were set up post the Supreme Court notifying the Vishakha Guidelines in 1997, the committees now lay defunct as those have not been reconstituted all these years after several of their members either retired from service or got transferred elsewhere.

The Statesman on Friday spoke to several women employees at the state secretariat Nabanna; while many of them said that they had never heard of any such committee in their departments, some said that there had been such a mechanism in the past but there was no information about its present status. Photo 1

“I am into service for 14 years now but have never heard of an internal complaints committee in my department,” said a woman staff member in the Public Works Department.

A women officer in the Information and Cultural Affairs Department said: “I don’t member the exact nomenclature but a committee was constituted in our department a few years ago to deal with such complaints. Three-four senior women staff were its members but I am not aware of its present status.”

The Vishakha Guidelines that has now become part of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, stipulates that any workplace, private or public, employing 10 or more people, must not only constitute an internal complaints committee (ICC) but also prominently display its composition in the office.  Photo 3The Act also stipulates the state government to set up a local complaints committee (LCC) at the district level to probe sexual harassment complaints from establishments where an internal committee is not in place for having less than 10 employees. Another purpose of the LCC is to probe complaints against the employers, which the internal committee may not be able to handle properly.

Both the ICC and the LCC should have women as majority members. In West Bengal, none of the 19 districts have a LCC in place yet.

Officials in the state Home Department conceded that there have been some lacunae as regards forming the internal complaints committee and the local complaints committee. “Internal committees were formed in some departments a few years ago but it is true that they now exist only on paper,” said a senior official. “We will soon reconstitute and rejuvenate them.”Photo 4The Sexual Harassment Act, has provision for slapping a penalty of up to Rs 50,000 on an employer / organisation for failing to put in place an internal committee or the local complaints committee. “But for now, the state government can heave a sigh of relief as the Act has not yet been notified in the Official Gazette,” said another official.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This news was first published in The Statesman on 7 December 2013.)


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