The Madras High Court on Thursday directed the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) to look into the sexual harassment allegations against S. Murugan, joint director of the Directorate of Vigilance & Anti-Corruption, on a complaint filed by a woman IPS officer.
Justice SM Subramaniam confirmed the constitution of the ICC under Section 4 of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 by the Director of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption. The judge ordered this ICC to follow the procedures contemplated under the Act and submit a report within two weeks. It clarified that these proceedings can continue parallel with the criminal action initiated against the accused.
The court also “strongly recommended” to the Chief Secretary to the State government to install CCTV cameras inside official chambers and office rooms of all higher officials,
“in order to avoid all such allegations/complaints against the higher officials and to safeguard the interest of women officers and women employees from the offences of sexual harassment”.
In her complaint, the woman officer has alleged that the accused kept obsessively calling her numerous times after office hours and commenting on her personal and physical attributes. She has also claimed that he used to take her photos despite her objecting to it, and that he tried to forcefully hug her as well.
The court was now hearing petitions filed by the aggrieved woman, demanding the transfer of the accused officer to any non-sensitive post outside the directorate of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption pending enquiry into her complaint. She had further sought a direction to ensure that he does not handle any work-related file pertaining to her.
The accused officer had, on the other hand, approached the court challenging the constitution of the ICC against him as well as the consequential proceedings.
“Black sheep” inside the police department
The court, at the outset, pointed out that the Director General of police, as well as the Commissioners of Police of all cities have been “preaching” the use of CCTV cameras in apartments etc, but have not followed the advice themselves.
It observed, “This being the preachings of the Police Department to the citizen at large of this Great Nation, what about the offenders and Black Sheep in the Police Offices, Chambers and Office Rooms of the higher officials and what measures are taken to nab the offenders and Black Sheep inside the Police Department and other public offices and institutions etc.”
The court then expressed its disapproval with the handling of the case at hand and asserted that such a complaint must be looked into seriously. It especially highlighted the fact that if a woman IPS officer has trouble initiating action against her alleged harasser, it would be a cause of grave concern for other women.
It observed, “When she is the responsible higher level Police Officer serving in the Department for more than 15 years, this Court is of an undoubted opinion that such a complaint filed by a responsible higher Police Officials can never be brushed aside or kept aside in a casual manner. Such a complaint must be looked into seriously and appropriate actions must be taken by the authorities concerned…
…This Court has shown an anxious consideration that if a higher level Woman IPS Officer is unable to initiate action in respect of such allegations, then the plight of the woman employees, who all are working in subordinate cadres in various offices, organisations and Government Departments are certainly a great concern for everybody.”
Employer duty bound to render assistance
The accused officer had also challenged the registration of a criminal case against him through the CBCID Wing of the Police Department. The court, however, did not find any fault with this, noting that the complainant had specifically requested for initiation of criminal proceedings against him.
The court relied on Section 19 of the Act to opine that once such a request is made by the aggrieved woman, the employer is duty bound to provide assistance with the relief sought by her. It observed,
“The intention expressed by the complainant in her original complaint portrays that she had intended to initiate criminal action and therefore, it is duty mandatory on the part of the employer, namely, the Director of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption to provide assistance to the complainant under Section 19(g) of the Act, to register a police complaint under the Indian Penal Code in forwarding the said complaint to the Police Officer concerned.”
It further refused to hold the proceedings vitiated merely on the ground that the complaint for registration of the FIR was forwarded by the ICC and not the employer. Asserting that the provisions of the Act need to be interpreted harmoniously with Constitutional rights, the court observed,
“The complainant, beyond her capacity as an IPS, level officer, basically, she is a citizen of this great Nation. Thus, registering of a criminal case is her fundamental right ensured under the Constitution of India. Such a valuable right provided under the Indian Constitution to a women, as a citizen, cannot be taken away by interpreting the provisions of the Sexual Harassment Act, that it is a pre-condition to conduct an enquiry by the Internal Complaints Committee. Thus, Section 19(g) of the Sexual Harassment Act is to be constructively interpreted in conjunction with the fundamental rights ensured under the Constitution of India.”
Besides, taking note of the nature of allegations, the court opined that registration of a criminal case against the officer was “just and necessary”. Thereafter, ruling that two separate proceedings—one criminal and one under the Act—were maintainable, the petition was disposed of.