Above: A representative pic depicting sexual harassment at workplace/Photo: Anil Shakya
A government committee headed by a special secretary in the Union Home ministry is likely to propose waiving the three-month time limit for victims to file complaints about sexual harassment at the workplace as laid down under the law.
The committee is in the final stages of drafting its recommendations which will be given to the Group of Ministers headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh. According to a report in The Hindu newspaper, relaxing the three-month window provided to victims for filing complaints will require an amendment to the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace (PoSH) Act, 2013. Section 9 of the law lays down that a complaint will have to be filed within three months of an incident taking place and incase of a series of incidents it will have to be filed within a period of three months since the last incident. However, until the law is amended, the sub-panel may recommend that an Internal Committee (IC) can relax the three-month window after a “speaking order” or after noting down proper reasoning for waiving the time limit.
The committee was formed in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement when several women took to social media to share accounts of being sexually assaulted and harassed by colleagues and seniors at workplaces. Many of these allegations, such as those against former Union Minister M J Akbar, were about incidents that were several years, and sometimes many decades, old. The Hindu reports that while some members have proposed having a “limitless time period” or no time restriction for filing of complaints, but others have expressed their reservations regarding this suggestion.
The Committee is also likely to propose that members of ICs be treated on par with “public servants” as defined under Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code so that they have immunity from prosecution. Explaining the rationale behind this, the source said, “The move will ensure that the IC members don’t get entangled in court cases if an employer or an accused or a complainant is unhappy with their decision.” The source added that the fear of a lawsuit may deter people from being part of ICs. An aggrieved person will still have the option to challenge the IC’s recommendations before a court.
—India Legal Bureau