HindustanTimes Thu,25 Dec 2014

Two bills, two punishments for sexual harassment

Nagendar Sharma, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, April 08, 2013
First Published: 00:45 IST(8/4/2013) | Last Updated: 08:04 IST(8/4/2013)

Two bills recently passed by Parliament provide for different punishments for sexually harassing women.

The Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, or anti-rape law, approved by the President on April 3 says the offence is punishable with three years’ imprisonment and provides for a fine.

But the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill passed by Parliament in February only provides for a penalty and departmental action.

The law ministry has said in an internal government note that the women and child development and home ministries should review this second bill before it is sent to the President for his assent.

It has advised changes to make the punishment similar to the one under the first bill.

“There cannot be two deterrents for an offence that has the same definition in both bills. Since sexual harassment is now a criminal offence mentioned in the IPC, it would not be advisable to retain it as a civil offence as well,” the law ministry has stated.

The Justice JS Verma panel, whose report formed the basis for changes in criminal laws following the December 16  Delhi gang rape, had also questioned some of the bill’s key provisions, including one which provides for conciliation between the complainant and the accused.

“This is in violation of the mandate prescribed by the Supreme Court in the Vishakha verdict, which stated that in matters of harassment and humiliation, any attempt to compromise is another way of undermining the dignity of women,” the panel had stated in its report.

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