Officers facing sexual harassment charges could be transferred out to ensure they do not abuse their authority to influence the outcome of the inquiry, the Centre told departments last week.
The government’s advisory is aimed at fixing a gap in the rules that gave the power to recommend transfer of the victim or the suspect to the complaints committee tasked to probe the complaint.
The memo issued by the department of personnel & training that serves as the government’s human resource manager gave departments a free hand to transfer the officer facing charges if there were concerns about his ability to influence the outcome.
Departments may also consider transferring the suspect officer to another office “to obviate any risk of that officer using the authority of his office to influence the proceedings of the complaints committee,” DoPT director Mukesh Chaturvedi said in the memo.
A government official said the decision on the officer’s transfer would have to be taken on a case-to-case basis and would depend on the concerns expressed by the complainant.
This is an enabling provision, he said, adding that the transfer would not be taken as an indictment of the suspect.
The sexual harassment law mandates that every office has an internal committee headed by a woman officer to probe complaints. However, there were doubts if the woman officer had to be senior in rank to the charged officer.
Chaturvedi’s memo suggested that civil servants need not lose sleep over the seniority of the panel chairperson. It said the Allahabad high court had rejected objections on the seniority of the panel chairperson which pointed that the rules only require her to be senior.
Inspired by the 1997 Vishakha judgment of the Supreme Court that laid down the ground rules for handling complaints, Parliament had enacted a law to protect women from sexual harassment in 2013.
The law had, however, taken a conservative view on transfer of officials facing charges and only empowered the complaints authority to transfer the woman on her request or let her take a three-month leave. But the rules framed by the government gave the panel the power to recommend transfer of the charged officer too.
Women comprised nearly 11% of the government’s staff strength of 33 lakh in 2011, up from 7.5% a decade earlier.
There are, however, no statistics about the number of sexual harassment complaints made by government offices so far.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report released last month pointed that 119 cases were registered in 2015 for insulting the modesty of a woman in an office, the provision invoked under the penal code for sexual harassment at a workplace.
This was twice the number of cases registered under this section the previous year and could reflect the lower awareness about the penal provision.