Allegations of sexual harassment of two law interns by a recently retired Supreme Court judge and an FIR against Tehelka founder-editor Tarun Tejpal for allegedly raping a female colleague, have brought the focus back on the top court’s guidelines to deal with the issue.
A three-judge bench headed by the then chief justice of India JS Verma had in the Vishaka case laid down a set of detailed guidelines mandating setting up of internal complaints committee headed by a woman in every organisation — government or private — to address the issue of sexual harassment of women at workplace.
But the August 13, 1997 verdict does not hold the field any more. In fact the SC itself had said, “These directions (Vishaka guidelines) would be binding and enforceable in law until suitable legislation is enacted to occupy the field.”
Almost 16 years after the historic verdict, Parliament passed ‘The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013’ in February and it was notified in the official gazette on April 23, 2013.
The new law is an improvement over the Vishaka guidelines as it also covers unorganised sector and domestic workers and expands the definition of ‘workplace’ to include many public and private places such as sports institutes, stadiums and even a house. It includes any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment, including transportation provided by employers for visiting places in the course of employment.
The Act provides for a mechanism in terms of internal and local complaints committees to be established by the employer and the appropriate government.