- Apprentice Lawyer
The Delhi High Court has held that upon finding that no case of sexual harassment is made out, the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) does not have the power to make comments on the personal conduct of the parties or seek action against them for indulging in "inappropriate conduct" (Bhibha Pandey vs PNB).
A single-judge Bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh said,
"Moral Policing is not the job of the Management or of the ICC. Any consensual relationship among adults would not be the concern of the Management or of the ICC, so long as the said relationship does not affect the working and the discipline of the organisation and is not contrary to the Rules or code of conduct binding on the said employees."
The Court was dealing with a petition challenging an order passed by ICC inasmuch as it recommended the competent authority to take suitable action against the petitioner, the complainant and the accused.
The ICC had found that the relationship between the parties was based on mutual consent and thus, their behaviour was "inappropriate and unbecoming" of the employees of the employer bank.
Subsequently, a charge-sheet was issued against the petitioner under the appropriate service regulations.
The petitioner argued that once the case was closed after an enquiry, the ICC's recommendation and remarks were contrary to Section 13(2) of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
The Court agreed with the petitioner and opined that in the present case, the ICC went beyond its statutory mandate as recognised under Section 13(2).
The recommendation to take action against the complainant was "clearly beyond the jurisdiction of the ICC", the Court said.
"Complaints of sexual harassment are initially filed with enormous reluctance. The power of the ICC to hold the enquiry and give a report ought to be within the scheme and the four corners of the statute itself. If a case of sexual harassment is not made out, the ICC can only conclude that no action is required to be taken.. It is not contemplated within the provisions of the Act that while holding that no action is to be taken and the complaint is to be rejected, the ICC can direct for suitable action on the ground that the parties have indulged in an inappropriate conduct," the Court explained.
It added that the ICC had no power to make comments on the personal conduct of the parties as its jurisdiction was restricted to the allegations of sexual harassment and whether a complaint was made out or not.
Accordingly, the ICC order, to the extent that it made comments on the conduct of the parties and recommended initiation of action against the parties, was set aside by the High Court.
Since the petitioner had also become eligible for promotion, the Court ordered that the chargesheet would not be an obstacle.
Advocates Vrinda Grover and Ankur Sood appeared for the petitioner.
The employer was represented by Advocates Rajesh Kr. Gautam, Anant Gautam and Nipun Sharma.
Advocate Varun Mishra appeared for the accused.