By Anuradha Gandhi and Rachita Thakur
The Industrial Tribunal (hereinafter referred to as the “Tribunal”) at Rouse Avenue Court, while hearing a case of sexual harassment filed by a Ph.D. student (hereinafter referred to as the “Appellant”) at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi against an Associate Professor (hereinafter referred to as the “Respondent”) at Indian Institute Technology, Delhi (hereinafter referred to as the “Institute”) laid down the guidelines for the prevention of sexual harassment at Institute. The judgment was passed on April 10, 2023.
The student approached the Tribunal appealing against the punishment recommended by the Internal Complaints Committee (hereinafter referred to as the “IC”) of the Institute that had found the Professor guilty of sexual harassment. The Tribunal noted that since the Institute is not a private organization, the present appeal was not at all maintainable, however, the Tribunal decided the case on merits to not let the Appellant suffer on the grounds of mere technicalities. It was further brought on record by the Tribunal that the Respondent had already filed an appeal before the Hon’ble President of India being Disciplinary Authority which is still pending.
The Tribunal while upholding the recommendations of the IC, gave directions to the Institute for safeguards to be observed in order to prevent incidents of sexual harassment on the campus.
Guidelines on Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Institute
- Administrators and management must clearly articulate and communicate the policies with consistent messages on acceptable behaviour and norms on substance use along with empowering students with information on reporting channels;
- Build a value based culture in the institute and set up a preventive measure for fair procedure to develop a better and reliable culture in the organisation;
- Sexual harassment is violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution and is an expression of unhealthy human relationship;
- “Sexual harassment of women is a universal problem and its gravity is felt by all concerned around the world.” The Tribunal held that the every woman at the place of work and study, who fall within the jurisdiction of the educational institution, including its academic, non-academic staff and students, should be protected from sexual harassment, intimidation and exploitation;
- The Management should ensure that there exists the mechanism for registering complaints which is safe, accessible and sensitive;
- The management should take cognisance of complaints about sexual harassment, conduct enquiries, provide assistance ad redressal to the victims, recommend penalties and take appropriate action against the harasser;
- There must also exist a provisions to seek medical, police and legal intervention with the consent of the complainant;
- There must proper light and working CCTV cameras at different places to inflict fear in the minds of person who dares to do such an act;
- On the question of safety of women in hostels, the Tribunal directed the Institution to takes measures to prevent intrusion into the hostel premises by any boy;
- Cabins and rooms of the professors should be visible from outside so as to prevent girls from facing any kind of harassment while discussing her thesis with the Professor or feeling uncomfortable;
- Lights should be installed in all blind spots;
- The Institute must inform its students and staff about the sexual harassment guidelines and prominently display them in college and also hold workshops and seminars for both students and staff and publicly declare zero tolerance stance towards sexual harassment;
However, the Tribunal deliberated on the quantum of punishment recommended by the IC that is, recommending the disciplinary authority to take steps that include a stern warning to respondent for serious misconduct as per the norms of the Institute. The IC further recommended that the respondent may not be considered for promotion to full professorship for next five years and should be asked to give a written apology and a bond for good conduct to the disciplinary authority. The Tribunal held that it did not find any “illegality and infirmity in the observations of the IC and there is no error in recommending the punishment to the respondent through disciplinary authority”. The Tribunal further observed, “The punishment inflicted has severe effect on the career of charged official. It is stigmatic and will affect his mental capabilities.”
The Tribunal did not delve into the findings of the IC holding the respondent guilty since there are a separate proceedings pending before the appellate authority.