Recently, the Parliament passed a law that addresses the issue of sexual harassment in the work place. The Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on December 7, 2010, drew on the 1997 judgment of the Supreme Court (known as the Vishaka judgment) to codify measures that employers need to take to address sexual harassment at the work place. (See PRS analysis of the Bill here). The Bill was first passed in the Lok Sabha on September 3, 2011. It incorporated many of the amendments recommended by the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development that examined the Bill. The Rajya Sabha passed it on February 27, 2013 without any new amendments (see Bill as passed by Parliament). We compare the key provisions of the Bill, the Standing Committee recommendations and the Bill that was passed by Parliament (for a detailed comparison, see here).
|Bill as introduced||Standing Committee recommendations||Bill as passed by Parliament|
Clause 2: Status of domestic workers
|Excludes domestic workers from the protection of the Bill.||The definition should include (i) domestic workers; and (ii) situations involving ‘victimization’;||Includes domestic worker. Does not include victimisation.|
Clause 4: Constitution of Internal Complaints Committee (ICC)
|The committee shall include 4 members: a senior woman employee, two or more employees and one member from an NGO committed to the cause of women.||The strength of ICC should be increased from 4 to at least 5 (or an odd number) to facilitate decisions in cases where the bench is divided.||Disqualifies a member if (a) he has been convicted of an offence or an inquiry is pending against him or (b) he is found guilty in disciplinary proceedings or a disciplinary proceeding is pending against him.|
|Members may not engage in any paid employment outside the office.||Barring paid employment outside the office goes against NGO members who may be employed elsewhere. This clause must be edited.||Deletes the provision that disallows NGO members to engage in paid employment outside. NGO members to be paid fees or allowances.|
Clause 6: Constitution and jurisdiction of Local Complaints Committee (LCC)
|An LCC is required to be constituted in every district and additional LLCs at block level. At the block level the additional LCC will address complaints where the complainant does not have recourse to an ICC or where the complaint is against the employer.||The functions of the district level and the block level LCCs are not delineated clearly. It is also unclear whether the block level LCCs are temporary committees constituted for dealing with specific cases. Instead of creating additional LCCs at the block level, the District level LCC may be allowed to handle cases. A local member from the block may be co-opted as a member to aid the LCC in its task.||Accepted.|
Clause 10: Conciliation
|The ICC/ LCC shall provide for conciliation if requested by the complainant. Otherwise, it shall initiate an inquiry.||Distinction should be made between minor and major offences. Conciliation should be allowed only for minor offences.||Adds a proviso that monetary settlement shall not be the basis on which conciliation is made.|
Clause 11: Inquiry into Complaint
|ICC/LCC shall proceed to make inquiry into a complaint in such manner as may be prescribed.||No suggestion.||Inquiries will be conducted in accordance with service rules or in such manner as may be prescribed.For domestic workers, the LCC shall forward the complaint to the police within seven days if a prima facie case exists. The case shall be registered under section 509 of Indian Penal Code (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman).|
|Sources: The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Work Place Bill, 2010; the Standing Committee on HRD Report on the Bill; the Sexual Harassment at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, 2012; PRS.|
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.