The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha yesterday.  Prior to this, no legislation specifically addressed the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace.  In 1997, the Supreme Court issued directions in Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan to deal with the issue.  The Supreme Court had also recommended that steps be taken to enact a law on the subject.  The Bill was introduced in Parliament in 2010 and was passed by the Lok Sabha on September 3, 2012.  In order to protect women from harassment, the Bill establishes a mechanism for redressal of complaints related to harassment. Recently, the Verma Committee in its Report on Amendments to Criminal Laws had made recommendations on the Sexual Harassment Bill.  In this blog we discuss some of the key issues raised by the Verma Committee with regard to the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace. Internal Committee:  The Bill requires the establishment of a committee within organisations to inquire into complaints of sexual harassment.  The Committee shall comprise four members: three would be employees of the organisation; and the fourth, a member of an NGO committed to the cause of women.  The Verma Committee was of the opinion that in-house dealing of the complaints would dissuade women from filing complaints.  It recommended that a separate Employment Tribunal outside the organisation be established to receive and address complaints of sexual harassment. Requirement for conciliation:  Once a complaint is made, the Bill requires the complainant to attempt conciliation and settle the matter.  Only in the event a settlement cannot be reached, the internal committee of the organisation would inquire into the matter.  The Verma Committee was of the opinion that this is in violation of the Supreme Court’s judgment.  It noted that in sexual harassment cases, an attempt to conciliate compromises the dignity of the woman. Action during pendency of the case:  As per the Bill, a woman may approach the internal committee to seek a transfer for herself or the respondent or a leave to the complainant.  The Verma Committee had recommended that till the disposal of the case, the complainant and the respondent should not be compelled to work together. False complaints: The Bill allows the employer to penalise false or malicious complaints as per their service rules.  The Committee was of the opinion that this provision was open to abuse. A PRS analysis of the Bill may be accessed here.

Discussion on the first no-confidence motion of the 17th Lok Sabha began today.  No-confidence motions and confidence motions are trust votes, used to test or demonstrate the support of Lok Sabha for the government in power.  Article 75(3) of the Constitution states that the government is collectively responsible to Lok Sabha.  This means that the government must always enjoy the support of a majority of the members of Lok Sabha.  Trust votes are used to examine this support.  The government resigns if a majority of members support a no-confidence motion, or reject a confidence motion.  

So far, 28 no-confidence motions (including the one being discussed today) and 11 confidence motions have been discussed.  Over the years, the number of such motions has reduced.  The mid-1960s and mid-1970s saw more no-confidence motions, whereas the 1990s saw more confidence motions.  

Figure 1: Trust votes in Parliament

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Note: *Term shorter than 5 years; **6-year term.
Source: Statistical Handbook 2021, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs; PRS.

The no-confidence motion being discussed today was moved on July 26, 2023.  A motion of no-confidence is moved with the support of at least 50 members.   The Speaker has the discretion to allot time for discussion of the motion.  The Rules of Procedure state that the motion must be discussed within 10 days of being introduced.  This year, the no-confidence motion was discussed 13 calendar days after introduction.  Since the introduction of the no-confidence motion on July 26, 12 Bills have been introduced and 18 Bills have been passed by Lok Sabha.  In the past, on four occasions, the discussion on no-confidence motions began seven days after their introduction.  On these occasions, Bills and other important issues were debated before the discussion on the no-confidence motion began.

Figure 2: Members rise in support of the motion of no-confidence in Lok Sabha