New Delhi: Cases of sexual harassment of women at workplace, including against domestic help, will have to be disposed of by in-house committees within a period of 90 days failing which penalty of Rs 50,000 would be imposed.
Repeated non-compliance of the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Bill, can even lead to higher penalties and cancellation of licence or registration to conduct business.
The Bill, which has already been passed by Lok Sabha, was unanimously passed by Rajya Sabha today, with Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath promising to follow up the legislation with strict rules for its implementation.
The legislation brings in its ambit even domestic workers and agriculture labour, both organised and unorganised sectors.
As per the Act, sexual harassment includes any one or more of unwelcome acts or behaviour like physical contact and advances, a demand or request for sexual favours or making sexually coloured remarks or showing pornography.
The acts or behaviour whether directly, or by implication, include any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.Non-compliance with the provisions of the Act shall be punishable with a fine of up to Rs. 50,000.
It has also provisions for safeguard against false or malicious charges.
The Bill makes it mandatory that all offices, hospitals, institutions and other workplaces should have an internal redressal mechanism for complaints related to sexual harassment.
The Act defines domestic worker as a woman employed to do household work in any household for remuneration whether in cash or kind, either directly or through any agency on temporary, permanent, part time or full time basis, but does not include any member of the family of the employer.
A Parliamentary Standing Committee, which had examined the Bill, had held the firm view that preventive aspects reflected in it has to be strictly in line with the Supreme Court guidelines in the 1997 Vishaka case.
The apex court's judgement in the case not only defines sexual harassment at workplace but also lays down guidelines for its prevention and disciplinary action.
Moving the bill for discussion, Tirath said it provides for a safe atmosphere for women in workplace.
She said this is for the first time that such a bill has been moved and women working in households have also been included in it.
The Minister said if it is found that a woman had filed complaint against someone with malafide intention, there is a provision for some punishment for her.
She clarified that failure to prove charges against the person will not be construed as malafide intention.
Najma Heptulla (BJP) said the need of the hour was to ensure that all such laws enacted for the safety of women are implemented on ground.
"Direct or indirect, there are 48 laws related to safety of women and this is one more... only making laws does not help in any way. What helps is their implementation," she said.
Heptulla also expressed reservations on the name of the bill saying it was limited only to sexual harassment and not to other aspects of harassment including mental and physical harassment.
"If a woman harasses a woman, then this Bill may not apply," she said.
Prabha Thakur of the Congress questioned why rapists of small children could not be given capital punishment as rape was a bigger crime than murder where the victim has to die everyday
due to the social structure in our country.
She asked the Government to provide the list of people convicted and punished for sexual harassment cases saying there was no fear among people as the people punished for such crimes are not afraid of law.
Citing example of ex-IAF pilot Anjali Gupta, she said when she complained to the higher authorities against the sexual harassment faced by her, she was court martialled by the Air Force and ultimately she committed suicide.
Thakur asked the government to add the provision of asking public and private sector firms to be made responsible for ensuring that women reach their homes safely if they leave office after 6 PM.
BJP member and former TV star Smriti Irani said the bill was being discussed at a time when Deputy Chairman of the House PJ Kurien was being accused in a rape case. Kurien and the government have rubbished the allegations.