In a crucial legal development, the Supreme Court of India has issued a series of directions aimed at ensuring the effective implementation of the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH Act), along with its Rules. These directions, issued to both the Union government and all State/Union Territory (UT) governments, address key aspects of the act’s implementation.
Mandatory Appointment of “District Officers”
The most significant directive issued by the Court is the mandatory appointment of “District Officers” in accordance with Section 5 of the POSH Act. While Section 5 gives the appropriate Government the discretion to notify a District Magistrate or Additional District Magistrate as a District Officer, the Court has interpreted this as a mandatory requirement. This interpretation is crucial for the smooth functioning of the redressal mechanism established by the Act.
The Court’s stance is that treating Section 5 as non-mandatory would disrupt the well-defined workflow and redressal mechanism and, as a consequence, undermine the efficacy of the legislation. The Court passed these directions in response to a writ petition filed by the ‘Initiatives For Inclusion Foundation’ seeking the effective implementation of the POSH Act.
Role of the District Officer
The District Officer plays a pivotal role in the implementation of the Act. Apart from establishing a Local Committee in each district to address gaps where there is no Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), the District Officer is responsible for designating nodal officers and handling payments to the Chairman and members of the LC.
The Court emphasized that the failure to notify District Officers specifically has a cascading effect on the appointment of LCs and nodal officers. The absence of these key authorities, as mandated by the Act, hinders the effective implementation of the complaint mechanism and the larger framework.
Key Directions Issued
The Supreme Court issued several directions to ensure the smooth implementation of the POSH Act:
- Appointment of District Officers: The Principal Secretary of the State/UT Ministry of Women and Child (or any other Department) must personally ensure the appointment of a District Officer in each district within their jurisdiction within four weeks from the date of the judgment.
- Duties of Appointed District Officers: Each appointed District Officer must appoint nodal officers, constitute a Local Committee, and ensure the contact details of nodal officers and LCs are forwarded to the State Government within six weeks.
- Compliance Reporting: District Officers must ensure compliance with Sections 21(1) and (2), and Section 22, including collecting reports from the ICC/employers and LCs, and preparing a brief report for the State government.
- Operationalizing the Act for the Unorganized Sector: District Officers should identify non-governmental organizations working with women and undertake efforts to spread awareness about LCs to make them approachable for the unorganized sector.
- Coordination Between Union and State/UT Governments: The Women and Child Development Ministry of each State/UT, through its Principal Secretary, should identify a ‘nodal person’ to oversee coordination as per the POSH Act and liaise with the Union Government.
- Amendments and Gaps in Rules: The Union Government should consider amending the Rules to operationalize Section 26 of the Act and recognize a reporting authority and/or a fine-collecting authority.
- Training and Capacity Building: District Officers and LC members should receive mandatory training regarding their responsibilities, sensitizing them to the nature of sexual harassment and gender dynamics in the workplace.
- Awareness Initiatives: State/UT Governments and the Union Government must allocate financial resources for creating educational, communication, and training materials to raise awareness about the Act and establish orientation and training programs.
- Monitoring of ICs and Compliance by Employers: The Act’s provisions should be implemented in line with its scheme, with designated authorities ensuring compliance.
The Supreme Court’s directions seek to address the challenges in implementing the POSH Act comprehensively and efficiently. They emphasize the importance of District Officers in facilitating the Act’s effective enforcement, especially in rural and tribal areas, and underline the need for awareness campaigns and training programs to promote a safer workplace environment.