Del HC | Can Internal Complaints Committee make comments on personal conduct of parties? Read what HC says about ‘Moral Policing’ and ‘Consensual Relationships’

Delhi High Court: Pratibha M. Singh, J., observed that:

Complaints of sexual harassment are initially filed with enormous reluctance. The power of the ICC to hold the enquiry and give a report ought to be within the scheme and the four corners of the statute itself.

In the instant petition, recommendations of the Internal Complaints Committee have been challenged as given in the report as well as further action taken by the Punjab National Bank on the basis of ICC’s report.

A complaint was filed under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 against respondent 3 who was working as the General Manager of respondent 1 Bank, in Mumbai.

The above-stated complaint was referred to the ICC, which was constituted by the Bank, consisting of four members.

What was the analysis of ICC?

ICC came to the conclusion that the relationship between the petitioner and respondent 3 was based on personal grounds with mutual consent, and that the allegations of sexual, emotional and mental harassment were not substantiated by the petitioner.

Hence, the complaint against respondent 3 was rejected.

ICC made additional observations that the behaviour of the parties had been inappropriate and unbecoming of officers/employees of the Bank and accordingly recommended the Competent Authority to take suitable action against the petitioner and the respondent 3.

Based on the above report, a charge sheet was issued against the petitioner under Regulation 6 of the Punjab National bank Officer Employees’ (Discipline & Appeal) Regulations, 1977, hence in view of the same, petitioner has filed the instant petition.

Single Judge in his order had stayed the ICC’s recommendation and the consequent charge-sheet.

Later during the pendency of the petition, the petitioner became eligible to be considered for promotion. Petitioner stated that her promotion was being held up in view of the pendency of the present petition.

Thereafter, the Bank was directed to independently consider the petitioner’s candidature for promotion, however, it was directed that the same shall not be given effect to and kept in a sealed cover. Due to the lockdown, the matter could not be heard.

Analysis and Decision

Bench on perusal of the facts and circumstances of the matter raised the question as to whether the ICC could have, in the first place, made a recommendation directing the competent authority to take action?

ICC in its report had concluded that the allegations were not substantiated and the complaint was not made out. and further added remarks in regard to the conduct of the petitioner and respondent.

High Court made an observation in light of Section 13 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, that is the allegations of sexual harassment or any other form of harassment, as contemplated under the Act, are not proved before the ICC, the ICC can only recommend the employer to not take any action in the particular matter.

In the instant case, ICC has gone beyond its statutory mandate and has made observations that both the parties indulged in inappropriate/unbecoming conduct and indiscipline action against them.

Bench held that the above-stated recommendation by the ICC was beyond jurisdiction.

Moral Policing

‘Moral Policing’ is not the job of the Management or of the ICC.

With regard to Moral Policing, Court expressed that, any consensual relationship among adults would not be the concern of the Management or of the ICC, so long as the said relationship does not affect the working and the discipline of the organisation and is not contrary to the Rules or code of conduct binding on the said employees. It is only if a complaint is made of sexual harassment under the Act that the Management can constitute the ICC to enquire into the same.

Bench in view of the above discussion found the last paragraph of ICC’s report in the instant case to be commenting on the conduct of the parties which is against the statute and hence the same was not tenable and liable to be set aside.

In view of the above position, the fact that the Petitioner has become eligible for promotion means that the Bank would accordingly offer her promotion in accordance with her seniority, performance and merit, as per the applicable service rules. [Bibha Pandey  v. Punjab National Bank,  2020 SCC OnLine Del 1639, decided on 16-12-2020]

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