Madras High Court: N. Anand Venkatesh, J., while noting a very shocking incident of a woman Indian Police Service cadre expressed that:
Mere registration of an FIR by itself does not take away the sordid state of affairs that is prevailing insofar as sexual harassment in workplaces are concerned.
Whosoever may be the person involved and whatever position he holds should never come in the way of the law taking its own course, more particularly when it comes to cases of sexual harassment.
High Court addressed a very shocking incident that may impact the women officers belonging to the Tamil Nadu Police Force came to the attention of the Court.
Considering the monstrosity of the situation, High Court decided to take suo moto cognizance in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.
Expressing deep concern, the High Court directed the Additional Public Prosecutor to take instructions and circulate all the relevant records, and the said records were circulated in a sealed cover.
What was noted on the perusal of the records?
It was seen that the victim officer who belonged to the Indian Police Service cadre had given a complaint to the Director-General of Police, Chennai. In view of the Bandobast Duty, the Special DGP had directed the victim officer to accompany him in his vehicle and she was told that she will be dropped at Perambalur.
During the above-stated travel, the Special DGP indulged in sexual harassment of the duty officer. The harassment suffered by the victim officer went to a point where she was left with no option but to hurriedly leave to Ulundurpet in the available car belonging to the Superintendent of Police, Kallakurichi. Enroute, the official car in which the victim officer was travelling caught up with her official car in which she proceeded towards Perambalur.
The official car on which the victim was travelling was intercepted at a toll gate by a large contingent of police headed by a Superintended of Police. Two police officers got down from their car and took away the car keys of the victims’ car. Thereafter, the victim officer was pressurised and forced to talk with the Special DGP who requested the victim not to proceed further.
Later the victim’s car was allowed to proceed towards Chennai, after which the victim submitted her complaint and DGP directed the DGP, CB-CID to take up the necessary investigation.
An FIR was registered in view of the above incident.
Court further noted that even a committee was constituted to enquire into the sexual harassment complaint.
High Court in view of the above expressed that:
It took so much of struggle, for a police officer of that rank, even to give a complaint to the DGP, Chennai. This Court shudders to think as to what would have happened if the victim was an officer belonging to a lower cadre as that of a Sub-Inspector or Constable of Police. Probably, it would have become impossible for such an officer to have even given a complaint in this case. If that is the position in which lady officers are placed, it is hard to think as to what will happen if such a sexual harassment had taken place on an ordinary lady with no background.
History and Struggle of Women
Bench elaborated that only in the last 25 years women have somehow managed to get to top levels at workplaces including public service. That by itself does not place them at a secure position since they are not seen in their stature as an officer or professional but continue to be seen merely with patriarchal eyes.
Bench sternly stated that the officers who did the act of intercepting the lady officer should be named.
If IPS Cadre lady officers are going to face situations such as this, this Court thought that it is high time to take cognizance of the same to ensure that these instances do not happen in the future.
Complaints against Sexual Harassment
Adding to the above, High Court expressed that there was a time when women used to swallow the bitter pill without raising a complaint about the same, since they feared consequences both in the workplace as well as the society.
If an officer, due to the power he veils, thinks that he can get over with his power and connections, from any act, this Court is not going to be a mute spectator and this Court will step in and ensure that the rule of law is preserved.
Free and Fair Investigation
A fair and proper investigation into crimes is one of the essentials of the criminal justice system and an integral facet of rule of law. In Pooja Pal v. Union of India, (2016) 3 SCC 135, the Supreme Court emphasized the requirement of a free and fair investigation as an essential concomitant of Article 21of the Constitution.
The accused person in the present case was a high-ranking police official of the very same State Police Force which was stated to be investigating the present matter as well.
Present case is an extraordinary case where this Court is required to step in to monitor the investigation to ensure that it progressed on the right lines, and to retain public confidence in the investigation of the alleged crime by ringfencing the interference of the high and mighty in the corridors of power.
Bench referred to the Supreme Court decisions in Manohar Lal Sharma v. Principal Secy., and Babubhai Jamnadas Patel v. State of Gujarat, (2009) 9 SCC 610.
Court is required to step into a monitor the investigation thereby, ensuring that the fundamental rights of the victim to a free and fair investigation is not reduced to an empty ritual.
“…one of those extraordinary cases where sentinel must raise to the occasion to discharge its constitutional duty and to ensure that the pure streams of criminal justice are not polluted and corrupted by those in the corridors of power.”
Additional Advocate General further submitted that the State is privy to the seriousness of the allegations made in this case and therefore, the investigation will be carried out with all seriousness and it will be taken to its logical end.
Since this Court has taken a decision to monitor the investigation, periodical status reports will be filed by the Investigating Officer, and this Court will be updated on the progress of this investigation.
Bench noted that considering the sensitivity of the issue and the ensuing elections that are going to take place in the State, there is a high possibility of politicising this issue. Hence in order to restrict the same, High Court has issued interim directions:
- In order to ensure that there is a fair investigation, in this case, there shall be a restraint to all political parties from politicising and/or publicising this case and no statements must be given by such parties in the media, touching upon the merits of this case;
- The name of the victim officer, the accused person and the witnesses shall not be used or exchanged through any media, pending investigation in this case; and
- Any violation of the directions issued by this Court will be viewed very seriously and this Court may be forced to initiate contempt proceedings.
Bench has directed for this Order to be placed before the Chief Justice and obtain necessary order and directions.
[Case Details to be updated]