SC frowns on rising trend to invalidate sexual misconduct proceedings on hyper-technical points after Calcutta HC reinstates BSF head constable based on minor discrepancy

Supreme Court: In a case where there was a minor discrepancy regarding the date of occurrence of the act of sexual harassment of a constable at the hands of his superior i.e. the head constable, the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud* and AS Bopanna, JJ has held that deeming such a trivial aspect to be of monumental relevance, while invalidating the entirety of the disciplinary proceedings against the superior and reinstating him to his position renders the complainant‘s remedy at nought.

In the present case, the complainant was a constable in the Border Security Force complaining against the respondent who was the head constable – his superior. In a minor inaccuracy, the complainant had stated that the incident took place on 16 April 2006 when he was detailed to Naka duty, whereas the incident actually took place on the intervening night of 16 April 2006 and 17 April 2006.

The Court noticed that this discrepancy was of a minor nature since the event occurred soon after midnight and on the next day.

The Court took the opportunity to highlight the rising trend of invalidation of proceedings inquiring into sexual misconduct, on hyper-technical interpretations of the applicable service rules. It explained that,

“For instance, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act 2013 penalizes several misconducts of a sexual nature and imposes a mandate on all public and private organizations to create adequate mechanisms for redressal. However, the existence of transformative legislation may not come to the aid of persons aggrieved of sexual harassment if the appellate mechanisms turn the process into a punishment.”

It was hence noticed that the Courts must uphold the spirit of the right against sexual harassment, which is vested in all persons as a part of their right to life and right to dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution. It is also important to be mindful of the power dynamics that are mired in sexual harassment at the workplace. There are several considerations and deterrents that a subordinate aggrieved of sexual harassment has to face when they consider reporting sexual misconduct of their superior.

The Court, hence, asked courts to interpret service rules and statutory regulations governing the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace in a manner that metes out procedural and substantive justice to all the parties.

[Union of India v. Mudrika Singh, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1173, decided on 03.12.2021]


Counsels:

For appellants: Madhavi Divan, Additional Solicitor General

For respondent: Advocate Rabin Majumder


*Judgment by: Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud

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