MEDHA KOTWAL LELE Vs. UNION OF INDIA
Author: Akhila Anand
CITATION: (2013) 1 SCC 311
COURT: SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
BENCH: HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE R.M. LODHA, HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE ANIL R. DAVE, HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE RANJAN GOGOI
DECIDED ON: 19th October 2012
Women just as men work hard to get themselves a job. Just imagine if a woman is subjected to harassment at theworkplace, 7 out of 10 women decide not to lodge a complaint against the one who harassed her. Do you know why this happens? It is due to the fear of being harassed again and the fear of losing the job. Even now, individuals are concerned that their female family member must learn to adjust until she is in a "safe" atmosphere according to their standards. Sexual Harassment is not a minor issue nowadays. It is one of the harsh truths that working women may have to confront or may face in the future, either directly or indirectly. Women are still denied their basic rights at the workplace, according to the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in Medha Kotwal Lele v. Union of India the reasons for such discrimination faced by women is because of gender inequality and gender power.
In this case,Medha Kotwal, thecoordinator of Aalochana, which is an organization for documentation and research on women, and other women's rights filed a petition in the court, citing several cases of sexual harassment and that the Vishaka & Ors vs State of Rajasthan &Orscase guidelines are not being effectively implemented.The petitioner contended that, despite the rules, women were nevertheless harassed in both legal and illegal ways, causing them pain, and demeaning their dignity. Medha Kowal wrote a letter with detailed information regarding harassment and dissatisfaction against the implementation of guidelines laid in Vishaka Case.The Supreme Court attempted to monitor the adoption of the Vishaka guidelines across the country by requiring State Governments to produce affirmations indicating the actions they took to implement the Vishaka guidelines by transforming the letter into a writ petition. According to the data, a significant number of the states performed poorly.Since the 1980s, the number of incidences of sexual harassment of women at work has increased in India.
The issue raised here was, whether individual state governments have adopted the Vishaka guidelines and several previous Court decisions' procedural and policy changes?
The court stated that the Vishaka guidelines must be applied in form, content, and spirit to help achieve gender parity by guaranteeing women to work with dignity, decency, and respect. The Vishaka Guidelines, require both employers and other responsible persons or organizations to follow them and to assist in the prevention of sexual harassment of women.
The Court noted to its previous conclusion on January 17, 2006, that the Vishaka guidelines had not been fully implemented by various Indian states and departments, as well as the training it offered at the time to aid in better coordination and execution. The Court went on to say that a few states had failed to follow previous Court orders requiring them to pass laws.It was determined that some states had just updated a few sections of their statutes rather than making all the required revisions, while others had made far less progress.
After hearing the learned Attorney General for UOI and the learned counsel, the Supreme Court directed sending notice to many parties, including the governments concerned, and after receiving proper responses from them. The Court further observed that-
“Complaints Committee as envisaged by the Supreme Court in its judgment in Vishaka case, SCC at p. 253, will be deemed to be an inquiry authority for the purposes of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964 (hereinafter called the CCS Rules) and the report of the Complaints Committee shall be deemed to be the inquiry report under the CCS Rules. Thereafter, the disciplinary authority will act on the report in accordance with the Rules.”
The Court not only reiterates the precedent Vishaka & Ors vs State of Rajasthan & Ors, but it also really acknowledges the possibility of legal action to enforce judicial rulings. “Though the guidelines were developed many years ago, they remained unimplemented,” says Colin Gonsalves, founder of HRLN. This judgment tries to drive implementation and resurrects the guidelines that were practically forgotten. A two-month deadline was set by the court for the execution of its 2012 judgment. It also stated that non-compliance or non-observance of the Vishaka guidelines will allow aggrieved parties to file complaints with their respective High Courts in their respective states.
ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION:
This judgment will make a significant change by reducing harassment faced by women in the workplace if properly implemented. There have also been countless cases of harassment at private businesses, including educational institutions, Bar Associations, Medical Councils, and all other place of work where the guidelines are not followed. Women have the right to work in a secure and safe environment, and it should be the responsibility of all employers, backed up by government legislation, to ensure that this happens.Considering the non-enforcement of a prior judgment that established norms against sexual harassment at work in India, the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) brought the matter to the Constitutional Court.
The Supreme Court of India reiterated the Vishaka guidelines issued by the Court in 1997 in its 2012 ruling, emphasizing further actions that need be taken to ensure its implementation:States and Union Territories must amend their Civil Service Conduct Rules and Industrial Employment Rules to recognize Complaints Committee reports as findings in disciplinary proceedings of "delinquent personnel." States and Union Territories must establish a "sufficient number" of Complaints Committees for them to function at the taluk, district, state levels, private and public sector institutions, and must create mechanisms to ensure that the Vishaka case guidelines are fully implemented.
(2013) 1 SCC 311  (1997) 6 SCC 241 https://www.equalrightstrust.org/sites/default/files/ertdocs//Case%20Summary%20Medha%20Kotwal%20Lele%20Vs%20%20Union%20of%20India%20October%202012.pdf https://www.casemine.com/judgement/in/56ea9794607dba382a079605  https://www.escr-net.org/caselaw/2013/medha-kotwal-lele-ors-v-union-india-and-others-2012-insc-643
Edited by Sathyanarayanan Iyer, Associate editor, Lawgic Stratum.