Reinforcing the Indian tradition of treating women as a goddess, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her maiden budget speech, said, 'Naari Tu Narayani'. She went on further and talked about the importance of women’s role in our society.
Unfortunately, her thoughts don’t seem to reflect the realities in the government ministries and departments as they have failed to address sexual harassment cases according to prescribed norms.
Except for one government department, which is the Department of Atomic Energy, none have furnished any report to the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) pertaining to the status of sexual harassment cases.
This is in violation of an office order issued on December 22, 2016 by the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Training.
“All Ministries/Departments shall furnish a monthly report to the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) giving details of the number of complaints received, disposed of and action taken in the case,” the order mandated. It aims to ensure that the inquiries are conducted expeditiously and the aggrieved women are not victimised.
Speaking to Outlook, a senior officer from the WCD Ministry said, “In 2016, when the government realised that inquires in the cases of sexual harassment are taking an unduly long time, a meeting was held under the chairmanship of the then WCD Minister, Maneka Gandhi. Consequently, it was decided that all the ministries/departments shall complete inquiries expeditiously and provide a monthly status to WCD. However, all government departments have overlooked this order.”
According to the central law on sexual harassment – the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 - the maximum time limit to complete the inquiry is 90 days.
Interestingly, responding to an application under the RTI Act regarding the compliance of the order, the Ministry of WCD says that it has not received any such monthly report from the ministries/departments. “However, a report has been received from the Department of Atomic Energy in January which indicates two pending cases,” confirms an official spokesperson.
Does this reply imply that other government departments and ministries did not receive any complaint of sexual harassment post the order?
Incidentally, multiple applications under the RTI Act in other government departments/ministries show that many allegations of sexual harassment were raised in 2017 and 2018 after the order. However, they have not been addressed within the stipulated time frame or reported to the WCD on a monthly basis.
For instance, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, in response to Outlook’s application, said that out of nine cases of sexual harassment in 2018, only two were disposed of. The reply also suggests that 10 cases have been pending for over a year.
Similarly, Captain Sanjay Awasthi, Principal Information Officer, Southern Naval Command Headquarters, informed on May 27, 2019, that one allegation had cropped up in 2018 which is still awaiting action.
Many other ministries such as the Ministry of Home, Department of Economic Affairs and Ministry of Railways were clearly evasive in terms of sharing this information on some pretext or the other.
Ironically, the Ministry of Home has forwarded Outlook’s application to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB). NCRB in its response has urged Outlook to check its website. Ironically after 2016, NCRB has not released its report on national crime data till date.