Women continue to be harassed at work places: SC

New Delhi: Expressing deep concern that women continued to be harassed at work places despite its order passed 15 years ago, the Supreme Court on Friday directed all state governments to implement its verdict and bring amendments in law to stop such incidents.

A bench headed by Justice R M Lodha said "lip service and hollow statements" are not enough to uplift the condition of women and asked the governments to put in place law to tackle the problem.

"The Vishaka judgement came on 13.8.1997. Yet, 15 years after the guidelines were laid down by this court for the prevention and redressal of sexual harassment and their due compliance under Article 141 of the Constitution of India until such time appropriate legislation was enacted by Parliament, many women still struggle to have their most basic rights protected at workplaces. The statutory law is not in place," a bench headed by Justice R M Lodha said.

"Lip service, hollow statements and inert and inadequate laws with sloppy enforcement are not enough for true and genuine upliftment of our half most precious population ? the women," the bench said.

The court also expressed concern over low representation of women in legislative bodies in the country.

"While we have marched forward substantially in bringing gender parity in local self-governments, the representation of women in Parliament and the Legislative Assemblies is dismal as the women represent only 10-11 per cent of the total seats. India ranks 129 out of 147 countries in United Nations Gender Equality Index," the bench said.

The Supreme Court directed all regulatory bodies like BCI and MCI, which regulate different professions, to set up a committee to deal with all cases of sexual harassment at workplace as per the guidelines framed in the Vishaka case.

It directed regulating bodies and all the institutions affiliated to them to implement the guidelines.

"The guidelines in Vishaka are followed in breach in substance and spirit by state functionaries and all other concerned. The women workers are subjected to harassment through legal and extra-legal methods and they are made to suffer insult and indignity," the bench said.

"As the largest democracy in the world, we have to combat violence against women. We are of the considered view that the existing laws, if necessary, be revised and appropriate new laws be enacted by Parliament and state legislatures to protect women from any form of indecency, indignity and disrespect at all places (in their homes as well as outside)," the bench said.

The bench passed the order on a PIL filed by Medha Kalwal Lele seeking its direction to expand the ambit of the 1997 verdict to include various other institutions.

The apex court had in 1997 framed guidelines to handle cases of sexual harassment at the workplace in government departments and PSUs

According to the guidelines, it was the duty of the employer or other responsible persons in work places and other institutions to prevent or deter the commission of acts of sexual harassment and to provide procedures for resolution, settlement or prosecution of acts, of sexual harassment by taking all steps required.

Private employers were also asked to include the express prohibition of sexual harassment in their standing orders.

The guidelines also said the victims or witnesses should not be victimised or discriminated against while dealing with complaints of sexual harassment.

The guidelines recommended the setting up of a Complaint Committee to be headed by a woman and half of its members should consist of women to deal with sexual harassment cases.