The Madhya Pradesh High Court has recently emphasized that once the Internal Complaints Committee formed under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act, 2013 (POSH Act) has prepared a report, there is no further avenue for appeal to a Departmental Authority. The court, through a single judge bench led by Justice Sujoy Paul, also noted that Section 18 of the POSH Act explicitly specifies that appeals can only be made to a court or tribunal.

The court, seated In Jabalpur, underscored that the report from the local/internal committee falls under the category of a ‘service matter,’ as previously established in the case of Ramesh Pal v. Union of India & Ors (2014). It was also emphasized in that case that the proper recourse in such situations would be to approach a court or tribunal, as is customary in service matters.

Justice Sujoy Paul’s order affirmed this position, stating, “Thus, there exists no provision of preferring an appeal under the Act of 2013 to a departmental authority. In absence of showing any enabling provision, this Court is unable to countenance the order of Police Headquarters dated 25/06/2018. It is well-established that if a statute prescribes a certain procedure, it must be followed, and other methods are prohibited.”

The petitioner had challenged the directive issued by the Police Headquarters on June 25, 2018, and the second inquiry report created by the Departmental Authority (ADGP) dated July 25, 2018, in response to that directive.

The petitioner had served as the Station House Officer (SHO) of Gadarwara Police Station at the time of the alleged sexual harassment incident. The complainant, a Sub Inspector, was under the SHO’s supervision. The petitioner argued that he had taken action against the Sub Inspector for neglecting her duties and that her sexual harassment complaint was an afterthought.

After the complaint was lodged on March 16, 2017, a five-member committee conducted an inquiry and produced a report on May 26, 2017, which found the petitioner not guilty of sexual harassment. Subsequently, a second inquiry report was prepared on July 25, 2018, per the direction of the Police Headquarters, which found the petitioner guilty of the allegations.

While granting the writ petition and nullifying the impugned directive of the Police Headquarters and the second inquiry report, the court noted the following:

“In the present case, in the absence of demonstrating any source of power for issuing the directive dated 25/06/2018, the said order and the consequential inquiry report dated 25/07/2018 cannot withstand judicial scrutiny.”

The single-judge bench also observed that there was no substantial evidence against the petitioner. Furthermore, the court considered the fact that the complaint had been filed well beyond the three-month period from the date of the incident. The local/internal committee had not provided any written reasons for extending the time limit, as required by the proviso to Section 9 of the POSH Act.

Relevant Sections of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act, 2013 (POSH Act):

– Section 18: Specifies the appellate procedure, allowing appeals to be made to a court or tribunal.

– Section 9: Pertains to the filing of complaints and the time frame for doing so.

This judgment from the Madhya Pradesh High Court clarifies the recourse available in cases of sexual harassment at the workplace and reaffirms the significance of following established legal procedures under the POSH Act.

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