Why isn’t there an external member in the panel that is probing a sexual harassment complaint by a senior female police officer in Chennai? This is the question posed by a PIL that has now been filed in the Madras High Court. The petitioner has said that the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) that is probing the complaint against an IG-rank officer has not been formed as stipulated by law – and has demanded that the court pass orders to stay all proceedings of the ICC until a new panel is formed, as per law.
The petition was filed by Prem Anand, who is a practising advocate in Chennai, on Thursday. In his petition, Prem Anand alleged that the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) formed by the DGP of Tamil Nadu. after a senior woman police officer complained of sexual harassment by an IG-rank officer, was not in accordance with the Supreme Court order in the Vishaka vs State of Rajasthan case, and also the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013.
According to the workplace sexual harassment law in India, an Internal Complaints Committee can probe allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace, and prescribe action after proper proceedings. It is a quasi legal body, and must be headed by a senior woman in the organisation, and must also have an external member who is either part of an NGO or an ‘association committed to the cause of women’ or a person familiar with the issues relating to sexual harassment. The law also stipulates that half the members of the committee must be women.
The panel formed by the TN police is headed by Seema Agarwal, the Additional Director General of Police. The other members are Su Arunachalam, an IPS officer who is an Additional DGP; PC Thenmozhi, an IPS officer and Deputy Inspector General of Police; VK Ramesh Babu, a Senior Admin Officer; and S Saraswathi, Retired Additional Superintendent of Police.
It is the fifth member – S Saraswathi – that the petitioner has raised concerns over. Prem Anand in his petition mentions that there are several allegations against Saraswathi during her time as DSP, and while he is not levelling any allegations against her himself, he believes that she should not be a member of the ICC. Instead, he has asked an NGO member or a person familiar with issues of sexual harassment to be appointed to the panel.
“There is no justification by the fifth respondent (DGP) as to why she (Saraswathi) has been appointed as a member of the above said committee,” the PIL says.
The petition also questioned why an ICC was not formed earlier, as is required by law – and said that if an ICC had existed before, it would have prevented such sexual harassment cases.
The PIL also requested the court to direct the Tamil Nadu government to file a status report regarding the sexual harassment complaints received in all departments and institutions under the Tamil Nadu government and the action taken on such complaints till date and also issue circulars to all such departments to constitute the ICC in accordance with the law.
The PIL was heard by Chief Justice VK Tahilramani and Justice M Duraiswamy on Friday who then transferred the case to another bench.