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Rights panel indicts govt on workplace harassment

New Delhi, June 12: Just 16 per cent of government offices have set up committees to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace despite Supreme Court guidelines that all workplaces ought to be able to deal with such complaints, said a survey by an independent group commissioned by the National Human Rights Commission.

The commission says if government departments have implemented the court directive, issued six years ago, so tardily, things must be worse in private companies where there is no one to enforce it.

The survey, conducted in four states, shows that even when committees are set up, complaints are taken lightly with the aggrieved getting a raw deal.

The chairperson of one committee in Lucknow says: “Things are there just on paper and nothing is practised; nobody wants to take any positive step. Just because of the government order, committees have been constituted, but they are hardly functioning. Women are afraid to give written complaints as required by the committee as they are afraid to make their charges public.”

Interviews with women and committee members revealed that most bodies either did not meet Supreme Court guidelines in terms of NGO participation or were non-functional.

Surveys of 99 government departments in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa and Tamil Nadu showed that only 16 offices across these states had set up cells to probe sexual harassment complaints. Seventy-eight departments had not bothered to follow instructions and five offices were in the process of setting up committees. Of the 40 offices which were aware of the court directives, just 19 per cent had bothered to set up the mandatory complaints committee.

Of the 99 departments surveyed, just two offices had bothered to work out the broad outlines of such a policy. Not a single government office among the 45 departments surveyed in Uttar Pradesh had formulated the policy. None of the 11 offices surveyed in Bihar had done so, nor any of the 29 departments contacted in Orissa. In Tamil Nadu, just two out of 14 government offices had worked out a policy.

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