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SC order to Sikkim on office abuse

Gangtok, Feb. 9: The Supreme Court has directed the Sikkim government to give comprehensive publicity to measures taken by the state to implement guidelines framed by the court to tackle sexual harassment of women at workplaces.

Justice G.S. Singhvi and Justice Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhyay asked the Sikkim government to comply with the norms laid down by the Supreme Court in the 1997 Vishakha and in the 1999 Medha Kotwal Lele cases.

The court in its February 3 order said the government would have to publish the measures taken in Sikkim dailies with maximum circulation within two months. It said wide publicity should also be given through Doordarshan. The social welfare department and the legal service authority of Sikkim were also directed to give publicity to notifications and orders issued by the state not only for government departments but also for private companies.

The court was responding to a petition filed by a resident of Sikkim.

The lady — a victim of sexual harassment at her workplace (a public sector bank in Gangtok) — had filed a case in the chief judicial magistrate’s court here on March 1, 2008. But with the police investigation not helping much, she moved Sikkim High Court on April 27, 2010.

The woman’s counsel, Doma T. Bhutia, said a petition was moved in the apex court after the high court dismissed the case on September 29, 2010, when the government submitted that it would bring in an “appropriate legislation” to comply with the apex court order on the Vishakha case.

“Sexual harassment at workplaces is one of the biggest concerns for working women in Sikkim where a lot of private sector enterprises like pharmaceutical factories, hotels with casinos and power projects have come up. There is low awareness among women of the legal remedies for sexual harassment,” Bhutia said.

The guidelines issued by the apex court in the Vishakha case had directed that complaint committees headed by women with involvement of a third party be formed in both private and public sector undertakings. The third party can either be an NGO or any other body familiar with the issue.

The committees were to submit annual reports to the government and action taken by the department concerned.

On January 2, the Supreme Court directed Sikkim chief secretary Karma Gyasto to file an affidavit detailing the steps taken by the government to implement the Vishakha case guidelines.

The affidavit was submitted on January 30 with the government listing a comprehensive list of complaint committees. “There were no committees before that,” said Bhutia.

A senior government official refused comment on the order and said the state was yet to receive a copy of it.