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Prasar puts best foot forward

- Plan to seek conduct TIPS from women panel

New Delhi, Feb. 5: Prasar Bharati is looking to tap the women’s panel to train staff in “acceptable behaviour” in a move apparently spurred by sexual-harassment allegations against senior officials.

The public broadcaster has prepared a draft agreement with the National Commission for Women. If sealed, it will be the first by a government body for training staff in tune with the law against sexual harassment at workplace.

According to a draft memorandum of understanding, the NCW will help “explain sexual harassment and distinction between acceptable and non-acceptable behaviour” to the nearly 34,000 personnel of Prasar Bharati that includes those in All India Radio and Doordarshan.

Sources said information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari was keen to get the pact signed and the training to start soon.

An NCW member, Charu Wali Khanna, stressed the importance of the move by referring to the allegations at Prasar Bharati and saying they tarnished the image of the “public broadcaster that is supposed to disseminate information about anti-harassment laws”.

“This MoU was the need of the hour for Prasar Bharati. Its staff had no idea where and whom to complain. They didn’t even have an internal complaints committee as required under the law. While most allegations are against senior officials, the probes were against junior executives,” said Khanna.

In March last year, the All India Radio Broadcasting Professionals’ Association (AIRBPA) had alleged that senior officials had sexually harassed female presenters. In September the same year, a Doordarshan additional director-general (ADG) was transferred after accusations of sexually harassing a woman employee.

An NCW probe indicted the officer and concluded there had been violations of the law against sexual harassment at the workplace and Supreme Court guidelines to prevent such incidents, as outlined in the 1997 case referred to as the Vishakha judgment.

NCW member Khanna, who was part of the team that carried out the probe, claimed they had found that the officer harassed other women, too.

“When we went to inquire into the charges against the ADG, we found he targeted women other than the complainant. These women had, however, never complained. Asked why, they said they had no clue where to complain. That’s the state of Prasar Bharati, the public broadcaster,” said Khanna.

The planned Prasar Bharati job is part of the NCW’s mandate, which includes “explaining the nuances of behaviour at workplace which may put individuals and organisations at risk”. Another objective is to “reinforce workplace code of conduct, values and standards of behaviour”.

The draft agreement with Prasar Bharati, if signed, will be valid for three years. It has a confidentiality clause under which neither organisation can reveal any information on the cases.

But Prasar may not be the only one. Sources indicate that other government departments are queuing up for help. One of them is the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). The government-owned power giant was one of the first PSUs to set up a sexual harassment committee in 1998, a year after the Vishakha judgment.

Khanna, the NCW member, welcomed the trend. “It is a great step for public sector companies. We (government entities) should be the first ones to ensure the safety of working women. More and more such PSUs should come forward, train their personnel and make them aware not just of the laws but also the mechanism of redress. There is no point having a law that no one knows how to use.”