Internal Complaints Committee is a mandatory committee as per the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013. It is a body envisaged to receive complaints on sexual harassment at the workplace from an aggrieved woman as well as to inquire into and make recommendations to the employer on the action required pursuant to its inquiry of such complaint made.
Pre-1997, the person facing sexual harassment at workplace had to lodge a complaint under Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 that deals with the 'criminal assault of women to outrage women's modesty', and Section 509 that punishes an individual / individuals for using a 'word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman’.
During the 1990s, Rajasthan state government employee Bhanwari Devi who tried to prevent child marriage as part of her duties as a worker of the Women Development Programme was raped by the landlords of the community. The feudal patriarchs who were enraged by her (in their words: "a lowly woman from a poor and potter community") 'guts' decided to teach her a lesson and raped her repeatedly. The rape survivor did not get justice from Rajasthan High Court and the rapists were allowed to go free. This enraged a women's rights group called Vishaka that filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court of India. This case brought to the attention of the Supreme Court of India, "the absence of domestic law occupying the field, to formulate effective measures to check the evil of sexual harassment of working women at all work places."
In 1997, the Supreme Court passed a landmark judgment in the same Vishaka case laying down guidelines to be followed by establishments in dealing with complaints about sexual harassment. Vishaka Guidelines were stipulated by the Supreme Court of India, in Vishakha and others Vs State of Rajasthan case in 1997, regarding sexual harassment at workplace. The court stated that these guidelines were to be implemented until legislation is passed to deal with the issue. The court decided that the consideration of "International Conventions and norms are significant for the purpose of interpretation of the guarantee of gender equality, right to work with human dignity in Articles 14, 15 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution and the safeguards against sexual harassment implicit therein."
The Sexual harassment at workplace Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on the 2nd of September, 2012. With the passage of the Bill to an Act in 2013, the Vishakha Guidelines promulgated by the Indian Supreme Court in 1997 were superseded by the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. It is also referred to as Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) at Workplace Act of India.
Later, on 2nd May 2016, the then Ministry of Higher Education (presently Ministry of Education), notified the University Grants Commission (Prevention, prohibition, and Redressal of Sexual Harrassment of women employees and students in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2015 in accordance to the provisions of the PoSH Act.
POSH or the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is a ground breaking law on a much-needed and burning issue. It is India’s first codified legislation that categorically deals with the prevention, prohibition, and redressal of sexual harassment of women at the workplace.
The Act came into force on December 9, 2013, and is binding on every organization, public or private, having more than 10 employees.
In the case of the complaint against POSH, the ICC is solely responsible to investigate without being bias. The ICC is required to be vigilant to redress the sexual harassment complaints and resolves the same ASAP. ICC is the sole authority to inquire about the complaints and make efforts to redress the same.
Powers of the Internal Complaints Committee
♦ Implementation of the Internal Complaints Committee Policy relating to the prevention of sexual harassment.
♦ Resolving complaints by the aggrieved based on the guidelines of the Internal Complaints Committee Policy
♦ Recommending actions to be taken by the Employer
As per Section 11(3) the Internal Complaints Committee enjoys the powers same as that of a Civil Court and therefore
♦ It is empowered to initiate an inquiry into a complaint of sexual harassment at the workplace according to the Internal Complaints Committee Policy.
♦ It has the power to summon witnesses and parties to state the committee.
♦ It enjoys the discretion of summoning evidence to be examined if it may be deemed necessary to do so by the members of the Committee.
Responsibilities of Internal Complaints Committee
The main responsibilities with the ICC are :♦ Receive complaints of sexual harassment at the workplace.
♦ Initiate and conduct an inquiry as per the company’s procedure.
♦ Submit findings and recommendations of all such inquiries.
♦ Coordinate with the Employer in implementing appropriate action.
♦ Maintain strict confidentiality throughout the process as per established guidelines of the Internal Complaints Committee Policy.
♦ Submit annual reports in the prescribed format as prescribed.