Girl students fall under definition of 'aggrieved woman' under POSH Act: Calcutta High Court

  • Gargi Chatterjee
  • 08:45 PM, 27 Jan 2022

The Calcutta High Court bench of Justice Harish Tandon and Justice Rabindranath Samanta in a recent decision has held that Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 is applicable to girl students of a school.

The Court observed that the definition of ‘aggrieved woman’ under POSH Act means "an aggrieved woman means in relation to a workplace, a woman, of any age whether employed or not, who alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment by the respondent." Hence, the Act apply to the students of the school, the Court held. 

Factual Matrix 

The petitioner, Pawan Kumar is a teacher and he was appointed by Navodaya vidyalaya Samiti. The principal of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, made a written complaint with the Officer-in-Charge of Ravangla Police Station stating that he received complaints, which counts to near about 67 complaints, from several students of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya against the petitioner alleging commission of sexual harassment. In furtherance of the same, the Police Station registered a case under Section 10 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (POCSO Act). Further, he was suspended by the school authorities. He was also informed that a committee was constituted for summary trial to enquire into the complaints against him, which was allowed by an order of the Central Administrative Tribunal, Kolkata Bench. 

Such committee was constituted by the Navadaya Vidyalaya Samiti by a Notification in 1993, which prescribes constitution of committee for summary trial to enquire into allegations of sexual harassment against any teacher of the school. 

Submissions 

Pawan Kumar submitted that the complaint against him is of the nature of sexual harassment at workplace, the school authorities should have constituted internal complaints committee and such committee shall be deemed to be the inquiring authority appointed by the disciplinary authority. 

Per Contra, the school submitted that the POSH Act does not apply to the present case since the complaints have been by the girl school students. Further, that the Committee formed by notification in 1993 is legal as the notification has been upheld by the Supreme Court in the case of Avinash Nagra v. Navadaya Vidyalaya Samiti.

Order

The Court allowed the petition holding that the provision of POSH Act is applicable to the present scenario.

To that end, the Bench observed that the committee formed for a sumary trial does not adhere to the bounds of an 'internal complaints committee' under Section 4 of POSH  Act. The Committee constituted by the School did not have an external independent member as stipulated by the POSH Act. Hence, the bench noted, "the committee constituted for summary trial without adhering to the mandatory requirements of the law and the rules as quoted above loses its legal force."

Further, the Bench held that the extension of suspension beyond 90 days is in breach of the Supreme Court judgment in Ajay Kumar Choudhary v. Union of India.

"Such acts on the part of the concerned respondent authority reek of malafides. Under such factual matrix, the order of suspension which is illegal ab initio and its extension did not conform to the legal principles enunciated by the Hon'ble Apex Court in the decision of the Ajay Kumar Choudhary supra is liable to be quashed", the Court stated.

Thus the Court quashed the suspension order and ordered the petition to be reinstated within one month with all back pays cleared within two months of joining. 

Pawan Kumar Niroula v. Union of India & Ors.