New Delhi: A former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officer was awarded Rs 1 lakh compensation by the Supreme Court on Friday after finding it had improperly handled her sexual harassment complaint against then Secretary and Joint Secretary. The woman was also compulsorily retired after attempting suicide at Prime Minister’s Office in 2008.
A bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Dinesh Maheshwari noted that petitioner Nisha Priya Bhatia’s complaint of sexual harassment against then RAW secretary Ashok Chaturvedi were handled with casual attitude. “It is, therefore, not in dispute that the petitioner’s complaints of sexual harassment were met with incidents showcasing procedural ignorance and casual attitude of her seniors in the department,” said the court.
The delayed inquiry did not prove the sexual harassment charges, but the top court observed that sanctity of the Vishaka guidelines is crucial to provide women employees’s a dignified atmosphere at workplace. The guidelines mandate immediate setting up of an inquiry committee to probe the matter.
“The petitioner had faced exceedingly insensitive and undignified circumstances due to improper handling of her complaint of sexual harassment. Regardless of the outcome of the inquiry into the stated complaint, the fundamental rights of the petitioner had been clearly impinged,” said the court.
The bench said that had the allegations of the petitioner been substantiated in the duly-conducted inquiry (which the petitioner had failed to do), it would have been still worse and accentuated violation of her fundamental rights warranting suitable (higher) compensation amount.
“Be that as it may, the compensation amount specified hereinabove be paid to the petitioner directly or be deposited in the Registry of this Court and in either case, within six weeks from today,” said the court. The top court also upheld the government’s decision to compulsorily retire her.
“The impugned order of compulsory retirement passed under Rule 135 against the appellant/petitioner is valid and legal and the decision of the High Court in this regard stands confirmed subject, however, to modification thereof to the extent indicated in the present judgment,”, said the top court.
The apex court allowed her to vacate and hand over possession of her official quarter in a period of three months, and restrained the authorities from any penal house rent. The petitioner has occupied her official accommodation till date.