Addressing a case concerning sexual harassment, the Supreme Court (SC) ruled that harassment in any shape within the workplace is a grave matter, and therefore, demands serious consideration. Calling such behaviours humiliating, the court invalidated a previous decision by the Gauhati High Court that had overturned a penalty order to withhold 50 per cent of the pension of a former employee of the Service Selection Board.
This penalty was imposed in response to a sexual- harassment case filed by a female subordinate.
The SC emphasised that the perpetrator should not be permitted to evade legal consequences, as these behaviours cause distress to victims of sexual harassment, especially when the wrongdoer remains unpunished or faces only a minor penalty.
The SC made these remarks when it granted the Central government’s appeal against the 2019 high court judgment that reinstated full pension for the retired SSB officer, Dilip Paul.
Paul had served as an area organiser in Rangiya, Assam, from September 2006 to May 2012. He was accused of sexually harassing a female employee who worked as a field assistant under his supervision.
At first, the victim filed a complaint with the inspector general at Frontier Headquarters, Gauhati, alleging sexual harassment by Paul.
The panel consisting chief Justice D Y Chandrachud, Justices J B Pardiwala, and Manoj Misra noted that sexual harassment is a widespread and ingrained issue, affecting societies globally, including India.
Hence, Paul faced a penalty order withholding 50 per cent of his pension indefinitely as a result of disciplinary proceedings initiated in response to allegations of sexual harassment.
While reinstating the penalty imposed on Paul by the disciplinary authority, the bench made it clear that the Centre should not attempt to recover any of the amounts already disbursed to the respondent.
The panel also addressed the Visakha ruling and the subsequent instructions provided by the Supreme Court to handle cases of sexual harassment efficiently.