Delhi High Court states that Internal Committee cannot do Moral Policing

Recently, in a judgment dated 16th December 2020, the Delhi High Court, in the case of Bibha Pandey vs Punjab National Bank and Ors. stated that, “Moral Policing is not the job of the Management or of the IC.”

In this case, a complaint of sexual harassment was filed with the IC of Punjab National Bank, Mumbai, against its General Manager (Respondent). It was concluded by the IC that the Petitioner and Respondent had a personal relationship and that allegations of sexual, emotional and mental harassment were not substantiated. Further, IC’s report recommended the Competent Authority to take suitable action against the Petitioner and Respondent. The recommendation of IC was:

“After detailed deliberations, the committee observed that both the complainant Ms. Bibha Pandey as well as the respondent Shri Ashwini Kumar Vats have entered into a relationship with each other on personal basis, with mutual consent. The allegations of sexual, mental and emotional harassment is not substantiated as the actions on the part of the Respondent and the allegations cannot be termed as sexual harassment at workplace as defined under Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013. Therefore, the present complaint is rejected being non maintainable as per the provisions of the Act of 2013.

The Committee observes from the records available that the Complainant as well as the Respondent, have acted in a manner which is unbecoming of an Officer employee of the Bank as they have indulged in inappropriate acts, not maintaining good conduct and discipline expected of them. The Respondent, being at a very senior position, failed to maintain the dignity and decorum of his position. No case under Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 is made out. Both the Complainant as well as the Respondent have behaved and acted in a manner which is not befitting to the post held by them. On the contrary, it is detrimental to the organization and has vitiated the atmosphere of the Bank. The competent authority may take suitable action against them as deemed fit.”
Petitioner argued that in response to a sexual harassment complaint filed by the Petitioner, the IC could merely close the inquiry. Instead, the IC’s recommendation of taking action against the Petitioner for her ‘unbecoming’ conduct was not in consonance with section 13 (2) of the POSH Law which states – Where the Internal Committee arrives at the conclusion that the allegation against the respondent has not been proved, it shall recommend to the employer and the District Officer that no action is required to be taken in the matter.

The Court held that:

  1. IC holds power to enquire and give a report only within the stipulated statute.
  2. In cases where sexual harassment is not made out, the IC can only conclude that no action is required to be taken and in cases of the contrary wherein of sexual harassment is made out, then the recommendation of the IC can only be for taking appropriate action for misconduct as per POSH Law.
  3. Moral Policing’ is not the job of the Management or of the IC. Any consensual relationship among adults would not be the concern of the Management or of the IC, so long as the said relationship does not affect
  4. the working and the discipline of the organisation and is not contrary to the Rules or code of conduct binding on the said employees.
  5. IC cannot make comments on the personal conduct of the parties and the IC’s jurisdiction would be restricted to the allegations of sexual harassment and whether a complaint is made out or not, to that effect.