Delhi minister Atishi writes to chief secretary to toughen harassment panel
The minister told HT that the government is planning to draft new rules so complaints at government workplaces can be handled more efficiently
Delhi’s women and child development (WCD) minister Atishi on Tuesday wrote to chief secretary Naresh Kumar asking him to draft a detailed process and rules to strengthen internal complaints committees (ICCs) on sexual harassment across all government departments by September 22, an official aware of the development said, requesting anonymity.
The minister on Wednesday told HT that the government is planning to draft new rules so that sexual harassment complaints at government workplaces can be handled more efficiently, a decision taken in wake of allegations against WCD official Premoday Khakha, who is accused of rape and is believed to have harassed multiple colleagues. Citing Khakha’s case, the minister said a system will soon be developed to identify officials of all departments against whom repeated complaints of sexual harassment and intimidation have been lodged.
“It is unfortunate that sexual harassment complaints were received repeatedly against the same person, and all of them pointed to his misbehaviour with women in the workplace... yet the system was not vigilant enough to identify and stop this pattern. It is this inefficient and laid-back approach that allowed the accused to escape any repercussions. This failure on our part to identify such problematic behaviour and mete out corrective actions is partly to be held responsible for the heinous crime that has followed,” she told HT.
Chief secretary Naresh Kumar said he will look into the matter. “We will definitely identify such repeated offenders and make a list so that they could not get sensitive posting till they get a clean chit from the courts,” said Kumar.
HT has seen a copy of Atishi’s note to the chief secretary.
The officer cited in the first instance said the minister has termed the cases against Khakha as a wake-up call for the entire system, and has questioned the neutrality of the ICC. “In affidavits submitted to the high court, the complainants alleged that the presiding officer of the ICC has been colleagues with the accused and hence they are unsure of the neutral nature of the ICC,” he said, quoting Atishi’s letter.
The minister’s directions come after a bruising fight for the control of the bureaucracy between the Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government and the lieutenant governor. Currently, the posting and transfer of officials in Delhi is overseen by the National Capital Civil Services Authority (NCCSA) — a three-member body headed by the chief minister. The panel also includes the chief secretary and the principal secretary (home). The authority takes decisions by majority and the final decision rests with the LG.
HT on August 25 reported that the WCD department received four complaints of sexual harassment by Khakha between 2018 and 2022 from four women working at a mental health unit in the Sewa Kutir complex in Kingsway Camp, where he was posted as a superintendent. The complainants, employed by an NGO, were then working at the mental health unit on a contractual basis. Two complaints have now become cases pending before the Delhi high court while the others were disposed of by the committee due to “lack of evidence”.
Atishi added she was surprised that ICCs in all complaints against Khakha were headed by officers of the same rank as him. “Members of ICC should ideally be senior to the accused and not in direct line of power either above or below the accused. Besides, a complainant had alleged that her ICC comprised members employed on a contractual basis and the accused held power over the termination or extension of their contracts. Such issues sow seeds of doubt not just in the minds of the complainants but also any third-party observer trying to gauge the government’s response to such serious allegations,” she added.
ICCs across all government departments have received and disposed of 28 complaints lodged under prevention of sexual harassment at workplaces against 20 Delhi government officials in the last five years, citing no evidence, according to officials of some of these departments. However, in 19 of the 28 cases, complainants appealed in the high court against the findings of ICCs. In the nine other cases, the high court directed the ICCs to review their findings. Four of the 20 officials on the list were accused of sexual harassment in two or more cases, according to senior officials of these departments