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BW Businessworld

A Trickle After A Long Dry Spell

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Women’s welfare organisations across India will soon be in demand like never before. Hundreds of workplaces across the country, which have more than 10 employees on its rolls, may soon have to find at least one representative of an organisation inclined towards women’s welfare to be part of an “internal complaints committee”. This committee is meant to protect women against sexual harassment at workplace.
 
The Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010, which prescribes the above measures, was passed in the chaotic monsoon session of Parliament without debate. The Bill calls for the constitution of “local complaints committees” at the district, taluk, and ward levels to redress complaints of sexual harassment against women in workplaces in the unorganised sector (that employs less than 10 persons). However, the availability of such individuals in such large numbers with known commitment to the cause of women could pose a challenge to the implementation of the proposed rule, policy think tanks say.
 
“As per the Economic Census 2005, there are at least 600,000 establishments that employ 10 or more persons. There is no public data on the number of NGO personnel ‘committed to the cause of women’. There could be difficulties in implementation if sufficient numbers of such NGO personnel are not available,” says a policy note from PRS Legislative Research.
 
In case a committee concludes that an allegation was false or malicious, it may recommend that action be taken against the woman who made the complaint. The clause also provides that mere inability to substantiate a complaint or provide adequate proof thereof need not attract action against the complainant. This clause also penalises false complaints (which may not be malicious). This could deter women from filing complaints,” says the PRS note. 

The Bill leaves out women agricultural workers, who form a large segment of the unorganised labour force. “Women working in fisheries, forests, or in construction work sites, roads, stations, trains, etc. must be brought under its purview. The women employees in the armed forces must also be covered under the Bill. In the unorganised sector, the restriction on the number of workers to less than ten should be done away with,” says Shyamali Gupta, president of All India Democratic Women’s Association. The Bill also excludes domestic workers working at home from within its purview. The government’s position is that it will bring another Bill, specifically meant for that purpose.
 
Three more Bills were passed in the monsoon session of Parliament:
 
The North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Amendment Bill will give Tripura its own independent cadre of IAS, police and forest officers. Currently, it draws its all India services cadre from a common pool it shares with Manipur. 
 
The National Highways Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 2011 proposes to expand the size of National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), from the current membership of 10 persons to 13.
 
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Amendment) Bill, 2012 intends to recognise the newly set up AIIMS-like institutions. After the enactment of the Bill, the upcoming institutions modelled on AIIMS in Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Jodhpur, Patna, Raipur and Rishikesh will all become institutions of national importance.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 17-09-2012)