Limitation period for filing a case for sexual harassment


Section 9 of the Act stipulates that a victim of sexual harassment has to make a complaint within a period of three months from the date of the incident. This period may be extended by three months, if the Committee is convinced that there existed circumstances that prevented the woman from filing the complaint within the limitation. The Courts have interpreted this provision strictly. For instance, in Vishwesh Dayal Shrivastava v. Union of India and Ors, 2016 (8) ADJ 597, the Allahabad High Court refused to accept a complaint on the sole ground of limitation and no inquiry on the merits was undertaken.

A similar approach was followed by the Delhi High Court in Atul Kumar Mittal v. IIT Delhi and Ors., 2019 Lab IC 2211, where a Professor was accused of harassing his student.

In such cases, the victim has the option of either letting the abuser go scot-free or pursuing a criminal action under the Indian Penal Code. The criminal justice system in India is infamous for its slow pace, where a case continues for years before a verdict is reached.

The system is particularly apathetic to women, who have often complained of facing harassment at the hands of the officials while they pursued a harassment claim. Additionally, there is a low rate of conviction, in harassment cases as well.

The ICC on the other hand, takes care of the above concerns. First, one half of the total members of the ICC should be women, which ensures that its proceedings are empathetic towards the victim. Second, the ICC is mandated to complete its inquiry within 90 days of the complaint. A time bound inquiry ensures that the complaint is dealt with timely and the victim does not have to go through the trauma of a prolonged inquiry.

By a strict interpretation of limitation, we close the doors of the ICC for a victim and deprive her of its benefits. As a result, scholars have time and again called for harmonizing the Penal Code with the Act, so as to allow the ICC to entertain complaints beyond the limitation period.

A strict limitation ignores that a victim of harassment, often takes time to muster courage to speak out against an alleged harasser. The ICCs proved particularly ineffective during the complaints that emerged during the #MeToo movement. Fixing the issue of limitation shall make the law effective and help it achieve its intended aim.

Reference: 9. Complaint of sexual harassment.Ñ(1) Any aggrieved woman may make, in writing, a complaint of sexual harassment at workplace to the Internal Committee if so constituted, or the Local Committee, in case it is not so constituted, within a period of three months from the date of incident and in case of a series of incidents, within a period of three months from the date of last incident:
Provided that where such complaint cannot be made in writing, the Presiding Officer or any Member of the Internal Committee or the Chairperson or any Member of the Local Committee, as the case may be, shall render all reasonable assistance to the woman for making the complaint in writing:
Provided further that the Internal Committee or, as the case may be, the Local Committee may, for the reasons to be recorded in writing, extend the time limit not exceeding three months , if it is satisfied that the circumstances were such which prevented the woman from filing a complaint within the said period.
(2) Where the aggrieved woman is unable to make a complaint on account of her physical or mental incapacity or death or otherwise, her legal heir or such other person as may be prescribed may make a complaint under this section.



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