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The provisions of the POSH Act squarely apply to students of a school: Calcutta High Court

The provisions of POSH Act are also applicable to girls students of a school and they will be protected by all of its provisions, following was observed by the division bench of Calcutta High Court comprising of Justice Harish Tandom and Justice Rabindranath Samanta upon relying of the definition as per section 2(a) of the Act in the case of PAWAN KUMAR NIROULA V. UNION OF INDIA AND ORS. [W.P. CT 86 of 2021]

In the present case the petitioner who was a teacher appointed by Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti had 67 police complaints of offences regarding sexual harassment against him and as a result of the same he was also arrested by Ravangla Police Station on 15.02.2020 by later released on bail. As a result of these events, the petitioner was placed under suspension till 10.02.2021. On 16.06.2020 the petitioner by an order was informed about the allegations against him after constitution of a committee as per Central Civil Services Rules 1965. The petitioner in the present case the petitioner argued that the charges against him are subject matters of Internal Complaints Committee. It was also argued that the POSH act will not apply to school students and submitted that the summary proceedings issued by Navadaya Vidyalaya Samiti into sexual harassment cases will have legal force relyin upon the SC judgment of Avinash Nagra V. Navadaya Vidyalaya Samiti.

The Calcutta High Court after listening to the arguments from both sides rejected the contention that POSH act will not be applicable to aggrieved female students of the school relying on section 2(a) of the act as it held “in this context, the definition of ‘aggrieved woman’ as defined under Section 2 (a) of the Act may be referred. As per Section 2 (a) an aggrieved woman means in relation to a workplace, a woman, of any age whether employed or not, who alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment by the respondent. That being so, the provisions of the Act squarely apply to the students of the school.”

The Calcutta High Court also rejected the contention that the Internal Complaint Committee proceedings can be summary trials as per the provisions of the POSH Act placing reliance on section 4 of the act and stated that it is not in conformity with section 4 of the act because the Committee that the school constituted did not have an independent member as required by the act. As it held that it is axiomatic that the committee so formed by the respondent school authorities cannot be termed as an internal complaints committee as envisaged under the provisions of Section 4 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. Though the committee was constituted in terms of the notification dated 20.12.1993 issued by Navadaya Vidyalaya Samiti, but, the committee dehors of the fundamental legal requirements under Section 4 of the Act, has now lost its statutory force. Hence succeeding the writ petition against the inquiry and suspension but clarifying upon the applicability of POSH Act.

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Judgment Reviewed by Meenakshi Jena

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