Deciding the Executive Council’s Jurisdiction Not Within the Court’s Ambit: Sikkim High Court

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Excerpt

In this writ appeal case filed before the Hon’ble High Court of Sikkim, the appellants challenged the judgment of the single-judge bench of Justice Bhaskar Raj Pradhan on the grounds that the decision of the court on the issue of jurisdiction was unjustifiable.

Facts of the case

The petitioner was a professor at Sikkim University in one of its departments. At a wedding event for one of the faculty member’s families, the petitioner allegedly misbehaved with the respondent by touching her improperly and without her consent. She went on to say that this was not the first time the petitioner had attempted to touch her inappropriately. In her statement, the respondent was questioned by the Internal Complaint Committee (ICC). The reply recounted the events of the wedding celebration in great detail. The Assistant Professor of the department had invited her and the rest of the faculty to the wedding.

The respondent also claimed that everyone in the Department was aware that the petitioner was specifically targeting female students and attempting to approach them. She claimed that he summoned her to his office one day and instructed her to come to class since she was a good student who needed to improve her grades. The respondent went on to say that there were other girls who were having the same problem but who refused to come out and speak up. All of the girls, according to the respondent, had agreed that he had touched them inappropriately.

Arguments before the Court

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The learned single judge bench noted and proceeded to decide the ICC’s jurisdiction by referring to Section 2(o) of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013’s definition of “workplace.” The appellant’s learned counsel contends that while the learned Single Judge decided the scope of the definition of “workplace,” observing that it is an inclusive definition, the same question was left open for the Executive Authority to decide under Section 9 of the Act, which cannot be decided beyond the Court’s observations.

It is further argued that the Complainant’s and co-students statements are the premises on which the Court made its observations. As nothing remains to be resolved by the Executive Authority on this count now that the Court has dealt with it, the Court’s ruling on the jurisdiction explaining the breadth and scope of the workplace is not justifiable, and the above-mentioned subject cannot be kept open for determination by the Executive Authority.

Court’s observation

After hearing the appellant’s and respondent’s learned counsel, the observations given on the facts of the case are solely for the purpose of responding to the parties’ arguments, and they will have no bearing on the Executive Council, which is hearing the appeal. 

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On the other side, Mr Karma Thinlay Namgyal, a senior attorney, submitted that the respondent’s complaint was not limited to the occurrence at the wedding reception, but also included other instances in which the petitioner had allegedly inappropriately touched the respondent. The Court cited the Supreme Court‘s decisions in the cases of Fakir Mohd. by LRS vs. Sita Ram and State of Uttar Pradesh vs. C. Tobit & Others.

Judgment 

The learned single judge went on to refer to University Grants Commission Regulations No.8 and held that while the appeal is ongoing before the Executive Authority, the order of termination will be suspended and the appeal will be resolved by the Authority on all issues and points mentioned in the appeal. The learned single Judge’s decision would be upheld, and no interference would be necessary. It is ordered that the Executive Authority decide the appeal as the learned Single Judge observed it, without regard to the remark made in the Judgment on the issue of jurisdiction or the ambit and scope of the definition of “workplace.” 

Click here to view the judgment.


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