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Case Brief: Punjab and Sind Bank and Ors. v Mrs. Durgesh Kuwar

Court: Hon’ble Supreme Court of India

Theme: Sexual harassment at workplace is an insult to women is a Fundamental Rights

Subject: Article 14, Article 15, Article 21 & Article 226 of the Constitution of India, Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

Judgement: India



BRIEF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

1. A senior woman officer of Punjab and Sind Bank, who was holding the office of Chief Manager in Scale IV in the Indore branch was transferred to the branch office at Sarsawa in the district of Jabalpur. She made a request for being retained at Indore.

2. By issuing a writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India before the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, she challenged the transfer order based on the following allegations. Firstly, she had submitted detailed reports to the zonal manager commencing from December 31, 2016 upto November 15, 2017 drawing attention to serious irregularities noticed by her in the maintenance of bank accounts of and transactions by liquor contractors, thereby raising serious issues. The Respondent recorded that there were duplicate bank guarantee registers and the entries were not the same in the registers and also some entries were missing from the new registers. The Respondent noted that limits were sanctioned to parties not having any connection to Indore for the execution of liquor contracts. The Respondent had submitted a detail report to the zonal manager of the Bank. However, instead of taking steps to rectify the irregularities, the Respondent was pressurised to cover up the misdemeanours. Within one month of submitting the last of the representations, the Respondent, on December 14, 2017 was served with a transfer order to a small rural branch of the Bank which should have been headed by a Scale I officer and not someone in her position. Secondly, she complained against the zonal officer who sexually harassed her. She accused the zonal manager of calling her late at night to discuss unimportant work, and then later insisting she meet him personally outside.


3. The High Court of Madhya Pradesh allowed the writ petition and quashed the order of transfer dated 11 February 2019. Aggrieved by the judgement, the Bank approached the Supreme Court.

4. Proceedings under Article 136 of the Constitution of India have been instituted before this Court (Supreme Court of India) by the bank as well as its General Manager, Zonal Manager.

ISSUE BEFORE THE HON’BLE SUPREME COURT:

1. The Hon’ble Supreme Court had to arbitrate and determine the validity of the transfer order in the present case. Moreover, the Court had to decide whether the order of the High Court quashing the order of transfer could be sustained or not.

RATIO OF THE COURT:

1. The Hon’ble Supreme Court analysed the rival submissions by both the parties. Mr Sudhir Chandra learned senior counsel appearing on behalf of the appellants submitted that the postings of the respondent indicate that she has been in Indore for several years. On 13 March 2019, an offer was made by the bank by which the respondent was proposed to be transferred to a Scale IV branch either in Jabalpur, Jaipur or New Delhi. It was urged that despite the above offer, the respondent did not indicate any choice of posting to one of the three branches which were suitable for a Scale IV officer.

2. Moreover, Internal Complaints Committee had taken due diligence of her complaint and found no substance in the allegations. It was thus urged by the Learned Counsel appearing on behalf of the Bank that the settled principle of restraint in matters of judicial review, where a transfer is an exigency of service, must apply in the facts of this case and the High Court judgement must be set aside. Mr Sudhir Chandra relied on the decisions of this Court in: - v Bank of India v Jagjit Singh Mehta (1992) 1 SCC 306. v State of UP v Gobardhan Lal (2004) 11 SCC 402. v Rajendra Singh v State of UP (2009) (10) SC 187. 3. The Learned Counsel of the respondent on the other contended that there had been a gross suppression of fact on the part of the appellants in moving this Court. He alleged that some sets of vital documents had not been brought to the Court's notice that contains communications by the respondent to the higher authorities regarding her concerns, her dissatisfaction with the inquiries, her complaint before the LCC in terms of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 in which the LCC had established the charges, document revealing modification of her transfer.

4. The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed the following points: -

v The Supreme Court, while examining the validity of the transfer order noted that administrative circulars and guidelines are indicators of the manner in which the transfer policy has to be implemented. However, an administrative circular may not in itself confer a vested right which can be enforceable by a writ of mandamus. Unless an order of transfer is established to be malafide or contrary to a statutory revision or has been issued by an authority not competent to order transfer, the Court in exercise of judicial review would not be inclined to interfere.

v With regard to the allegations of sexual harassment levelled against the zonal officer, the Court made observations of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 and said that sexual harassment at workplace is an affront to the fundamental rights of a woman to equality under Articles 14 and 15 and her right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution as well as her right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

DECISION HELD BY THE HON’BLE SUPREME COURT:

1. The Hon’ble Supreme Court disposed of the case. Moreover, the Court directed that Ms. Durgesh Kuwar, the respondent shall be reposted at the Indore branch as a Scale IV officer for a period of 1 year. Upon expiry of the said period, if any administrative exigency arises, the competent authority of the bank will be at liberty to take an appropriate decision in regard to her place of posting independently in accordance with law keeping in view the relevant rules and regulations of the bank. The Court also said that she will be entitled to costs quantified at Rs. 50,000. Contributed by: Paranjay Sharma (Student, Manipal University Jaipur)


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