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India’s largest corporations saw a marginal decline in the sexual harassment cases at workplaces, which experts attributed to growing sensitization efforts. Data compiled from annual reports and complykaro.com from top 44 Nifty companies showed that total complaints have droppedby 2.6% in FY20 compared to previous year.

Data on reported cases showed that these companies registered a total 657 cases in financial year 2020 compared to 675 cases reported in FY19. Among Nifty firms, atleast six have not reported a single sexual harassment complaint since FY 2015-16 date possibly hinting at the need for such corporates to invest more in creating awareness amongst employees. Companies such as Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd, Bajaj Finserv, Coal India, Reliance Industries, UPL Ltd and Shree Cement had nil sexual harassment cases reported in FY20.

The anti-sexual harassment law—the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013—mandates listed companies to report the number of sexual harassment cases and the steps taken for redressal.

According to Priyanka Sinha, partner at law firm A&P Partner, decline in the number of sexual harassment cases at workplace is mostly due to rise in awareness amongst employees and vigilance created by companies. "Also, in 2018 the Ministry of Corporate Affairs has amended the Companies Accounts Rules making it compulsory for companies to include a statement in the board’s report that they have complied with the provisions of the POSH Act. This has made companies to compulsorily create a mechanism for POSH in their companies, failing which Companies Act imposes hefty fines on companies for any such non compliance."

In FY20, Wipro Ltd received the highest number of cases i.e. 125 complaints or 19% of the aggregate number of cases received by companies under review. In FY19, Wipro (typically gets the highest number of cases) had received 142 cases under the POSH (Prevention of Sexual Harassment) act. The company attributed the relatively high number of cases to robust internal mechanisms which it says has enabled victims to come forward without any fear of retribution . “We have had a central ‘Prevention of Sexual Harassment’ Committee (PSHC) for many years now, with a Chairperson who is a senior woman employee. The committee acts on all the cases filed under sexual harassment in good faith and ensures that the grievance is resolved expeditiously and in an unbiased manner through defined procedures," said Sarika Pradhan, POSH Chairperson, Wipro Ltd.

Others leading the tally are Tata Consultancy Services which received 86 cases, Infosys (60 cases), both HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank 52 cases while Axis Bank had 45 reported cases during FY20.

Tech Mahindra which had reported 26 cases in FY19, saw nil complaint in FY20 showing a 100% dip in such issues during the year. Besides, Hindalco Industries, JSW Steel, Larsen & Toubro Ltd and Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd also received zero complaints in FY 2019-20 as compared to few cases in previous years.

“I believe that the IT Industry in particular has been proactive since inception in organising employee sensitisation programmes and they are now enjoying its fruits after having invested for the last 5-6 years. I further think that in general most of Nifty companies are also taking POSH compliance more seriously resulting in greater awareness," Vishal Kedia, Expert Trainer and Founder of POSH Advisory Firm, Complykaro said.

Among public sector undertakings (PSUs), State Bank of India received 44 cases in FY20, highest for any such government-owned company. The analysis shows that HDFC Bank saw a maximum increase in number of complaints with 27 which indicates women being comfortable coming forward and making a formal complaint.

Email queries to Tech Mahindra and HDFC Bank mentioned in the story remained unanswered till the time of filing the story.

Ashish Kumar Singh, Managing Partner, Capstone Legal feels that a decrease in cases shows that corporate India is taking POSH compliance very seriously and it is a welcome step towards achieving the objectives of the legislation.

However, sexual harassment cases reports and redressals for smaller companies may not show a similar trend. According to Kedia, not much is being done with regards to sensitization in smaller companies and it could be due to a number of factors like ignorance of management, last in priority, no training budget etc. However, he added that there is increased awareness amongst MSME with regards to nominating an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) within their organisation and many are taking steps in that regards.

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