SriLankan Airlines in its defence issued a shocking statement to its staff claiming that the airline was no party to the conviction that was handed out to its former Regional Manager Lalith De Silva for sexually harassing and insulting the modesty of one of its Indian national female staff members, during the time he was stationed by the airline in New Delhi, India.
However what the airline failed to mention in its statement is that the complainant victim had also filed a criminal case against the airline for its failure to have an Internal Complaint Committee (ICC) as mandated under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, law applicable in India.
The case Victim XXXX [Name withheld] Vs Sri Lankan Airlines regarding the above, is currently ongoing and is at the stage where arguments are being heard.
Currently arguments of the complainant have concluded with arguments of the defense yet to take place.
The next date for hearing of this case is scheduled to be held on the 1st October 2020.
SriLankan Airlines in its statement to its employees stated: “As the former Sales Executive had been dissatisfied with the outcome of the inquiry and she wanted another inquiry, the airline had conducted a further inquiry into her complaint in 2014 in line with the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal Act of 2013 in India, where the Committee had been of the view that her complaint of ‘sexual harassment’ could not be justified and her transfer to Cochin would stand”.
However ever since the verdict was announced on the 17th of September 2020, and being in the knowledge that the Metropolitan Magistrates Court in New Delhi had found sufficient evidence that proved beyond reasonable doubt and convicted Laith De Silva, SriLankan Airlines still continued to mislead its staff by issuing such a memo, barely a day after the conviction.
A prominent legal professional who handles aviation matters said: “I am shocked that SriLankan Airlines who is currently also facing an ongoing case for negligence on their part is making statements against a judgement that has already been made by the Indian court against one of its employees, who was once their employee. This could be perceived as contempt of court. Also it appears that the Legal Department of SriLankan Airlines has not followed the due process in professionally handling this matter”
“If the airline continues its line of defence in this manner, it stands to face repercussions in its failure to support its gender policy” he further said.
This is probably the first instance where an employer is being prosecuted for not having an Internal Complaints Committee as confirmed by the Department of Women and Child, Government of NCT Delhi on the 11th of November 2014 in open court.
As per the THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT OF WOMEN AT WORKPLACE (PREVENTION, PROHIBITION AND REDRESSAL) ACT, 2013, the penalty as specified under section 26 reads:
26. Penalty for non-compliance with provisions of Act.—(1) Where the employer fails to—
(a) constitute an Internal Committee under sub-section (1) of section 4;
1. Subs. by Act 23 of 2016, s. 3 and the Second Schedule, for “Local Complaints Committee” (w.e.f. 6-5-2016).
(b) take action under sections 13, 14 and 22; and
(c) contravenes or attempts to contravene or abets contravention of other provisions of this Act or any rules made thereunder, he shall be punishable with fine which may extend to fifty thousand rupees.
(2) If any employer, after having been previously convicted of an offence punishable under this Act subsequently commits and is convicted of the same offence, he shall be liable to—
(i) twice the punishment, which might have been imposed on a first conviction, subject to the punishment being maximum provided for the same offence: Provided that in case a higher punishment is prescribed under any other law for the time being in force, for the offence for which the accused is being prosecuted, the court shall take due cognizance of the same while awarding the punishment;
(ii) cancellation, of his licence or withdrawal, or non-renewal, or approval, or cancellation of the registration, as the case may be, by the Government or local authority required for carrying on his business or activity.
Even though SriLankan Airlines is in jeopardy of incurring a mere fine of Indian Rs 50,000 as a first time offender, it is the stigma of being convicted for such an offense is what will linger on forever.
Lawyer Ajay Verma the complainant’s attorney when contacted by Colombo Telegraph for a quote regarding the statement issued by Sri Lankan Airlines said: “The airline has been misleading the public as the conviction of the former regional manager is in a criminal trial pursued by State Government of National Capital territory of Delhi in India based upon a charge sheet submitted by Delhi Police after it investigated the crime. The statement that no evidence in the case is contemptuous as a competent court of Indian jurisdiction after conducting full trial and evaluating the evidence adduced before it came to conclusion that the accused Lalith De Silva is Guilty of an act committed under section 509 Indian Penal Code. It has been proved beyond reasonable doubt by an Indian Court that on 8.10.2009 the accused Lalith De Silva Committed acts of sexual harassment.”
“It is to be noted that in a separate criminal trial the airline is also being prosecuted section 27 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 on the complaint of the victim for not having the ICC (Internal Complaint Committee) as Mandated under the said Act. The provision prescribes for imposition of penalty. The Trial Court is yet to decide whether alleged policy if any as claimed was in accordance with Indian Laws or not. The statement of accused airline has been recorded on 11.4.2019 through its Authorized representative Chinthaka Weerasinghe. The trial has been concluded and is at the stage of final arguments which the court will hear on 1.10.2020. These two criminal cases have been going mostly on the same date before the same court. The representative of the airline has been attending the hearings and it is completely false that the airline had no knowledge”.
“The claim of the Airline that an enquiry was conducted as per their policy is untenable as a sham enquiry not in compliance of Indian laws cannot be recognized, moreover when the complaint was rejected on account of delay. An incident that happened at Delhi needed to be enquired into as per Indian laws and not in accordance to policy as claimed. It was the victim who approached the Hon’ble Delhi High Court by way of a writ and sought action against the airline. It was pursuant to a strict observation by the Hon’ble High Court on 12.11.2014 the airline then constituted a committee as per Indian Laws and conducted enquiry at New Delhi”.
“The finding of the enquiry committee has been challenged before the Industrial Tribunal in Delhi which is going to examine the correctness of the findings including termination. The termination has already been stayed by the Ld. Tribunal and despite all this the victim has not been allowed to work. Victim still believes that justice would be done to her.”
Published below is the summoning order which explains the chronological sequence and series of events that Sri Lankan Airlines is currently being prosecuted for the negligence committed on their part.