“If Men Violate A Woman’s Rights In NCW, Where Should She Go?” CIC Raps NCW For Mishandling Of Sexual Harassment Complaint [Read Order]
The Central Information Commission on Friday rapped the National Commission for Women, for its mishandling of a sexual harassment complaint and a subsequent RTI application filed by one of NCW’s female employees.
“When the right of woman is violated and rule of law does not work, she looks to National Commission for Women for support and sympathy. If men violate rights of woman in NCW office itself, and rule of law does not work, where should she go?” Information Commissioner Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu lamented.
The Commission was hearing an Appeal filed by a Research Assistant employed at the NCW, who had claimed that her term was not extended to “harass her for daring to raise her voice” alleging sexual harassment by the Deputy Secretary. When the term was later extended, she complained that her performance was unjustly questioned in the extension letter. She had then filed an RTI application seeking file notings, correspondence regarding extension of employment contract, inquiry report and statement of witnesses. Her application was, however, denied on the ground that the information sought was ‘third-party information’. Notably, her first appeal was rejected by the same officer who was accused of sexual harassment as he was the designated First Appellate Authority under the Act.
Taking note of the fact situation, the Commission ruled that the First Appellate Authority had violated the provisions of the RTI Act, and had failed to follow the principles of natural justice, by omitting to conduct a proper hearing. The Commission opined that the accused should have recused from hearing the appeal in the first place.
Interestingly, the Commission took note of the fact that there was a “sudden increase” in the remuneration of contractual employees who were on the enquiry committee, concluding that such facts “strengthen the allegation of conspiracy to harass the appellant and strategic plan to remove her.”
A notice from the CIC was also left unanswered by the NCW officers. Terming such disregard as “surprising”, the CIC observed, “The submission of the appellant reflect unhealthy environment at workplace in the forum which supposed to protect the rights of women. Her right to life, right to work and right to information were seriously endangered by sexual harassment by senior officer… If this is the fate of woman who is working as research assistant in National Commission for Women, what will be the plight of ordinary women outside the NCW?”
The Commission opined that the Internal Complaints Committee had not disposed of the complaint “in a judicious manner”. It then went on to “recommend” the NCW Chairperson to consider the Appellant’s second appeal as well as the Commission’s order as a complaint, “to save the credibility and reputation of NCW, within reasonable time and perform its duty to cleanse the RTI wing including the First Appellate Authority to make it objective and secure it from misconduct and breach by officers”.
A notice was also issued to the CPIO and the First Appellate Authority, asking them to show cause as to why maximum penalty should not be imposed on them. Further, the FAA was asked to explain as to “why disciplinary action should not be recommended against him for violating law in dealing with first appeal under RTI Act, in spite of being accused of sexual harassment of the complainant, which could be a clear case of conflict of interest”.
Furthermore, the NCW Member Secretary was asked to explain as to why the NCW should not be ordered to pay compensation to the Appellant for the harassment. The NCW was asked to conduct an inquiry into the allegations and submit a report before 14 August.
Read the Order here.