The Central Information Commission recently ruled that information on sexual harassment cases should be provided to the victims within 48 hours under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, as it pertains to their “life and liberty” under Section 7 (1) of the Act.
“Thus, information sought in this case relating to complaint of sexual harassment at workplace can be treated as one concerning threat to her life and liberty as mentioned in section 7(1) of RTI Act, considering the fact that ‘threat to dignity of women at workplace’ is nothing less than a threat to her life and liberty in view of seriousness of mental or physical harassment she undergoes. The public authority should have provided the copy of inquiry report considering this as concerning life and liberty of the appellant within 10 days as per Section 13 of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, if not in 48 hours, or at least in 30 days as prescribed under section 7(1) of RTI Act RTI Act,” Information Commissioner, Prof. M. Sridhar Acharyulu observed.
The Appeal under consideration by the CIC was filed by a woman who had claimed sexual harassment at workplace. The woman worked at the Council of Certificate and Industrial Research, and she had alleged that she was sexually harassed by another scientist working in the same organization. The woman had filed an RTI application to know the status of her complaint, but the same was denied on the grounds that the case was still under investigation.
Besides being aggrieved with the concealment of the information, the woman had also pointed towards bias displayed by the authorities, which had furnished a copy of the inquiry report to the accused instead. The accused had obtained bail by presenting a copy of the report to the officers.
The authorities, on the other hand, had submitted that the delay in providing the report was due to internal processing of the RTI application. The Commission, however, looked through such contentions, and observed that the woman was treated in an “unfair” manner, and was “harassed” by making her visit the headquarters several times.
The Commission, thereafter, ruled in favor of the woman and directed the public authority to furnish certified copies of documents relied upon by the inquiry officer, along with questions list put up to witnesses and their answers. It was further directed to disclose the file notings of the file on inquiry proceedings, movement of file for action and the file notings of the RTI application.
The Commission opined that the complainant was deprived of her right to information, as guaranteed to her under two acts i.e., Right to Information Act and Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. Prof. Acharyulu further observed, “Everyone who has obstructed furnishing of information to the complainant-victim should be liable for action for violating both of these Acts, which formed foundation of the complaint. The Commission considers that the complaint is established and finds there is a strong need to initiate penal proceedings under section 20 of RTI Act.”
He was of the view of the conduct of the FAA and the CPIO was “highly unbecoming of their seniority in public authority and also their responsibility as designated officers under Right to Information Act.”
The Information Commissioner thereby directed Mr. S.K. Garg (CPIO), Mr. S.R. Chauhan (First Appellate Authority), and Mr. Akshay Kala (Joint Director, ESIC, H.Q, New Delhi) to show-cause as to why maximum penalty should not be imposed upon them “for obstructing the information to the complainant”. It further directed Mr. S. K. Garg and Mr. S.R. Chauhan to explain as to why disciplinary action should not be recommended against them.
Read the Order here.