The Central Information Commission has asked Satbir Bedi, member secretary, National Commission for Women, to look into the anti-RTI working in the organisation where a contractual research assistant was allegedly sexually harassed by the NCW deputy secretary and denied information that she had sought after being thrown out of job, leading to further harassment.
Information Commissioner M Sridhar Acharyulu also directed the NCW to “immediately find better equipped, well-trained officers who can properly act under the RTI Act and not to entrust its CPIO RC Ahuja any RTI work, until he is trained and understood the RTI Act, his duties, rights of people and its rules etc”.
He rejected the request of the NCW to waive the compensation of Rs. 50,000 it was directed to pay the victim for the suffering caused due to denial of information sought under the RTI Act.
“The request of the CPIO to waive compensation of Rs 50,000 has no basis, hence not acceptable. The compensation shall be paid within 20 days from the date of receipt of this order and send compliance report to the Commission along with certified copy of the acknowledgement of receipt of compensation by the appellant,” he ordered.
It also upheld the penalty of Rs. 25,000 imposed on the accused deputy secretary, as it said, “Being an accused in the complaint of sexual harassment filed by appellant, Mr VVB Raju, though recused from hearing first appeal, did not allow her access to most of the information. The Commission, hence, concluded on the guilt of Mr VVB Raju, as deemed PIO under RTI Act. Yet his prayer was re-considered. But further submissions, his complaints and petitions, response of Mrs. Vandana Gupta (the first appellate authority who was abruptly removed), petition by Mr Ahuja (CPIO) proved that Mr VVB Raju is obstructing the access from behind the screen and, hence, the fine imposed is confirmed and the penalty from him shall be collected.”
The CIC was disquieted at how the research assistant was thrown out of job when she raised her voice against the harassment by the deputy secretary and then denied information under the RTI Act on flimsy grounds.
The woman had sought her performance file to check if there was some complaint against her, as alleged by the deputy secretary before throwing her out of work, the service record of the deputy secretary, statement of witnesses before the internal complaints committee etc.
While the performance file was shared with her on the CIC’s order, the service record/ ACR of the accused and statement of witnesses was not shared on the ground that it was a third party information, even as the CIC noted that the witnesses were enormously rewarded with increased remuneration without any justification.
The CIC noted that first appellate authority Ms Vandana Gupta was removed before she could decide the victim’s first appeal against denial of information. The accused then went ahead to act as the first appellate authority.
The CIC directed Dr Bedi to “look into the anti-RTI working in NCW to find facts and suggest measures to improve the working of RTI, action against responsible officers for denial of information and for other wrongs under the RTI Act”.
It also sought answers to whether the first appellate authority was abruptly removed before the victim’s complaint could be fairly decided.
Abusive Language Used By CPIO
The CIC took strong note of the NCW, though CPIO RC Ahuja for passing an order without hearing them and for placing the matter before a larger bench.
“The CIC heard the second appeal after duly issuing notices to appellant (victim) and public authority. When appellant could receive the notice, it is not known why public authority, which as a well-known office could not receive it,” the NCW had said.
To this, the CIC said, “The allegation that CIC decided without affording opportunity to public authority is also factually wrong, because the CIC issued a notice to explain the denial of information, to both the CPIO and also deemed CPIO Mr. Raju on June 16. These notices were received by them, their explanations were duly reached, considered and only after personal hearing of these two officers, which were totally not convincing, the penalties were imposed. Hence, the allegation that they were not accorded opportunity to be heard is false and mischievous.”
The commission directed “the CPIO Mr. Ahuja to provide certified copies of appellant’s latest ACR and related documents. A part of the file of Mr. VVB Raju, including copies of his educational qualifications, Ms. Smita Jha and Mr. Ishwar Chandra (who were removed like the victim from the job but then reinstated), shall be allowed for inspection by the appellant and certified copies of the same shall be given free of cost, within two weeks from the date of receipt of this order”.
“The Commission considers that Mr RC Ahuja has used abusive language, made reckless allegations and disrespectful remarks reflecting an attitude which could be a big obstruction to the access to information in general. Hence, the Commission records admonition against Mr. Ahuja and warns him to get trained and learn to respect applicants and authorities under the RTI Act and respect the provisions of transparency,” the CIC ordered.