The Central Information Commission (CIC) has ruled that information on sexual harassment cases need to be furnished to the victims within 48 hours under the Right to Information Act (RTI) as it pertains to their life and liberty.
This would make it mandatory for a public authority to provide the information to the applicant within 48 hours and not 30 days if the matter pertains to their life and liberty.
The ruling comes after the CIC heard a plea filed by a woman who was allegedly subject to sexual harassment at her workplace – the Council of Certificate and Industrial Research.
Through the RTI application filed by her last year, she had sought the status of findings of the inquiry committee which was set up with regard to her case. However, the information was denied to her citing a provision of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, and that the case was ongoing.
Information Commissioner, Sridhar Acharyulu said, “The public authority should have provided a copy of the inquiry report considering this as concerning life and liberty of the appellant within 10 days as per Section 13 of the 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.
He said that it was a “deliberate” misinterpretation of the provision of the law to further harass the complainant by hiding the action taken on her own complaint. Acharyulu said that just because the enquiry in the case or the prosecution of the offenders is continuing, the bar stipulated under the Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act cannot be invoked. The Section 8(1)(h) of the RTI Act prohibits disclosure of any sort of information which may hamper the investigation or apprehension or prosecution of offenders.
“It is impossible to imagine that giving a copy of the preliminary report of inquiry will impede further proceedings, investigation or inquiry,” he said, as reported by The Indian Express.
Achayulu said this was a case of denying the complainant of her rights to information under two acts – the Right to Information Act and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
He further added that as per the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act, the information concerning the alleged incident should not be disclosed to public, press and media in any which way. This is done to secure privacy, security and dignity of the complainant.
“If a third person wants to know the detailed information about sexual harassment, this provision could be used to deny it. But it cannot be denied to the complainant,” he said.
The CIC has directed Vinod Kumar, CPIO, to show cause why maximum penalty should not be levied upon him for obstructing the information to the complainant, before 20 May 2017.
The Logical Indian welcomes this move of the CIC as many sexual harassment cases linger for lack of information provided to the victims.