An alleged victim of sexual harassment was not provided with the documents of the enquiry based on which the matter was adjudicated - CIC: Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 does not eclipse the right of a victim to access the same under RTI
The Appellant sought certified true copies of documents provided by respondent Johan Kurian to before the internal Complaint Committee for defending the case of sexual harassment and other related documents.
Grounds for the Second Appeal:
The CPIO has not provided the desired information.
Relevant Facts emerging during Hearing on 03.01.2018:
The following were present:-
Appellant: Represented by Shibi A, on behalf of authorized advocate of Appellant present through VC.
Respondent (1): P.N. Sudhakaran, Dy. Dir. & CPIO, All India Radio, Calicut present through VC.
Respondent (2): R. Vimalasenan Nair, Stn. Dir. & CPIO, All India Radio, Thiruvananthapuram, present through VC.
Respondent No.2 submitted that since the custodian of records was Respondent No.1, the RTI Application was appropriately transferred to Respondent No.1 vide their reply dated 13.09.2016.
Respondent No.1 submitted that information sought on paras (a), (b), (c) and (e) of the RTI Application was denied to the Appellant in their revised reply dated 07.11.2016 as it pertained to the ICC enquiry proceedings and as per ICC Act, 2013 which is prohibited from publication as per Section 16 of Chapter V of the Act.
Advocate of the Appellant objected that the denial in view of the aforesaid provisions is not apt in the instant case in as much as the Act affords protection to the victims of sexual harassment and Appellant in this case is herself the victim and is therefore not barred from getting the information under RTI Act. It is also pertinent to note that in the RTI Application, Appellant mentions that she was not provided with copies of documents produced by the respondent impleaded in the ICC enquiry and that this denial of opportunity to peruse the documents relied upon by the Committee in exonerating the respondent is a clear violation of the principle of natural justice.
Commission asked Respondent No.1 to send in writing their contentions raised during hearing along with copy of the relevant provisions of law they are relying on.
Decision in the matter was reserved.
Respondent No.1 sent an email on 04.01.2018 with the relevant provision of law based on which information was sought to be denied to the Appellant.
Decision on 04.01.2018
Commission has perused the facts on record and observes that Respondent No.1 has provided certain documents upon payment of prescribed fees to the Appellant on paras (d) and (f) of the RTI Application. Dissatisfaction, if any on the said paras has not been specifically brought out by the Appellant in her Appeal or by her advocate during hearing. In the circumstances, Commission does not find any scope of intervention on said paras.
During the hearing, advocate of the Appellant limited the arguments to the denial of information on paras (a), (b), (c) and (e) of the RTI Application.
From the submission sent via email by Respondent No.1, it has been noted by the Commission that the ICC Act, 2013 which the Respondent harped upon during hearing is the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act of 2013. For better understanding of Section 16 of said Act of 2013, we shall quote the provision hereunder:
“16. Prohibition of publication or making known contents of complaint and inquiry proceedings. - Notwithstanding anything contained in the Right to Information Act, 2005 (22 of 2005), the contents of the complaint made under section 9, the identity and addresses of the aggrieved woman, respondent and witnesses, any information relating to conciliation and inquiry proceedings, recommendations of the Internal Committee or the Local Committee, as the case may be, and the action taken by the employer or the District Officer under the provisions of this Act shall not be published, communicated or made known to the public, press and media in any manner:
Provided that information may be disseminated regarding the justice secured to any vicitim of sexual harassment under this Act without disclosing the name, address, identity or any other particulars calculated to lead to the identification of the aggrieved woman and witnesses
In this context, it may be noted that a coordinate bench of this Commission has extensively dwelled upon the question of law at hand vide its decision dated 01.07.2016 in a set of Appeal(s) registered as File Nos. CIC/YA/A/2016/000299 and CIC/YA/A/2016/000282. The observations of the coordinate bench are reproduced hereunder:
"...The limited question of law emanating from the present appeals may be formulated as follows:
Whether section 16 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 operates as an embargo over the right of a victim/complainant of Sexual Harassment to access information relating to inquiry proceedings, recommendations of internal committee/local committee, statements of complainant/respondent and witnesses; under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 was enacted by the Parliament to prevent harassment of women at workplace besides prescribing panel provisions for the offenders. A reference may be made to the Preamble of the aforesaid enactment to gather intent of the legislature:
An Act to provide protection against sexual harassment of women at workplace and for the prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
The intent of the legislature is loud & manifest. It is a settled principle of interpretation of statutes that the provisions of any enactment are to be interpreted in a manner which furthers the cause or purpose behind its enactment. Section 16 is enacted as a safeguard measure to check further aggravation of traumatic & stigmatic experience of a victim of sexual harassment against by unwarranted disclosure of her identity.
Natural justice requires that all parties having proximate nexus with any judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding or its outcome to be kept abreast. The expression 'shall not be published, communicated or made known to the public, press and media in any manner' as employed in Section 16 of the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 operates against disclosures made to three categories only. They are public, press & media. The expression cannot be stretched to assign altogether different meaning so as to include the 'complainant' within the prohibited degree of classes, to deny information relating to proceedings under the Act. If the aforesaid contention of the CPIO & FAA is accepted, the aforesaid provision would compound the harassment of the victim rather than mitigate it.
Though, the information relating to the proceedings & findings of Internal Complaints Committee while dealing with any incidence of sexual harassment, must be voluntarily made available to the victim; however, if the same is not done, I do not find Section 16 of Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act, 2013 to be eclipsing the right of a complainant/victim of sexual harassment to access the same under RTI Act, 2005. Section 16 (ibid) merely eclipses the right to know of the public at large, press and media only. Thus, the legal proposition remains that, a complainant/victim of an incident of sexual harassment as per the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act can access information through the RTI Act,2005...."
The aforesaid preposition squarely applies to the facts of the present matter, wherein, Appellant is the alleged victim of sexual harassment and has not been provided with the relevant documents of the enquiry based on which the concerned Committee adjudicated in the matter.
Accordingly, contentions of Respondent No. 1 are hereby rejected and he is directed to provide all available information on paras (a), (b), (c) and (e) of the RTI Application to the Appellant within 15 days from the date of receipt of this order.
The appeal is disposed of accordingly.
(Divya Prakash Sinha)
Citation: Reshma M G v. All India Radio in File No.: CIC/AIRCL/A/2017/101742/SD, Date of Decision: 04/01/2018