Can a Complainant of Sexual Harassment ask for information on her own complaint through RTI?

In the case of Puspanjali Padhy vs. Central Public Information Officer, Indian Overseas Bank, before the Central Information Commission (“CIC”), New Delhi on 30th March, 2016, the issue of confidentiality under Section 16 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“the Act”) versus right to information (“RTI”) under the Right to Information Act, 2005 (“RTI Act”) was discussed.

The facts of this case are such that Puspanjali Padhy (“Appellant”) filed a complaint of sexual harassment as per the provisions of the Act. However, on conclusion of the enquiry, the report stating the findings and conclusion of the Internal Complaints Committee (“ICC”) was not shared with the Appellant. As a result of this, Appellant filed an RTI application to seek this information. The Central Public Information Officer (“CPIO”) denied the information to the Appellant under Section 8 (1) (b), (c), (g) and (j) of the RTI Act, 2005. The Appellant, thereafter, approached the First Appellate Authority (“FAA”) which also upheld the decision taken by the CPIO. Not being satisfied with the decision of the CPIO and the FAA, the Appellant finally approached the CIC praying that a direction be given to the CPIO to provide the information sought for by her and also compensate her for the unnecessary harassment caused to her in seeking this information.

The counsel for the Appellant, relying on Section 11 (1) of the Act, argued that a copy of the findings of the enquiry should have been made available to both parties upon conclusion of the enquiry, so that they could file an appeal if they were dissatisfied with the findings. The counsel for Respondent placed reliance on Section 13 of the Act and argued that ICC is the one required to provide the information because the enquiry was conducted by them and that instead of approaching the Respondent, Appellant should approach ICC, which would immediately make the report available to the Appellant.

The CIC did not go in detail into the question of whether any information (by way of RTI) on a matter of sexual harassment can be provided to the complainant of that matter itself, in the presence of Section 16 of the Act (Section 16 providing that any information related to a matter of sexual harassment cannot be disclosed, is required to be kept confidential and not provided even upon RTI (you can read more on this point in my blog here -http://indianwomenandlaw.blogspot.in/2015/03/providing-information-vs-maintaining.html)). However, on this point of providing documents to the complainant through RTI, CIC did observe that Section 16 of the Act ‘deals with publication of the recommendations etc. of the internal committee in press and media and not provision of such information to the parties concerned.’

For the purpose of this matter, the CIC held that ‘in view of the assurance of the Respondents regarding immediate provision of information upon the Appellant approaching the internal committee, intervention by the Commission in this matter in respect of provision of information is not necessary.’ The CIC also held that Section 8 (1) (b), (c), (g) and (j) of the RTI Act invoked by the CPIO was neither relevant nor applicable to the present case and according to Section 13 (1) of the Act it is the duty of the employer to make the report available to the parties.

With respect to compensating her, CIC noted that while the CPIO advised the Appellant to follow Section 13 of the Act to get the information needed by her, he ignored Section 13 (1), which requires the employer to make the report available to the parties, without requiring those parties to make a demarche in that regard and because of this approach of the CPIO, (endorsed by the FAA) the Appellant had to seek information through RTI and undergo such harassment. CIC ordered CPIO to pay a token compensation of Rs. 2,000 to the Appellant in accordance with Section 19 (8) (b) of the RTI Act.

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