The Central Information Commissioner (hereinafter the ‘CIC’) has held in the favour of an accused-appellant, charged with the allegation of sexual harassment, holding him entitled to seek and receive complete information pertaining to the charges against him in order to enable him to defend himself appropriately.
The CIC in Balkrishna Porwal v. PIO, Department of Posts, decided in June, 2018, imposed a penalty on the Central Public Information Officer (hereinafter the ‘CPIO’) for not disclosing the information sought by the accused-appellant to defend himself.
The accused-appellant was facing an enquiry on a complaint of alleged sexual harassment and sought information through an RTI application on 15 counts, which also included statements of some of the witnesses pertaining to the case. The CPIO had disclosed information with respect to only 3 points and denied the rest under section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 and section 16 of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 (hereinafter the ‘SHW Act, 2013’). Section 8 of the Right to Information Act, 2005 deals with ‘exemption from disclosure of information’ while section 16 of the SHW Act, 2013 deals with ‘prohibition of publication or making known contents of complaint and inquiry proceedings’.
The decision was upheld by the First Appellate Authority.
However, the accused-appellant thereafter appealed to the CIC. The CIC held that during the appeal the appellant is not a charged official but he is an official who is seeking justice and collecting documents for his safeguard provided under the Constitution of India. These are the safeguards against misuse and to protect the accused from false allegations. Principles of natural justice demand that certified copies of all documents relating to the inquiry report including copies of the statements of witnesses should be given to him to facilitate him to substantiate his defence and for conduct of the enquiry in a fair manner.
The CIC concluded by holding that “the charge of sexual harassment is a serious allegation which if falsely made and proved by suppression of information to the accused, it can ruin the career of the accused, cause permanent and irreparable damage to the reputation and also disturb his domestic life affecting his relations with his wife and children. Society will look him down and people will talk badly about him in his absence and some may even insult him openly. As per SHW Act 2013 he would be shifted, and he might even face criminal prosecution under IPC which in our country would span over a decade or more involving huge expenditure and going to courts for several rounds as an accused person. A false allegation can render his life a hell and if innocent, he might suffer serious mental torture also. It can destroy a person totally. The due process, principles of natural justice and legal provisions of the SHW Act 2013 provide him a right to information to secure all those related documents will strengthen that right.”
The Indian Lawyer