Tuesday, August 01, 2017

No protection for women at NCW : By Madabhushi Sridhar

The Hans India: New Delhi: Tuesday, August 01, 2017.
The CIC has given half a dozen orders holding that any information about action on sexual harassment complaints should be considered as concerning the life and liberty of the woman concerned, and as per RTI Act, it has to be furnished within 48 hours.
However, it is pathetic that the National Commission for Woman (NCW) did not give any information so requested. There are international covenants declaring that sexual harassment at work place denies right to life and liberty. This was approved by our Supreme Court and, in fact, the judicial legislation on sexual harassment provided relief to lakhs of women until Parliament found time and made the law recently.
Free and healthy atmosphere at work place is a requirement. If the working woman finds it impossible to work because of superior or colleague’s harassment with sexual orientation, she may have to quit the job for peace of mind and security of body.
The sexual harassment creates a hazard for most of the fundamental rights of woman, ranging from right to life to right to work and liberty.  Certain commissions are created by the Constitution and the Parliamentary laws, giving them supervisory power over mechanism of securing the human rights for downtrodden, backward and women who are victims of inequalities practised by those in powerful positions.  
If police does not register a case or act upon, the complainants can approach the commission and ask it to goad the authority to act. One such body is the National Commission for Women constituted under an Act of 1990. There have to be such bodies both at the Centre and in States.
The RTI applicant, an alleged victim of sexual harassment, had sought file-notings, correspondence regarding extension (or non-extension) of contract of her employment, inquiry report instituted against one Raju, statements of witnesses, action taken on report, amongst the 16 points of information. As per Section 7 (1) of the RTI Act, 2005, the CPIO was to give the requested information within 48 hours of the application. However, no information was received, nor was it given even after 30 days, under Section 6 of the RTI Act.
In an emotional appeal, she said that ever since VVB Raju assumed office of Deputy Secretary and FAA at NCW he had been harassing her. She alleged that: Raju used to instruct her to obtain his signatures on the files personally, used to keep the files pending until she personally comes; when she brings the files, she would be asked to wait for a long time beyond the office hours; She represented this matter to chairperson and other officers including her immediate boss, but they advised her to take files to him; her reporting officer also directed her to go to Raju personally with the files.
When she did not do so, Raju started spoiling her unblemished career, and attempted to build a file during re-issuance of term of contractual employment as research associate; her salary was reduced from Rs 10,000 to Rs 8,000 per month. Three research associates (including herself) were not re-issued with the contract and later he issued appointment contracts to two others, thereby removing her on pretext of some complaints, though no such complaints were filed.
As Raju enjoyed complete support from chairperson and others, he was emboldened to continue sexual harassment; there was no action at all on her complaint, her colleague-witnesses were at the mercy of Raju and other officers for extension of their employment contracts and hence could not fearlessly talk about truth of sexual harassment during inquiry; everybody knew about his conduct, but none dared give witness against him. Rakesh Rani, a research assistant, spoke about truth of his misconduct, and she is now being harassed.
Other witnesses told her that they cannot risk their jobs and increments; the public authority suppressed the information sought deliberately. Raju prevented the CPIO from giving information. He Raju prevented even the first appellate authority from hearing the appeal. The chairperson was giving all support to Raju but no empathy towards the victim.
The chairperson did not consider her personal representation at all. The Chairperson withheld the key files from her to deny her access under RTI. She instructed the office people not to speak to the complainant, because of which none was communicating with her till she was thrown out.
In spite of CIC order to provide the documents for inspection, Raju continued to wield influence to prevent supply of information and other files to her. Only after the intervention of CIC, inspection was allowed and the office claimed that a bundle of 950 plus pages was dispatched to appellant, which is yet to be delivered.
The victim was visibly upset at the presence of Raju during the hearing. None, including her brother and counsel, could console her, when she was narrating the sufferings as tears rolled down. She went on giving details of harassment – sexual and work-related, for more than a year.
Raju maintained stoic silence all through without even attempting to condemn, whereas the CPIO Nagarajan defended himself saying he disclosed information as available. This silence also could be a reflection, which could be interpreted. If the allegation is concocted and totally untrue, any accused will certainly react and make an attempt to explain. Raju made no such attempt.
The officers defended Raju by saying that appellant filed sexual harassment complaint because her services were not continued. Within minutes, the truth was out when the Commission inquired into dates. Files disclosed that the Internal Complaints Committee heard the complaint of sexual harassment and gave report on 11.5.2016, and she was discontinued in November 2016.
She filed RTI application on 21.12.2016.  It was alleged that the inquiry was a sham, as most of the witnesses could not open their mouth against Raju as they are all at his mercy for extension of their contractual appointment. There was one employee who stood by truth but is being victimised by the administration for it.
As long as the contractual employment continues as a valid system of recruitment, there is no possibility to bring out truth in any inquiry, more so in sexual harassment complaints, especially when entire administration supports the accused.  It appears the NCW has not only failed as a responsible employer at first instance in responding to her complaint and RTI request, but also as the Commission, a statutory authority to hear the case of a woman in their own office.
The complainant said that in response to the order of CIC, all files required were not shown to her. Her service file, Raju’s papers about his appointment, extension of service etc were not shown to her. Some of the files were incomplete while most of them are in a highly disorderly manner, without having serial numbers.
Some files were not properly arranged; the two inquiries were mixed up and it requires a lot of time to find out the papers in order and understand; they do not know why the two inquiries into sexual harassment complaints were mixed up. She said that the file of appointment and extension of VVB Raju, Deputy Secretary and First Appellate Authority under RTI Act, who is also accused in complaint of sexual harassment by the appellant, was not shown to her, on the excuse that the file was under process with Chairperson.
The CIC called for explanation of the Chairperson of NCW for withholding the file about Raju and directed the NCW to show all the files and give the papers asked for. The Commission sought Vandana Gupta, the First Appellate Authority, to show-cause why disciplinary action should not be recommended against her for not conducting the first appeal in a fair manner.
CIC has slapped a penalty of Rs 25,000 each on three officers at the National Commission for Women (NCW) and asked it to pay a compensation of Rs 50,000 to the appellant for not providing information under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and for failing to take action against erring officials.  The CIC also ordered NCW to provide Rs 50,000 as compensation to the victim. (Based on CIC decision in second appeal against National Commission for Woman, CIC/NCFWO/A/2017/135800, on 26.7.2017)