Women's Panel Asked Why Official Hearing Harassment Complaint Was Removed

The first appellate authority is an official senior to the Central Public Information Officer who responds to an RTI application.

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Women's Panel Asked Why Official Hearing Harassment Complaint Was Removed

Information Commissioner had found serious irregularities in the manner of harassment (Representational)

New Delhi:  The CIC has directed the National Commission for Women to probe the reason behind the abrupt removal of its joint secretary, who was hearing an RTI plea of a former employee who had filed a sexual harassment complaint against an NCW official.

Joint Secretary Vandana Gupta was the First Appellate Authority for RTI-related matters at the National Commission for Women (NCW).

Mr Gupta was "abruptly" removed while she was adjudicating a plea of a former research assistant for access to records related to her complaint of sexual harassment against an NCW official, the CIC said in a recent order.

The first appellate authority is an official senior to the Central Public Information Officer who responds to an RTI application.

If an applicant is not satisfied with the response of the CPIO, he or she can file a first appeal before the first appellate authority.

The case pertains to a former woman research assistant who had accused the CPIO at the NCW of sexually harassing her.

It is alleged the commission had subsequently decided not to extend her contract.

The woman later filed an RTI application, demanding inspection of the files, contract, and reports of NCW officials related to her complaint.

When she failed to get a response, she approached the Central Information Commission (CIC).

Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu found serious irregularities in the manner in which the woman's RTI plea was handled.

"It is clear from her written submission that Gupta was not allowed to complete the hearing process. She was abruptly removed from service in violation of norms that suggest a joint secretary should not be relieved until a substitute officer is appointed," Mr Acharyulu said.

It is clear she was stopped from hearing the first appeal and that is why there is no formal order from the first appellate authority, he said.

Mr Acharyulu has now directed Satbir Bedi, member secretary, NCW, to find facts and suggest action against officers responsible for denial of information under the RTI Act and look into the "anti-RTI working" there.

"Is it true that Gupta was abruptly removed from service at the NCW while the first appeal was pending with her? If the answer is yes, then who was responsible for it?" Mr Acharyulu asked Mr Bedi to find out.

He also directed him to ascertain if an officer was appointed in place of Gupta to complete the hearing in the research assistant's case.

The information commissioner directed Mr Bedi to complete the fact-finding process within a month and file a report before October 20 along with relevant documents.

In a previous hearing, the CIC had noted that the NCW CPIO was the same person who was facing the charge of sexual harassment.

It had said the official obstructed access to information.

Mr Acharyulu had imposed a penalty on the CPIO, but he had filed a plea for reconsideration, which was later rejected.

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