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Harassment bill out of info law ambit

New Delhi, March 21: The Right to Information Act will not apply to cases registered under a proposed law to prevent sexual harassment of women at the workplace.

The final draft of the bill, drawn up after several rounds of discussions with the law ministry and non-government organisations, states: “The identity and the addresses of the aggrieved woman, respondent, witnesses and any information related to the inquiry proceedings, recommendations or actions taken by the employer will not be made public notwithstanding the Right to Information Act 2005.”

The bill is to be introduced in the budget session of Parliament.

It, however, adds that information can be “disseminated” about the justice secured by the “victim” without disclosing the identity and address of the woman, the respondent and the witnesses.

At present, there is an unstated practice — though not mandated by law — not to disclose the identity of a rape victim. The Right to Information Act excludes from its jurisdiction only data on matters of strategic and national security.

As in the case of the bill to prevent domestic violence, the backlash against the sexual harassment bill has begun even before Parliament has approved it. Messages like this are flooding the Net: “The lazy non-performer will take the shield of the sexual harassment act and earn money as a free meal. The only way to spike the act is to stop employing women. No women employees, no sexual harassment.”

The bill, however, provides for penalising women found guilty of levelling a “false and malicious” complaint. “If she has produced any forged or misleading documents, the inquiry committee may recommend to the employer to take action against the complainant,” the draft says.

The sexual harassment law will apply to all establishments in the organised and unorganised sector.

The bill offers a comprehensive definition of harassment — apart from seeking sexual favours, showing pornography and making offensive remarks, harassment also includes “implied or overt promise of preferential treatment in employment, implicit or overt threat of detrimental treatment in employment, creating hostile work environment and humiliating conduct.”

If found guilty, the respondent has to pay compensation, which will be decided by the extent of the “mental trauma, pain, suffering, emotional distress of the person, the loss in her career opportunity, medical expenses incurred for her psychiatric or physical treatment, her financial status”.

During the period of inquiry, a woman’s request for a transfer or leave may be considered. If the respondent is found innocent, the inquiry committee will send a “no action” report to the employer. If the employee is found guilty, the committee can suggest application of service rules in government organisations and a salary cut.

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