Madras High Court held that authorities are not entitled to reveal specific information

Madras High Court held that authorities are not entitled to reveal specific information to alleged harasser if it is a security risk

In the case of TV vs. Joint Director of School Education, the Madras High Court on 15th December 2021 held that authorities are not entitled to reveal specific information pertaining to sexual harassment complaints and proceedings to the alleged harasser if it would violate and risk the safety and privacy of the complainant.

Facts– The Petitioner was working as the headmaster of a school and a complaint of sexual harassment was filed against him by a teacher of that particular school. A Committee was constituted by the relevant authorities (“Respondents”) which conducted an inquiry into the complaint. The Petitioner requested for a copy of the inquiry proceedings which was not granted and when he filed an appeal, that was also rejected and he filed a writ in the year 2008.

The Petitioner was aggrieved about the fact that there was no response to his application seeking information under the Right to Information Act (“RTI Act”). He then filed a complaint before the Tamil Nadu Information Commission (“Commission”) and when that was rejected; he filed the present writ petition.

Submissions– The counsel for the Petitioner argued that the rejection of the RTI application under Section 8 (1) (g) of the RTI Act (exemption from disclosure of information which would endanger the life and physical safety of any person) was not valid since the information sought by him was necessary to defend his case. So the rejection order passed by the Commission was also not valid. The Petitioner relied on various judgments including Jogendrasinhji Vijaysinghji Vs. State of Gujarat (2015) and The Nonsuch Tea Estates Ltd., Vs. The State Chief Information Commissioner (2010), where the courts emphasized on the rights of information seekers and criticized the rejection of their application as improper and casual.

On the other hand, the Respondents filed a counter affidavit stating that one of the teachers had filed a petition to the District Social Welfare Officer describing the sexual harassment she faced at the hands of the Petitioner and the Secretary. It was revealed that the Petitioner did not sanction the monetary benefits of the teachers and they were mentally affected by this harassment. Hence, a Committee was constituted to conduct an inquiry where the teachers were examined individually and they gave detailed accounts of how the Petitioner harassed them. After this, the competent authorities of the Education Department passed an order that the school would be under the control of the District Educational Officer who would ensure direct payment to the teachers and staff of the school. The Petitioner filed a writ petition challenging this order in the year 2008. The authorities then submitted all the records before the Commission where the appeal filed by the Petitioner was rejected by citing Section 8(1)(g) of the RTI Act.

Observations by the Court– The Court analyzed the nature of the information sought by the Petitioner and observed that it included revealing the number of teachers who had complained to the District Educational Officer and a copy of the complaint and photographs of the teachers. The Court remarked that if such information was furnished then it would undoubtedly endanger the life or physical safety of the teachers and for security purposes, personal information pertaining to sexual harassment complaints needs to be protected. It has been held by the courts repeatedly that the names and identity of the complainants cannot be revealed. The facts and circumstances of the judgments cited by the Petitioner were held to be dissimilar and irrelevant to the present matter and a rejection of his RTI application would not disentitle him from defending the allegations made against him before any competent authority.

Hence the Court dismissed the writ petition by holding that an application under the RTI Act cannot be related to disciplinary or any other proceedings pending before the various authorities under the existing rules or enactments.

– Shagnik Bhattacherjee, Legal and Compliance  & Rhea Bazaz, Final Year Student, Symbiosis Law School, Pune

Comments are closed.