After reading Supreme Court's Vishaka Judgement dated 2005 and Sexual Harrasment at Workplace Act, which mandates the establishment of Sexual Harassment Committees across public and private offices, on Dec 2019, I, through RTI Application, approached General Administrative Department, Jammu and Kashmir. This, to seek details related to establishment of committees on sexual harassment across government departments, offices, semi-govt offices, autonomous bodies, educational institutions and local corporations here in Kashmir.
In reply to the RTI application, the General Administrative Department provided details of all those departments and government offices where such committees had already been established. They include the following: Directorate of State Motor Garages, JK Civil Secretariat Srinagar, Civil Secretariat Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir Cements Limited, JK State Sports Council, Office of Advocate General JK State Srinagar, Directorate of Urdu Coordination Cell, Deputy Commissioner Bandipora, Directorate of Command Area Development, Office of Deputy Commissioner Pulwama, Office of MD JK Tourism Department Corporation Jammu, Department of Social Forestry Jammu, SKIMS Medical College, Police Headquarters Jammu, Police Headquarters Srinagar, Defence Labour Procurement JK, JK BOPEE, Directorate of Litigation Kashmir, Office of Deputy Commissioner Baramulla and Labour & Employment Dept Srinagar.
Unsatisfied with the response, after a gap of one year, in December 2020, I filed another RTI application before the General Administrative Department seeking the same information. Surprisingly, my RTI application was forwarded to govt departments, offices under civil secretariat, corporations, semi govt corporations, autonomous bodies, educational institutions etc., and from January 2021 to April 2021, I received details of 50 newly established and more than 20 re-established sexual harassment committees across government offices.
Within a span of a few months, this little RTI activism seemed to have made its positive impact. The new list contained the details of the departments, offices, institutions where such committees didn’t exist but after receiving RTI applications on the subject matter, they were compelled to constitute sexual-harassment committees.
Because no government department will violate orders of Hon'ble Supreme Court nor act against provisions of Sexual Harassment Act. Thus they constituted Sexual Harassment Committees and forwarded the details .
A simple RTI application seeks particular information which, in turn, plays a very positive and effective role in establishing local complaint committee as per Sexual Harassment Act.
It also highlights the power and impact RTI Act. If it’s regularly and religiously availed at proper time and place, it not only ensures transparency and accountability, but other numerous welfare benefits. Thus strengthening the soul and spirit of RTI act which is, "An Act to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority…"
I urge fellow readers to take an active part in knowing their rights and duties. Not all reforms can be brought through protests and campaigning, use of RTI application in this case proved more productive than campaigning and protests.
Remember with just one RTI application 70 government offices established Sexual Harassment Committees.
Badrul-Duja is a practising advocate and RTI activist based at Srinagar.