CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION
2nd Floor, C-Wing, August Kranti Bhawan
Bhikaji Cama Place, New Delhi -110066
Tel: 011 – 26182597, 26182598
Appellant : Dr. Sanjeev Malhotra
S/o Shri Om Prakash Malhotra
Kothi No. 435, Phase-4, S.A.S. Nagar,Punjab – 160059
Respondent : CPIO & ITO Ward(1)
Income Tax Department
Room No. 201, 2nd Floor,Aayakar Bhawan, Sector-2,Panchkula – 134112
Date of hearing : 20/04/2017
Date of Decision : 20/04/2017
Date of filing of RTI application 22.06.2015
CPIO’s response 03.08.2015
Date of filing the First appeal 07.08.2015
First Appellate Authority’s response 04.09.2015
Date of diarized receipt of second appeal by the Commission 27.10.2015
O R D E R
The appellant through his RTI application had sought certified copies of
Income Tax Returns filed by Dr. Aradhana _ PAN No. ABAPA4294M for the
Assessment Years 2010-2011 to 2015-2016 etc.
The CPIO vide its letter dated 03.08.2015, denied information under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 claiming it to be a personal information the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual.
Dissatisfied with the response, the Appellant approached the FAA. The FAA vide its order dated 04.09.2015 while concurring with the reply of the CPIO passed a detailed and reasoned order.
Facts emerging during the hearing:
The following were present:
Appellant: Mr. Sanjeev Malhotra (M: 9988874435) in person;
Respondent: Mrs. Manju Gera, ITO Ward-(1), Panchkula (M: 9530705070)
The Appellant reiterated the contents of his RTI application and stated that he had sought ITR details of his wife Dr. Aradhana for the Assessment Years 2010-2011 to 2015-2016 but the same was denied by both, the CPIO and the FAA claiming exemption under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005. He further explained that the information regarding the ITR details of his wife was sought to furnish evidence in support of his contention in a Maintenance proceedings under Section 125 Cr.PC before the Court of Law. The Appellant further informed that in his written submission, he had filed all the documents pertaining to the income details of his wife and therefore he could not be regarded a stranger to the ITR details of his wife. He took strong objection to the exemption being claimed under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 by the Respondent and vehemently contested over the issue of ‘third party’ and ‘public interest’ in the instant matter. Through the written submissions presented to the Commission, the Appellant produced copies of the salary details of his wife for the aforementioned years. He had obtained these details from ESI Dispensary, HMT Pinjore. Certain other details regarding the TA arrear bills, detailed pay bill etc. had also been obtained and that he was desirous of the ITR for the said period.
It was further submitted by the Respondent that the FAA, vide its detailed order dated 04.09.2015 upheld the reply of the CPIO. The FAA had referred to CIC decision in File no. CIC/AT/A/2007/00464 dated 09.07.2007/ F.No. CIC/AT/A/2008/ 00490 dated 17.10.2008 wherein it was held as under: “8. In Commission’s view, all income tax-related information, as entrusted by an assessee to the charge of the income tax authorities, is personal information and, does not cease to be so only because rather than be in the hands of the assessee, it has been passed on into the control of the public authority under a statute. The location of the information doesn’t alter its character.
9. It is the Commission’s considered opinion that all income tax-related information held by the public authority on behalf of an assessee comprises assessee’s personal information under Section 8(1)(j) and cannot be disclosed in order to promote some self-serving concept of transparency as now projected by the petitioner. Commission also cannot be oblivious of the fact that given the strained relationship between the petitioner and the third-party there is considerable scope for the misuse of this divulged information. Such disclosures will compromise and not promote the objective of the RTI Act.”
The Appellant cited the decision of the Commission in Prashansa Sharma v. Delhi Transco. Ltd. in CIC/SA/A/2014/000433 dated 03.02.2015 which had held as under:
“25. d. The larger public interest in maintenance of wives and children, prevention of domestic violence, etc., for the purposes of the disclosure of such information, which was strongly established by the Delhi High Court in two landmark judgments referred above.
e. The information related income details in the context of non maintenance of the spouse, becomes the life related information which should be given within 48 hours according to proviso to Section 7(1) of RTI Act, 2005.”ÿThe Appellant further cited the decision of Hon’ble Delhi High Court in Kusum Sharma v. Mahinder Kumar Sharma (FAO 369/1996 decided on 14.01.2015) to support his contention.
The Commission took note of the fact that the decisions of the Hon’ble High Court relied upon by the Commission in Prashansa Sharma v. Delhi Transco Ltd., dealt with providing affidavits of assets, income and expenditure from the date of the marriage and did not per se state that the disclosure of spouse details formed part of Right to Information. Furthermore, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court in Kusum Sharma v. Mahinder Kumar Sharma (FAO 369/1996) pertained to a matrimonial dispute and does not discuss the RTI Act, 2005.
In this context, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande vs. Central Information Commission & ors. SLP(C) No. 27734 of 2012 dated 03/10/2012 had held as under:
“14. The details disclosed by a person in his income tax returns are “personal information” which stand exempted from disclosure under clause (j) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, unless involves a larger public interest and the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Page 4 of 4 Information Officer or the Appellate Authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.
”Furthermore, the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the decision of Naresh Kumar Trehan v. Rakesh Kumar Gupta in W.P.(C) 85/2010 & CM Nos.156/2010 & 5560/2011 dated 24.11.2014 had observed as under: “25. Indisputably, Section 8(1)(j) of the Act would be applicable to the information pertaining to Dr Naresh Trehan (petitioner in W.P.(C) 88/2010) and the information contained in the income tax returns would be personal information under Section 8(1)(j) of the Act. However, the CIC directed disclosure of information of Dr Trehan also by concluding that income tax returns and information provided for assessment was in relation to a “public activity.” In my view, this is wholly erroneous and unmerited. The act of filing returns with the department cannot be construed as public activity. The expression “public activity” would mean activities of a public nature and not necessarily act done in compliance of a statute. The expression “public activity” would denote activity done for the public and/or in some manner available for participation by public or some section of public. There is no public activity involved in filing a return or an individual pursuing his assessment with the income tax authorities. In this view, the information relating to individual assesse could not be disclosed. Unless, the CIC held that the same was justified “in the larger public interest”.
Furthermore, the High Court of Delhi in the decision of Harish Kumar v. Provost Marshall cum Appellate Authority, LPA No. 253/2012 dated 30.03.2012 while denying information in a matrimonial dispute had held as under:
“10………………….It was further held that when any personal information sought has no nexus with any public activity or interest, the same is not to be provided. Finding the information sought in that case to be even remotely having no relationship with any public activity or interest and rather being a direct invasion in private life of another, information was denied. …………..It was further observed that personal information including tax returns, medical records etc. cannot be disclosed unless the bar against disclosure is lifted by establishing sufficient public interest in disclosure and disclosure even then can be made only after duly notifying the third parry and after considering his views. It was yet further held that the nature of restriction on right to privacy is of different order; in the case of private individuals, the degree of protection afforded is greater; in the case of public servants, the degree of protection can be lower, depending upon what is at stake; this is so because a public servant is expected to act for public good in the discharge of his duties and is accountable for them. This Court in Vijay Prakash Vs. UOI MANU/DE/0890/2009 : AIR 2010 Del 7 also, where information of an estranged wife’s service record was sought, held that the transparency values have to be reconciled with legal interest protected by law, such as other fundamental rights, particularly the fundamental right to privacy.”
Furthermore, The Hon’ble High Court of Bombay in the decision of Shailesh Gandhi v. CIC and Ors WP 8753 of 2013 dated 06.05.2015 had held as under:
“16……the said contention is thoroughly misconceived as filing of Incom e Tax Returns can be no stretch of imagination be said to be a public activity, but is an obligation which a citizen owes to the State viz. to pay his taxes and since the said information is held by the Income Tax Department in a fiduciary capacity, the same cannot be directed to be revealed unless the prerequisites for the same are satisfied.
23………..Since the right to privacy has been recognised as a fundamental eight to which a citizen is entitled to, therefore unless the conditions mentioned in Section 8 (1) (j) is satisfied, the information cannot be provided.”
Moreover, the Commission observed that Hon’ble High Court of Delhi vide it decision in Vijay Prakash vs. UOI and others, W.P.(C) 803/2009 dated 1/7/2009 had held that in a private dispute, between husband and wife, the basic protection afforded by virtue of the exemption from disclosure enacted under Section 8(1)(j) cannot be lifted or disturbed unless the petitioner was able to justify how such disclosure would be in ‘public interest’.
In this context, the decision of the Commission in Milap Choraria v. CBDT CIC/AT/A/2008/000628 dated 15.06.2009 can also be cited wherein it had been held as under:
“15. From the above discussion, it would appear that the Income Tax Returns have been rightly held to be ‘personal information’ exempted from disclosure under clause (j) of section 8(1) of RTI Act by the CPIO and the Appellate Authority; and the appellant herein has not been able to establish that a larger public interest would be served by disclosure of this information.”
In a similar matter the division bench of the Commission in appeal no. CIC/OK/A/2006/00072, dated 06/06/2006 [O P Pokhriyal vs. Indian Airlines Ltd] has, inter alia, observed that for accessing information intended to be used in matrimonial dispute between the parties the Central Information Commission is hardly the appropriate forum and the parties can get the information through the good offices of the courts where the case is being contested.
Considering the facts of the case and submissions made by both the parties and in the light of the afore-mentioned decisions of the Hon’ble Courts and CIC, the Commission observed that a suitable reply had been furnished to the Appellant by the CPIO/FAA. No further intervention was warranted in this matter. However, looking into the sensitivity of the reason/need behind the desire for disclosure of the information sought by the Appellant and in the interest of natural justice, the respondent is directed to provide generic information of net taxable income/ gross income particulars of his wife to facilitate judicious decision in this case, within a period of 15 days from the date of receipt of this order.
The Appeal stands disposed with the above direction.
Authenticated True Copy: