Saturday, June 20, 2015

Tax returns of MPs/MLAs can't be disclosed under RTI to compare them with info in election affidavit


Income-Tax Returns filed by MPs/MLAs are exempted from disclosure under RTI Act.Copies of the same cannot be furnished for comparing the information therein with disclosures made by MPs/MLAs in election affidavits.

Facts:


a)The Petitioner made an application under the RTI Act requesting certain information, more particularly the Income Tax Returns of one of the Member of Parliament (respondent).

b)The information was sought to crosscheck the affidavit filed by the respondent to the Election Commission. The Petitioner sought information on the ground of larger public interest.

c)The RTI application was dismissed by lower authorities on the ground that information sought for had no relationship with any public activity or interest and, therefore,would not qualify in view of the provisions of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.

d)The instant writ was filed to challenge the order of lower authorities.

The High Court dismissed the writ petition by holding as under:

1)As per Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, personal information of an individual has no relationship to any public activity or interest and could not be disclosed unless larger public interest was involved.However, the proviso to said section carves out an exemption that the information which cannot be denied to the Parliament or the State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.

2)It was held by the Apex Court in the case of GirishRamchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commission &Ors. (2013) 1 Supreme Court Cases 212 that the details disclosed by a person in his Income Tax returns is a personal information which stands exempted from disclosure under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, unless larger public interest is involved.

3)As per Section 33A and 33B of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, a candidate standing for the elections has to submit an affidavit to the Election Commission. Further, Section 125-A of the said Act provides for prosecution if the candidate fails to furnish the information or gives false information which he knows to be or has reason to believe to be false.

4)As the Parliament has deemed it appropriate to limit the information in respect of the candidate to the extent mentioned in Section 33A of the Representation of the People Act, 1950, it is not open for a citizen to contend that he seeks certain information to cross check the information which has been revealed by the candidate at the time of filing of his nomination.

5)In the instant case, the petitioner sought information furnished by respondent in his income-tax return to cross check the information furnished by the respondent at the time of filing of his nomination with Election Commission. Therefore, the said reason can hardly said to satisfy the test of the same being in public interest.

6)The petitioner also placed reliance on proviso to section 8(1)(j) to contend that the information couldn’t be denied to him as same could not be denied to the Parliament. In this regard, it is important to note that the Parliament has its own rules of business and, therefore, it cannot be presumed that the information in respect of the Income Tax Returns of a Member of Legislature would be sought by the Parliament. Hence, the proviso to section 8(1)(j) of RTI Act cannot be extended to mean that each and every information is to be provided to the Parliament or to the State Legislature as same would render the enactment of section 8(1)(j) meaningless-SHAILESH GANDHI V. CENTRAL INFORMATION COMMISSION[2015] 58 taxmann.com 147 (Bombay)
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