The Central Information Commission has confirmed in a substantial order that a husband is not entitled to request information on bank records and revenue. His wife’s tax returns under the Act on the Right to Records, 2005.
Neeraj Kumar Gupta, the Information Commissioner, noted that the filing of income tax returns by a person with the Department of Income Taxation is not a public practice. ‘It is in the essence of the responsibility owed to the State by a person to pay his taxes, that details cannot be revealed to the claimant in the absence of any wider public interest,’ said the Commission.
MATTER BEFORE COURT
The Appellant/Husband required the name and branch address information of all those banks in which his spouse had accounts during the financial years 2012-2013 to 2017-2018 at some point in time.
The appellant pleaded before the Commission that it was collecting information on his lawfully married wife and that, accordingly, the CPIO should have relied on section 11 of the 2005 RTI Act.
In addition, he submitted that the information should be revealed with respect to her bank records & income tax returns.
The respondent (CPIO, O/o. the Income Tax) submitted that the appellant requested clarity with respect to bank data and income tax returns from his wife, who is of a personal disposition and hence CPIO, O/o. Exemption u/Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 was asserted by the Income Tax.
It was also submitted that it is only necessary to invoke Section 11 of the RTI Act 2005 if the CPIO wishes to reveal personal information and, accordingly, until the CPIO is assured that the information is to be denied according to Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005, it is not needed to invoke Section 11.
Finally, the respondent claimed that no broader public interest, prima facie, is involved in the matter, and therefore the CPIO does not wish to reveal the details.
In accordance with the respondent’s stance not to invoke Section 11 of the RTI Act, the Commission said, ‘The CPIO is required to obey the process of Section 11 because he ‘intends to reveal any details or document.’ The CPIO did not see any value of disclosure in the present situation, and accordingly Section 11 has not been invoked.
Furthermore, the Commission referred to the Supreme Court’s Judgment in the case of Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commission [(2013) 1 SCC 212) with respect to the applicability of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 for non-disclosure of third-party bank records and income tax returns.
In the above case, the Supreme Court held that the information revealed by an individual in his income tax returns is ‘personal information’ which is excluded from disclosure pursuant to clause (j) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, unless it involves a greater public interest and is satisfied by the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the Appellate Authority.
The Commission also referred to the judgment of the High Court of Delhi in Vijay Prakash v. Union of India [AIR 2010 Delhi 7], in which it was held that, in a private conflict between husband and wife, the fundamental security provided by the immunity from disclosure adopted pursuant to Section 8(1)(j) cannot be excluded or disrupted unless the complainant is able to explain how such disclosure must be revealed in ‘public interest’.
The Court also acknowledged the ‘Third Party’ concept and noted that the husband is a ‘third party’ for the benefit of the RTI Act in this case.
It is abundantly evident from the terms circumscribed u/Section 2(n) of the RTI Act, 2005, that any person other than the individual seeking information may be considered a ‘third party.’ Thus, being a person other than the RTI claimant, Ms. Mamta @ Mamta Arora certainly falls under the definitive “definition” ‘Third party’.
In comparison, the CPIO has not planned to reveal the details that regard it as sensitive and has pleaded more. There is no public interest in the matter. There is also no public interest noticed by this Commission that outweighs the loss incurred by its disclosure.
Finally, after examining the substantive matrix of the case, the Commission believed, in the absence of any wider public interest in this matter, the appellant was not entitled to obtain information on his wife’s bank records and income tax returns exempted from the RTI Act, 2005, pursuant to Section 8(1)(j).