Raju Sebastian and Others vs. Union of India and Ors.

Raju Sebastian and Others vs. Union of India and Ors.

 

In the High Court of Kerala at Ernakulam
W.A. Nos. 2112 and 2118 of 2018
Petitioner
Raju Sebastian & Ors.
Respondent
Union of India & Ors.
Date of Judgement
4th September, 2019
Bench
C.K. Abdul Rehim and R. Narayana Pisharadi, JJ.

Facts of the Case

1. The appellants are the writ petitioners in the writ petitions and are persons who own petroleum retail outlets on the basis of the dealership agreements executed by them with the oil marketing companies namely Bharat Petroleum Corporation limited, Indian Oil Corporation Limited and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation limited (second, third and fourth respondent).

2. The oil marketing companies demanded the appellants to furnish the information on sales tax returns, Bank account statements and Income Tax returns which the appellants stated as infringement of their Right to Privacy which is a fundamental right.

3. The single Bench Judge disposed of the previous writ petitions on the basis that the companies demanded the information on the basis of dealership and not with regard to any personal matters. The judgement of the single bench judge was assailed and challenged under writ petition.

Issues Raised

1. Whether the Companies demanding the information on the dealership agreement basis will not account to infringement of privacy?

2. Whether the Oil marketing companies have right to furnish information relating to Sales tax return, income tax return or Bank account statement, does it not infringe their right to privacy?

Ratio Decidendi

1. Referring to the decision of the supreme court in S. Puttaswamy, it holds that any action by the State or its agencies which curbs or restricts the right to privacy of a citizen shall pass each of the following three tests: (1) test of legality, that is, such action must have a legislative or statutory basis (2) test of need and necessity, that is, such action shall serve a definite purpose in public interest and (3) test of proportionality, that is, such action shall be at the minimum level required to achieve the object.

2. The statement of account of a person in a bank would reveal the amount in deposit in the bank and the amounts deposited and withdrawn in the past. It would reveal the amount transferred to and received by a person from another. It may show the loans availed of by a person from the bank. Therefore, the details of the bank account of a person constitute personal information and that any demand made to disclose such information amounts to infringement of his right to privacy. The right to privacy is not lost as a result of confidential information being parted with by the customer to the custody of the bank. Parting with information to the bank does not destroy its privacy. The relation between the bank and the customer is fiduciary.

3. Any information which discloses remittances made to the Income Tax Department towards discharge of tax liability would constitute personal information. A demand for furnishing income tax returns filed by a person would constitute invasion of the privacy of a person.

Held

1. The contention made by the respondents stating that they have right to seek information on demand of the dealership or to ensure that no retail outlet is being conducted on benami basis, does not have any merit as it does not have any legality. Income tax returns or the bank account statements of a person would contain many other information. It will not be possible to segregate the details regarding the dealership of the appellants from such records and to furnish them to the second respondent. Thus, asking for such information is infringement of the privacy.

2. The demand made by the second respondent furnishing the information regarding the bank account statements and income tax returns was examined through the threefold test envisaged by the K.S. Puttaswamy case. The first requirement being, there must be a law in existence to justify an encroachment on privacy. No person can be deprived of his life or personal liberty except in accordance with the procedure established by law. The respondents could not point out any law demanding such information or did not have any statutory basis. Law being the essential and the first requirement of the test the respondent could not pass the test and this made the other two tests unnecessary.

3. The Learned single Judge was wrong and had not considered any legal sanction and the three-fold test of the K.S. Puttaswamy case. The respondents do have any right to furnish the income tax returns and the bank account statements, as a condition for continuing the petroleum retail dealership granted to them. The appeals were allowed and impugned judgement in the writ petitions was set aside.

Edited by Sree Ramya

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje 

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I’m Shruti Shekatkar, a 4th-year law student pursuing BLS (Basic Legal Science) LLB from Government Law College, Mumbai. My Areas of interest include General Corporate, Banking and Finance, and Capital Market. My free time is occupied by reading books and articles, binging shows, listening to music and of course on social media. I would like to consider myself a good researcher through previous internship experiences. I work best in a team when the seniors and fellow team members are supportive and engaging. I would like to see myself in coming future to be a person who has in spite of her legal career has done her part to “woke” the world and make it a better place to live in.