In a rare instance, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has agreed with the Supreme Court and said that its Registry could not be asked under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to provide details of the income tax returns filed by its judges.
In earlier instances — be it declaration of assets by the judges or revealing the details of the Collegium meeting process for appointment of judges — the CIC’s ruling advocating transparency had been challenged by the apex court first before the Delhi High Court and then before the Supreme Court.
But, on the income tax return details of the judges, the CIC saw reason to agree with the SC’s response to an RTI quesry and agreed with its counsel Devdatt Kamat that the Registry did not have the details of the information sought by RTI applicant Dr Lal Bahadur.
Chief information commissioner Wajahat Habibullah, in a five-page decision, said: “It should be clear that it is not the Supreme Court that would hold information on the income tax returns of the high court judges even at the time of their elevation as Supreme Court judges, coming as they are, from different states in the country.”
“Application will then have to be made to the department of revenue, ministry of finance, that administers income tax for all,” Habibullah said.
The original RTI application was filed by Dr Bahadur before the Supreme Court, which routed it to the ministry of law and justice. The ministry returned it to the apex court and tersely said: “Perhaps Supreme Court of India could be in a better position to furnish the information, as sought by the RTI application.”
The CIC found fault with the law ministry for sending it back to the SC. It said: “The ministry of law and justice has, therefore, erred in returning the application transferred to it by the additional registrar of the Supreme Court to the CPIO of the apex court and should have instead transferred this to the department of revenue.”
“The Registry of the Supreme Court, thus, cannot be faulted for having transferred the application that seeks information held by government to its own administrative ministry in government, since the Supreme Court is not a department or organisation under the control of the government and is not expected to hold information on which a department of government deals with the subject,” the CIC said.