The Appellant vide his RTI application sought information on 08 points regarding the details about the data security/sharing policies practiced by the income Tax Department, and the grounds on which the financial details filed by an Assessee could be made available to a third party/public, grounds on which information pertaining to his ITR details for the Financial Years 2005 to 2011 were downloaded on 19.06.2012 by the owner of USER IDs ( U 150223 and U153179) and shared with a third party, Lipipuspa Rozalina without his consent, does the above mentioned activity attract penal provisions under Indian Penal Code/ IT Act,1961, the details of the official owners of aforementioned USER IDs and issues related thereto.
The DCIT (OSD)( Inv.I ) 86 CPIO vide its letter dated 06.01.2016 transferred the RTI Application to the CPIO, O/o the DGIT (Systems), New Delhi under Section 6(3) of the RTI Act,2005.thereafter the CPIO/ADIT(s)-5 vide is letter dated 14.01.2016 transferred the RTI application to the CPIO,O/o the ADG(Systems)-3. Subsequently, the CPIO for Addl. DGIT(S)-3 vide its letter dated 15.02.2016 transferred the application to the CPIO to ADG(S)-1, New Delhi and ITO, Jeypore. The CPIO (DDIT (Systems)-I(1)) vide its letter dated 03.03.2016 transferred the RTI application to the CPIO, O/o the CIT-TDS, Ghaziabad. Dissatisfied by the response of the CPIO, the Appellant approached the FAA. The FAA vide its order dated 12.02.2016 transferred the First Appeal to the 0/o ADG (Systems)-3, Ghaziabad for taking further necessary action. Thereafter, the CPIO for Addl. DGIT(S)-3, New Delhi vide its letter dated 23.03.2016 transferred the First Appeal to the CPIO to ADG(S)-1, New Delhi and ITO, Ward- Jeypore.
Facts emerging during the hearing:
The following were present:
Appellant : Mr. Badal Satapathy (M: M: 9438071533) through VC;
Respondent : Mr. Chetan R., DDIT(S) (M: 9013850077) and Mr. Nitin G. Ramtekkar, ITO(S)-3 (M: 9013851468) in person; [Mr. Vinay Kumar Sharma, Inspector, Ghaziabad (M: 9013854631) and Mr. Shailendra Kumar, Inspector, Ghaziabad (M: 9968300214) arrived late] and Mr. Suradip Chakravarty, CPIO 86 ITO, Jeypore (M: 9438917593) through VC;
The Appellant reiterated the contents of his RTI Application and stated that his income tax returns for several years were provided to the Third Party without his consent. It was submitted that he had brought to the notice of the Income Tax Department by submitting documentary evidence about few serious threats/ loopholes in their computerized data storage system, leveraging which few scrupulous employees of the department were selling highly confidential financial data of Indian Citizens/ Tax Payers to third parties without the knowledge of the tax payer or any Court Orders. It was submitted that vide his RTI Application he desired to know the data protection policies adopted by the Income Tax Department and identify few employees of the department through their User Id who deliberately sold his confidential data to a third party without his knowledge. In its reply, the Respondent, Delhi submitted that the information sought by the Appellant was not available with them since creation of employee id/User Ids was carried out by the Regional Computer Centre under the direct supervision of the respective CCITs. Furthermore, security of local systems and networks was also directly monitored by the respective regional office. It was also submitted that they were not aware, if any particular officer had downloaded the information as alleged by the Appellant. The Appellant contested by stating that his total income and tax thereon (ITR-1) for AY 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 and 26AS details for FY 20052011 were clandestinely downloaded in report format on 19.06.2012 and shared/ sold with a third party names Lipipuspa Rozalina without his knowledge/ authorization or consent. The Respondent, Delhi submitted that vide their letter dated 22.07.2016, they had communicated the Pr. CCIT to conduct a detailed investigation in the matter and provide its findings. On a query from the Commission regarding the status of the investigation, the Respondent Delhi feigned ignorance.
The Respondent, Jeypore submitted that the RTI application was transferred to them by CPIO for Addl. DGIT (S)- 3 vide letter dated 15.02.2016. However, the information sought by the Appellant was not available with them hence the same was communicated to the Appellant vide their letter dated 28.03.2016, with a copy to the Pr. CCIT. The Respondent, Ghaziabad arrived late for the hearing and submitted that the RTI application did not pertain to them.
The Commission was baffled while considering the facts and circumstances of the present case in as much as in majority of similar subject matters considered by the Commission on a daily basis, the Respondents invariably claimed various exemptions under Section 8(1) to deny information to information seekers regarding Income Tax Returns of Third Parties. However, in the present instance, the personal and confidential information of the information seeker himself is alleged to have been compromised and no satisfactory response regarding the status of investigation was provided. It was informed by the Appellant that he had been notified approximately 16 times about the transfer of his application to various authorities without substantive outcome regarding the action taken in the matter.
The Commission observed that in several decisions mentioned as under the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India and several High Courts have denied disclosure of Income Tax Returns.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande vs. Central Information Commission 86 ors. SLP(C) No. 27734 of 2012 dated 03/10/2012 wherein it was 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 Information Officer or the Appellate Authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.”
The Hon’ble High Court of Delhi in the decision of Naresh Kumar Trehan v. Rakesh Kumar Gupta in W.P.(C) 85/2010 86 CM Nos.156/2010 86 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 assessee could not be disclosed. Unless, the CIC held that the same was justified “in the larger public interest”
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 Income 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.”
As observed by the High Court of Bombay in the decision of Shailesh Gandhi v. CIC and Ors WP 8753 of 2013 dated 06.05.2015, records relating to Income Tax are held by the Department in a fiduciary capacity hence the Department owes a bounden duty to ensure that personal and confidential information of a tax payer was held in the most safe and secure manner. While explaining the mechanisms available with them to ensure data privacy, the Respondent, Delhi submitted that they were in the process of revamping their system software to ensure maximum data privacy. A new module was proposed to be inducted which is undergoing trials at the moment. It was assured that the new software would address majority of the issues pertaining to Data Security of the individual assessee. It was observed that maintaining the privacy, the record keeping in the public authority as explained by the Respondent was in an outdated format and not upgraded utilizing the modern technological tools. It was also noted that the RTI application kept shuttling between different sections in the public authority without actually furnishing any substantial information sought by the Appellant in a time bound manner.
Keeping in view the facts of the case and the submissions made by both the parties and considering the gravity and seriousness of the issues raised by the Appellant, there is an emergent requirement to investigate the root cause of the leakages of Confidential Data filed by the Tax Payers and plug the loopholes forthwith. It is essential to protect the Confidential Financial Data filed by millions of Tax Payers from falling into wrong hands in the larger public interest. The Commission therefore, directs the Respondent (Delhi) to ensure the investigation in the present case by the concerned Pr. CCIT, Bhubaneswar to be completed within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of this order and the outcome of this report should also be shared with the Appellant, with a copy to the Commission.
The Appeals stands disposed with the above direction.