The Income Tax returns of individuals do not enjoy “absolute ban” from disclosure, the Central Information Commission has held while directing the Income Tax department to provide details of the total income of a person to his son-in-law who is facing a dowry case.
“We direct the CPIO to provide information pertaining to the net taxable income of Munna Lal Saini, father-in-law of the appellant,” Information Commissioner Deepak Sandhu said.
The case relates to RTI application filed by Manoj Kumar Saini, who sought to know net income of his father-in-law Munna Lal Saini from the I-T department as he needed it to buttress his arguments in a dowry case filed against him. It was denied to him citing clause of “personal information” under the RTI Act.
Manoj made an “impassioned” plea before the Commission stating “denial of information to him would result in a prolonged litigation of 10 years and more resulting in his losing the best years of his life and career.”
Quoting relevant portions of Income Tax Act and rulings of the Supreme Court, Sandhu said, “I am inclined to say that the information sought is not granted immunity from disclosure as class of information.
“Protection of disclosure has to be ensured by balancing the two competing aspects of public interest, that is, when disclosure would cause injury or unwarranted invasion of privacy and on the other hand if non-disclosure would throttle the administration of justice.”
Sandhu, while taking cognisance of criminal case pending against the RTI applicant said, “Dowry cases invariably have the component of ‘criminal breach of trust’ relating to misappropriation of property.
“In case, the state relies upon the fiction of misappropriation, then the other party should have a right to know the details of property reflected in I-T returns which is alleged to be misappropriated,” she said.
The Information Commissioner further said the Court, in a sub-judice matter, could direct the Income Tax authorities on matters pertaining to returns of an assessee for inspection by the court.
“Thus, disclosure will be warranted if such line of action is followed. There is no absolute ban on disclosure of IT returns,” she said.
She also distinguished the present case from earlier decisions of the Central Information Commission on the disclosure of Tax returns.
“The Milap Choraria case did not deal with the issue of information pertaining to net taxable income per se while the Gokul case was not centred around the issue of larger public interest for the purpose of disclosure of net taxable income, unlike the present case,” Sandhu held.