The Central Information Commission in a recent matter at hand has held that a husband is not entitled to seek information regarding bank details & income tax returns of his wife under the Right to Information Act, 2005. Filing of the Income Tax Returns by an individual with the Income Tax Department is not a public activity, Neeraj Kumar Gupta the Information Commissioner has opined.
"It is in the nature of an obligation which a citizen owes to the State viz. to pay his taxes, this information cannot be disclosed to the applicant in the absence of any larger public interest", the Commission said.
Matter Before the Court
The husband who is the appellant was seeking information regarding the name and branch address of all those banks where his spouse was having an account in the financial years from 2012-2013 to 2017-2018.
The appellant contended before the commission that the CPIO ( Central Public Information Officer) should have invoked Section 11 of the RTI Act, 2005.
Further, he submitted that the information regarding her bank details & income tax returns should be disclosed. But the respondent (CPIO, O/o. the Income Tax) submitted that the appellant was seeking clarification with regard to the bank details & income tax returns of his wife, which is personal in nature, hence CPIO, O/o. the Income Tax claimed exemption u/Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005. It was also submitted that Section 11 of the RTI Act, 2005 can only be invoked if the CPIO intends to disclose the personal information and therefore, once the CPIO is satisfied that the information is to be denied under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005, Section 11 is not required to be invoked.
Lastly, the respondent stated that prima facie, no larger public interest is involved in the matter and hence, the CPIO did not intend to disclose the information.
Decision of the Commission-
The commission agreed with the Respondent in not invoking Section 11 of RTI Act, 2005 and observed that-
"The CPIO is expected to follow the procedure of Section 11 when he 'intends to disclose any information or record'. In the present case, the CPIO did not find any merit in disclosure and accordingly, Section 11 was not invoked."
In the above said case, the Apex Court had ruled the details disclosed by a person in his income tax returns are ‘personal information’ which stand exempted from disclosure under clause of Section 8 of the RTI Act, 2005, unless it 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. It was retierated that the basic protection afforded by virtue of the exemption from disclosure enacted under Section 8 cannot be lifted or disturbed unless the petitioner is able to justify how such disclosure would be in 'public interest'. Lastly, the Commission, after considering the factual matrix of the case was of the opinion that in the absence of any larger public interest in the matter, the appellant is not entitled to seek information regarding bank details & income tax returns of his wife which is exempted under Section 8 of the RTI Act, 2005.