According to the Central Information Commission (CIC), a wife cannot ask for the details of the Income Tax Returns filed by her husband by filing an RTI application.
Information Commissioner Neeraj Kumar Gupta noted that the filing of the Income Tax Returns by a person, to the Income Tax Department, does not qualify as a public activity. "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 Commissioner stated.
In the instant matter, a wife applied for an RTI that sought the income tax information of her estranged partner. The Income Tax department had denied to give her the information on the basis of the reason that the Income Tax Returns of another individual is an exempted information under Section 8(1)(j) of the Right to Information Act, 2005.
The commissioner referenced an apex court judgment by the title, Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commission (2013) 1 SCC 212. The case came to the conclusion that the information that an individual discloses in his income tax returns qualifies as "personal information" which stands to be exempted from divulgation under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 subject to the condition that a larger public interest is involved and the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the Appellate Authority is also of the view that the publication of the information is justified on the aforementioned ground.
The Commission mentioned another precedent set in the Delhi High Court judgment titled Vijay Prakash v. Union of India LAIR 2010 Delhi 71 wherein it was held that, in an argument, private in nature, between two partners, the fundamental security given by exemption from disclosure under provisions of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 can’t be revoked except if the petitioner can manage to give a reason as to how this divulgation would be in “public interest”.
The Court observed the definition of “Third Party” and noted thus.
"From the words circumscribed u/Section 2(n) of the RTI Act, 2005, it is vividly clear that any person other than the citizen making a request for information can be termed as 'third party'. Therefore, Mr. G H Sharanappa being a person other than the RTI applicant surely comes within the definition of 'third party'. Moreover, the CPIO has also not intended to disclose the information treating it as confidential and has rather pleaded that there is no public interest in the matter. This Commission also does not find any public interest which outweighs the harm caused in its disclosure. "
In this case, the appellant can’t justify how the details desired to serve a larger public purpose, the Commission concluded. Nonetheless, the Commission has directed the Income Tax Department to take into consideration, the suggestion of giving limited details of the last six years, that is, the sum of “gross income” of her partner so that she can use the same for defending her case involving maintenance.