The Central Information Commission has admonished an RTI applicant who was allegedly seeking massive information from the Income Tax Department to spot tax evasion by assessees and give it back to the department to get rewards for being an “informer”.
A division bench of the Commission noted the appellant Rakesh Gupta is an “informer” which means he earns money at the rate of 10 per cent of the tax amount recovered from the tax payers because of the information given.
The Bench comprising Information Commissioners–Basant Seth and Sridhar Acharyulu–observed that the question to be considered is that he was using RTI route to collect information, verify whether assessee has suppressed income and provide that information to the Income Tax office.
“If his tip off results in recovery he would get 10 per cent as incentive. Whether RTI can be used to advance income interest of individuals becoming ‘informers’, or whether ‘informers’ have right to such information that could fetch him income?,” the Bench observed.
Gupta contended that since incentive to reveal such income related information helps the state to enhance income, it is in public interest and thus he can also seek the same, the order of the Bench noted.
“How can taking information from the IT Department, to give it back to the same office and making money be considered as ‘public interest’. In fact, this speaks of ‘system’ of the IT department or their efficiency. If their information could be analysed and used for enhancing recovery by an individual outsider, why not the department itself do that job? On this logic, it cannot be considered in public interest,” the Bench said.
Rejecting the demand for “very high volume” of information related to a hospital group perhaps constituting 50 per cent of the IT office, the Bench said multiple applications regarding Escorts and top executives concerned give an impression that for some reason, the appellant was “targeting” the Escorts.
“Income Tax returns are held to be personal information of third parties squarely attracting section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act. However, this section along with Section 11(1) and 8(2) provided for exception in case of larger public interest.
“The appellant failed to establish public interest while the Public Authority successfully shows that there was no public interest,” the order said.
It said, “The Commission concludes that Rakesh Kumar Gupta could not show any public interest and being a professional ‘informer’, he might have been interested in increasing his income by means of securing ‘incentive’ by giving Tax Evasion information. Rakesh Kumar Gupta was not just exercising his right to information.”
The Commission noted his demand for information about Naresh Trehan and his companies appears to be insatiate.
“The whole office has to work for longer times to furnish information sought. Rakesh Kumar Gupta cannot be encouraged to misuse RTI. Indiscriminate demand of voluminous information is not only abuse of right by the petitioner but also threatened the core function of the public authority,” it said.