The Central Information Commission today directed Income Tax department to “duly consider the larger public interest” while responding to an RTI request seeking returns filed by 20 MPs during 2004-09.
The RTI request filed by Anil Bairwal of Association for Democratic Reforms seeking to get details of Income Tax Returns filed by these MPs was rejected by the Income Tax Department terming it to be personal information.
“The CPIO could have culled out some information out of Assessment orders without disclosing the personal information adopting doctrine of severability of Section 10. There was no attempt to answer any question by any CPIO in any of these applications. Above all, each CPIO failed to show how he understood that there was no larger “public interest’,” a division bench of CIC comprising Information Commissioners Sridhar Acharyulu and Basant Seth held.
The bench said MPs are required to file a declaration of assets and liabilities with the Speaker of Lok Sabha and the Chairman of Rajya Sabha.
“The rules to this effect were made in 2004 under the Representation of the People Act, 1951. These declarations have to be made by MPs within 90 days of taking their seat in Parliament. The Rajya Sabha rules specify that MPs are required to update their declarations every year. They are accessible,” it said.
The Bench said Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act prescribed “public interest” as a requirement to decide the disclosure of information even though it is exempted.
It said the CPIO or First Appellate Authority is not just an executive officer in his office but an “authority” under RTI Act with a responsibility to use his personal discretion as per law while deciding RTI request.
“The public interest under section 8(1)(j) requires three conditions to be considered: absence of relationship with public activity or interest or, possibility of unwarranted invasion of privacy or, existence of larger public interest. Language of section 8(1)(j) is very clear ie it demands satisfaction of CPIO,” it said.
The CIC said larger public interest has to be examined under RTI Act, public interest referred to in section 11(1) proviso where public interest in disclosure has to be outweighed in importance any injury to interest of third party.
Appellant has a duty to explain ‘public interest’ and CPIO needs to examine the same, it said.
“The CPIOs being authorities are under RTI Act, should proceed according to procedure prescribed under that law and consult each and every third party about whose ITR-related information is being sought,” the Bench said.
It said there is nothing on record to show that CPIOs of various wings of respondent authority have issued notice to all the 20 MPs and they responded, except regarding two MPs.
“The turn of CPIOs examining larger public interest did not arise. The Bench directs the respondents to examine each point of RTI request, issue notices to all third parties as required under Section 11 in all eight cases, secure responses, duly consider the larger public interest after giving sufficient opportunity to the appellants, and decide on information with speaking orders on each point, within three months from the date of receipt of this order,” it said.