The CIC has directed Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to appear before it in a matter pertaining to an RTI applicant seeking information related to his service records as an Indian Revenue Service officer and an NGO he ran. Information Commissioner Bimal Julka ordered that Kejriwal will either have to present himself or his authorised representative to argue whether the information sought by Ketan Modi of Mumbai from the Income Tax department should be disclosed or not.
Modi has sought to know details of Kejriwal as an IRS officer — salary, leaves, absence from service, tax evasion cases detected by him, permission to float an NGO, departmental action against him, if any. The I-T department told him that the information sought pertains to “third party”, i.e Kejriwal, which can be disclosed only after taking his consent as per the provisions of Section 11 of the RTI Act.
The section allows a central public information officer to take views of the party about whom the information has been sought through an RTI application. However, the act allows disclosure of information even after lack of consent if the public interest in disclosure outweighs in importance any possible harm or injury to the interests of such third party.
The I-T department said Kejriwal’s views were sought but there was no response from him which means there was no consent for the disclosure of the information sought by Modi. It said some information was not available with the department handling the case.
“No attempt was made to transfer the application to the relevant section/division handling the specific matter and no satisfactory reply could be furnished in this regard,” Julka noted.
He said that there are complete negligence and laxity in the public authority (I-T department) in dealing with the RTI applications.
“It is abundantly clear that such matters are being ignored and set aside without application of mind which reflects disrespect towards the RTI Act, 2005 itself,” he said.
He noted that it becomes important to revise and rethink the commonly accepted notions of privacy, especially when information gains such importance as well as fluidity through fast expanding platforms as well as tools such as the RTI.
“It is also very important to realise the all-encompassing role of the Public Authority to any information held by it in the interest of the public and the State especially when the information sought pertains to a public figure acting for public good in the discharge of its duties,” Julka said.
He expressed displeasure on the casual approach adopted by the tax department in responding to the RTI application.
“It was felt that the conduct of respondent was against the spirit of the RTI Act, 2005 which was enacted to ensure greater transparency and effective access to the information,” he said.
The information commissioner directed S S Rathore, Principal Chief Commissioner of Income Tax, to examine the matter and submit a factual report to the commission within a period of 30 days from the date of receipt of this interim order.
“The Commission directs the Respondent (I-T department) to inform the third party (Arvind Kejriwal) to be present during the next hearing either in person or through his duly authorised representative so as to enable it to defend or present its case before the commission,” Julka said.
He directed the registrar to fix the next date of hearing before February 13.