Former CIC Shailesh Gandhi has urged the Bombay High Court to quash and set aside an order of Central Information Commission rejecting his plea to furnish copies of income tax returns of Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar.
The petition was filed recently and would come up for hearing on October 22.
Gandhi had sought information about Pawar,a senior NCP leader and nephew of Union Minister Sharad Pawar,from Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of Income Tax department on November 21 last year. However,the information was denied on the ground that it related to a third party.
In accordance with section 11 of RTI Act,2005,a letter was issued to Pawar by the income tax authorities seeking his views on this issue. In reply,Pawar opposed the disclosure of any information.
The CPIO informed Gandhi that the information sought by him had no relationship to any public activity or interest and,therefore,it could not be supplied under provisions of Section 8(1)(j) of Right to Information Act.
Being aggrieved,Gandhi preferred an appeal before the first Appellate Authority,on the ground that the information he had requested for formed part of public activity and hence section 8(1)(j) would not be applicable in this case.
Gandhi contended that CPIO of income tax department had failed to test the disclosure of information requested,to the proviso to section 8(1) of RTI Act i.e.,information which cannot be denied to Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.
Gandhi further contended that in view of the Supreme Court’s ruling,exemption under Section 8(1)(j) cannot be claimed since Pawar was an elected representative and was answerable to people. Disclosure of his income would be in larger public interest,he argued.
However,on February 5 this year,his appeal was rejected by the first Appellate Authority on the ground that the third party had objected and the denial of the information sought was therefore justified.
The first Appellate Authority also relied upon a Supreme Court judgement in the case of Girish Deshpande versus CIC which said that the details disclosed by a person in his income tax returns are personal information which stand exempted u/s 8(1) of the RTI Act,unless it involved larger public interest,says Gandhi’s petition.
Gandhi preferred second appeal before the Central Information Commission on the ground that even if information requested fell within the ambit of section 8(1)(j) of RTI Act,there was a larger public interest in disclosure of the assets of elected representatives as argued in his first appeal.
However,on May 15,the CIC rejected Gandhi’s second appeal stating that the Commission in its 5-member bench judgement on June 5,2009,had ruled that Income Tax Returns have been rightly held to be personal Information exempted
from disclosure under Clause(j)of Section 8(1) of RTI Act.
This bench also relied upon the Supreme Court verdict in the case of Girish Deshpande versus CIC which the first appellate authority had relied upon while deciding the issue.
The CIC further held that Gandhi had not been able to prove larger public interest while seeking information about the income tax returns of Pawar.
Gandhi has contended in his petition before the High Court that CIC,while rejecting the request for furnishing of information,did not apply its mind to the mandate of the law contained in Section 8(1)(j) to RTI Act and the proviso to section 8(1) therein.
Gandhi pleaded that the CIC had also not applied his mind to other grounds furnished by him in support of his contention such as there was a larger public interest in disclosure.
He argued that it was commonly believed that public servants indulge in corrupt practices and amass wealth at the cost and expense of public welfare. The disclosure of IT Returns of a public servant,therefore,would serve a great public interest.
The potential disclosure of IT Returns of a public servant may act as a great deterrent for them to indulge in corrupt practices,and further deter them in amassing wealth,at the expense of public welfare,he contended.