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Fund’s public status sub judice: Delhi HC stays CIC order on releasing PM CARES details on I-T exemption

Hearing a petition by the department against the CIC order, Justice Yashwant Varma took note of a submission that the question whether PM CARES Fund is a public authority is currently pending before a division bench of the court.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: July 8, 2022 7:19:49 am
delhi high court, economically weaker sections (EWS), Delhi news, Delhi city news, New Delhi, India news, Indian Express News Service, Express News Service, Express News, Indian Express India NewsDelhi High Court. (File)

The Delhi High Court on Thursday stayed a Central Information Commission (CIC) order directing the Income Tax Department to provide copies of all documents submitted by PM CARES Fund while applying for exemption under the Income Tax Act, and file notings granting the approval.

Hearing a petition by the department against the CIC order, Justice Yashwant Varma took note of a submission that the question whether PM CARES Fund is a public authority is currently pending before a division bench of the court.

The court also said that directions issued for disclosure of the information contradicts CIC’s own findings in the same order, according to which the information on the list of all exemption applications filed before the I-T Department from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020 and the list of rejected applications sought by the applicant was held to be exempted under RTI Act.

“As this court peruses the questions which were put up before the Department, if question (c) and (d) fell within the exemptions contemplated under Section 8(1)(j), prima facie, the same principle would apply to questions (a) and (b) also. Matter requires consideration,” Justice Varma said.

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The matter was listed for hearing on November 16.

Girish Mittal, the RTI applicant, had sought the information from I-T Department in May 2020. While his RTI application was rejected by the authorities on the ground that PM CARES Fund is not covered under the RTI Act, the CIC on April 27 said the issue regarding definition of public authority has been unnecessarily dragged into the matter, as Mittal has not filed the RTI application with PM Cares Fund but with the public authority itself.

It directed the I-T Department to disclose copies of documents submitted in the exemption application by PM CARES Fund, and of file notings granting the approval. The CIC held the other information sought by the applicant to be containing personal details of various third-party entities and declared it exempted under Section 8(1)(j) of RTI Act.

In its petition before the court on Thursday, the I-T Department argued that the CIC has failed to consider the statutory bar contained in Section 138(1)(b) of IT Act, which provides the authorities the discretion whether information relating to any assessee should be disclosed in public interest or not.

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“Additionally, there is a further bar, which states that his decision will be final and shall not be called into question in any court of law,” the I-T Department stated. “Wherever a statute provides for such a restriction, the courts have consistently held that the issue which is in the exclusive domain of the authority specified in the statute, the same issue cannot therefore be open to examination by another statutory authority under another legislation being the RTI Act 2005 herein.”

The department has also argued that it cannot be denied that the information sought is related to a third party — “i.e. the PM CARES Fund, which is a registered Trust”.

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First published on: 07-07-2022 at 11:16:54 pm

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