Raking up the issue of privacy and scope of how much personal information can be given out under the Right to Information (RTI) Act,Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh,in a written reply to the Central Information Commission (CIC),has said that his income tax returns cannot be given out as information under the RTI since it does not serve any larger public interest.
The CIC is currently in the process of deciding on the issue of whether income-tax returns and assessment orders of MPs can be made public under the RTI Act.
Assets are entirely different from income, says the reply,adding that while courts could ask for income-tax returns of an assessee in a complaint,Pandoras box cannot be opened.
In the submissions filed on his behalf by senior advocate Ravi Kant Chadha,the Rashtriya Lok Dal leader has argued that the election laws already allow for the declaration of assets of a candidate to safeguard the interests of the voters,and that the demand for declaration of I-T returns was an infringement of the basic human right of privacy.
The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) had filed an appeal before the CIC,asking that the details of the income-tax returns of 20 MPs and ministers,including Singh,Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar,Corporate Affairs Minister Sachin Pilot,Power Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia,Social Justice Minister Kumari Selja,Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma,Naveen Jindal,Dushyant Singh,Maneka Gandhi and others.
The ADR had filed an RTI application asking for details of the tax returns,assessment orders and other details of the MPs for the past five years.
The ADR had claimed that since MPs and MLAs were public servants,the disclosure of the information was in larger public interest,as the citizens had right to know about their representatives.
The plea had also raised the issue of conflict of interest for parliamentarians since they manage public money and are responsible for creating public policy.
The request had been denied by the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) on the grounds that such information could not be given under the RTI,and the organisation approached the CIC in appeal.
The three-member Bench of the CIC had on April 16 reserved its order and asked the MPs to submit their written replies to the plea.
The written submissions filed by Ajit Singh also argue that the category of public servants that had been defined earlier by the Supreme Court for the Prevention of Corruption Act could not be imported into the definition under the income-tax Act.
The plea argues that the definition of public servant,which includes MPs and judges and other categories,was with reference to criminal acts and could not be expanded to include tax matters.