Central Information Commission (CIC): Neeraj Kumar Gupta (Information Commissioner) decide whether a legally wedded wife can seek the information regard to income tax returns of her husband under the Right to Information Act, 2005.
The instant application was filed before the CPIO, Income Tax Officer seeking the following information:
- “The copy of Form 16 issued by the company at Micro Focus Software Development, ‘LAUREL’, Block ‘D’, 65/2, Bagmane Techpark, C.V. Raman Nagar, Bengaluru for the year filed for 2016- 17, 2017-2018 & 2018-2019 of my husband Mr Suman Chatterjee.
- The relevant documents/papers relating to the Gross Annual Income of my husband Mr Suman Chatterjee.
- The relevant documents/papers relating to the Gross salary of my husband Mr Suman Chatterjee.”
The appellant filed the first appeal dated 11-01-2019 which was disposed of by the first appellate authority on 05-03-2019.
Thereafter, she filed a second appeal under Section 19(3) of the RTI Act before the Commission requesting to take appropriate legal action against the CPIO under Section 20 of the RTI Act, 2005 and also to direct him to provide the sought-for information.
Commission referred to the decision of Supreme Court in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. CIC, (2013) 1 SCC 212 with regard to the applicability of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005.
Legal Issue to be decided
Whether the appellant claiming to be the legally wedded wife of Mr Suman Chatterjee is entitled to seek details of his income tax returns i.e. Form 16?
In regard to the above question, Commission referred to the Delhi High Court decision in Vijay Prakash v. UOI,2009 SCC OnLine Del 1731, wherein it was clarified that in a private dispute between husband and wife, the basic protection afforded by virtue of exemption from disclosure enacted under Section 8(1)(j) cannot be lifted or disturbed unless the petitioner is able to justify how such disclosure would be in ‘public interest’.
Bench noted that in the present matter, the appellant did not succeed in establishing the information sought was for a larger public purpose.
Commission decided that since the filing of income tax returns by an individual is not a public activity and rather it is in the nature of an obligation which a citizen owes to the State. The said information cannot be disclosed to the appellant in the absence of any larger public interest.
Further adding to the above analysis, Bench stated that according to Section 2(n) of the RTI Act, 2005 any person other than the citizen making a request for information can be termed as ‘third party’. Therefore, appellant being a person other than the RTI applicant surely comes within the definition of ‘third party’.
Bench did not find any public interest which outweighs the harm caused in its disclosure.
In light of several decisions of the Supreme Court and High Court, Commission opined that in the absence of any larger public interest in the matter, the appellant was not entitled to seek the details of the Income Tax returns filed by the third party, Mr Suman Chatterjee which is exempted under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005.
Another significant point to be noted was that the appellant sought the disclosure of at least the ‘gross annual income’ of her husband so that she could defend her matrimonial case. Considering the said marital discord between the husband and wife vis-à-vis her right of maintenance, Commission opined that the respondent should consider providing the numerical figures of the gross annual income of her husband.
In light of the above observations, appeal was disposed of. [Amrita Chatterjee v. CPIO, Income Tax Officer; 2021 SCC OnLine CIC 40; decided on 08-01-2021]