Saturday, October 6, 2012

Income tax returns out of RTI ambit

                       IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

                        CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION

          Special Leave Petition (Civil) No. 27734          of 2012
                              (@ CC 14781/2012)

Girish Ramchandra Deshpande                  .. Petitioner
Cen. Information Commr. & Ors.                     .. Respondents

                                  O R D E R

1.    Delay condoned.

2.    We are, in this case, concerned with the question whether the  Central
Information Commissioner (for short 'the CIC') acting  under  the  Right  to
Information Act, 2005 (for  short  'the  RTI  Act')  was  right  in  denying
information regarding the third respondent's personal matters pertaining  to
his  service  career  and  also  denying  the  details  of  his  assets  and
liabilities, movable  and  immovable  properties  on  the  ground  that  the
information sought for was qualified to be personal information  as  defined
in clause (j) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act.

3.    The petitioner  herein  had  submitted  an  application  on  27.8.2008
before  the  Regional  Provident  Fund  Commissioner  (Ministry  of  Labour,
Government  of  India)  calling  for  various  details  relating  to   third
respondent, who was employed  as  an  Enforcement  Officer  in  Sub-Regional
Office, Akola, now working in the State of Madhya Pradesh.  As  many  as  15
queries were made to which the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner,  Nagpur
gave the following reply on 15.9.2008:

      "As to Point No.1:     Copy of appointment order of Shri A.B. Lute, is
                            in 3 pages.  You have  sought  the  details  of
                            salary in respect  of  Shri  A.B.  Lute,  which
                            relates to personal information the disclosures
                            of which has  no  relationship  to  any  public
                            activity   or   interest,   it   would    cause
                            unwarranted  invasion   of   the   privacy   of
                            individual  hence  denied  as   per   the   RTI
                            provision under Section 8(1)(j) of the Act.

      As to Point No.2:      Copy of order of granting  Enforcement  Officer
                            Promotion to Shri A.B. Lute, is  in  3  Number.
                            Details  of  salary  to  the  post  along  with
                            statutory and other deductions of Mr.  Lute  is
                            denied to provide as per RTI  provisions  under
                            Section  8(1)(j)  for  the  reasons   mentioned

      As to Point NO.3:      All the transfer orders of Shri A.B. Lute,  are
                            in 13 Numbers.  Salary details is  rejected  as
                            per the provision under Section 8(1)(j) for the
                            reason mentioned above.

      As to Point No.4:      The copies of memo, show cause notice,  censure
                            issued to Mr. Lute, are not being  provided  on
                            the ground  that  it  would  cause  unwarranted
                            invasion of the privacy of the  individual  and
                            has no relationship to any public  activity  or
                            interest.   Please  see  RTI  provision   under
                            Section 8(1)(j).

      As to Point No.5:      Copy of EPF (Staff & Conditions) Rules 1962  is
                            in 60 pages.

      As to Point No.6:      Copy of return of  assets  and  liabilities  in
                            respect of Mr. Lute cannot be provided  as  per
                            the provision of RTI Act under Section  8(1)(j)
                            as per the  reason  explained  above  at  point

      As to Point No.7:      Details of investment and other related details
                            are rejected as per the provision  of  RTI  Act
                            under  Section  8(1)(j)  as  per   the   reason
                            explained above at point No.1.

      As to Point No.8:      Copy of report of  item  wise  and  value  wise
                            details of  gifts  accepted  by  Mr.  Lute,  is
                            rejected as per the provisions of RTI Act under
                            Section 8(1)(j) as  per  the  reason  explained
                            above at point No.1.

      As  to  Point  No.9:       Copy  of  details  of  movable,   immovable
                            properties of Mr. Lute, the request to  provide
                            the same is rejected as per the RTI  Provisions
                            under Section 8(1)(j).

      As to Point  No.10:      Mr.  Lute  is  not  claiming  for  TA/DA  for
                            attending the criminal case  pending  at  JMFC,

      As to Point No.11:     Copy of Notification is in 2 numbers.

      As to Point No.12:     Copy of certified true  copy  of  charge  sheet
                            issued to Mr. Lute - The matter  pertains  with
                            head Office, Mumbai.  Your application is being
                            forwarded to Head Office, Mumbai as per Section
                            6(3) of the RTI Act, 2005.

      As to  Point  No.13:      Certified  True  copy  of  complete  enquiry
                            proceedings initiated against  Mr.  Lute  -  It
                            would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy  of
                            individuals and  has  no  relationship  to  any
                            public activity or interest.   Please  see  RTI
                            provisions under Section 8(1)(j).

      As to Point No.14:     It would cause unwarranted invasion of  privacy
                            of individuals and has no relationship  to  any
                            public activity or interest,  hence  denied  to

      As to Point No.15:     Certified true copy of second show cause notice
                            -  It  would  cause  unwarranted  invasion   of
                            privacy of individuals and has no  relationship
                            to  any  public  activity  or  interest,  hence
                            denied to provide."

4.    Aggrieved by the said order, the petitioner approached the  CIC.   The
CIC passed the order on 18.6.2009, the operative portion of the order  reads
as under:

      "The question for consideration is whether the  aforesaid  information
      sought by the Appellant can be treated as  'personal  information'  as
      defined in clause (j) of Section 8(1) of  the  RTI  Act.   It  may  be
      pertinent to mention that this issue came up before the Full Bench  of
      the Commission in Appeal No.CIC/AT/A/2008/000628  (Milap  Choraria  v.
      Central Board of Direct Taxes) and the Commission  vide  its  decision
      dated 15.6.2009 held that "the Income Tax  return  have  been  rightly
      held to be personal information exempted from disclosure under  clause
      (j) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act  by  the  CPIO  and  the  Appellate
      Authority, and the appellant herein has not  been  able  to  establish
      that a larger public interest would be served by  disclosure  of  this
      information.  This logic would hold good as far as the  ITRs  of  Shri
      Lute are  concerned.   I  would  like  to  further  observe  that  the
      information which has been denied to the appellant  essentially  falls
      in two parts - (i) relating to the personal matters pertaining to  his
      services career; and (ii) Shri Lute's assets  &  liabilities,  movable
      and immovable properties and  other  financial  aspects.   I  have  no
      hesitation in holding that this information also qualifies to  be  the
      'personal information' as defined in clause (j) of Section 8(1) of the
      RTI Act and the appellant has not been able to convince the Commission
      that disclosure thereof is in larger public interest."

5.    The CIC, after holding so directed the second respondent  to  disclose
the information at paragraphs 1, 2, 3 (only posting  details),  5,  10,  11,
12,13 (only copies of the posting orders) to the appellant within  a  period
of four weeks from the date of the order.  Further, it  was  held  that  the
information sought for with regard to the other queries did not qualify  for

6.    Aggrieved by the said order, the  petitioner  filed  a  writ  petition
No.4221 of 2009 which came up for hearing before a learned Single Judge  and
the court dismissed the same vide order dated  16.2.2010.   The  matter  was
taken up by way of Letters Patent Appeal No.358 of 2011 before the  Division
Bench and the same was dismissed vide order dated 21.12.2011.   Against  the
said order this special leave petition has been filed.

7.    Shri A.P. Wachasunder, learned counsel appearing  for  the  petitioner
submitted that the documents sought  for  vide  Sl.  Nos.1,  2  and  3  were
pertaining to appointment and promotion and Sl.  No.4  and  12  to  15  were
related to disciplinary action and documents at Sl. Nos.6 to 9 pertained  to
assets and liabilities and gifts received by the third  respondent  and  the
disclosure of those details, according to the  learned  counsel,  would  not
cause unwarranted invasion of privacy.

8.    Learned counsel also submitted that the privacy  appended  to  Section
8(1)(j) of the RTI Act widens the scope of documents  warranting  disclosure
and if those provisions are properly interpreted, it could not be said  that
documents  pertaining  to  employment  of  a  person  holding  the  post  of
enforcement officer could be treated as documents having no relationship  to
any public activity or interest.

9.    Learned counsel also pointed out that in view of Section 6(2)  of  the
RTI Act, the applicant making request for  information  is  not  obliged  to
give any reason for the  requisition  and  the  CIC  was  not  justified  in
dismissing his appeal.

10.   This Court in Central Board of  Secondary  Education  and  another  v.
Aditya Bandopadhyay and others (2011) 8  SCC  497  while  dealing  with  the
right of examinees to inspect evaluated answer books in connection with  the
examination conducted by the CBSE Board  had  an  occasion  to  consider  in
detail the aims and object of the RTI Act as well as  the  reasons  for  the
introduction  of  the  exemption  clause  in  the  RTI  Act,  hence,  it  is
unnecessary, for the purpose of this case to  further  examine  the  meaning
and contents of Section 8 as a whole.

11.   We are, however, in this case primarily concerned with the  scope  and
interpretation to clauses (e), (g) and (j) of Section 8(1) of  the  RTI  Act
which are extracted herein below:
      "8. Exemption from disclosure  of  information.-  (1)  Notwithstanding
      anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation  to  give
      any citizen,-

      (e) information available to a person in his  fiduciary  relationship,
      unless the competent authority is satisfied  that  the  larger  public
      interest warrants the disclosure  of such information;

      (g) information, the disclosure of which would endanger  the  life  or
      physical safety of any person or identify the source of information or
      assistance  given  in  confidence  for  law  enforcement  or  security

      (j) information which relates to personal information  the  disclosure
      of which has no relationship to any public activity  or  interest,  or
      which  would  cause  unwarranted  invasion  of  the  privacy  of   the
      individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the  State
      Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may
      be, is  satisfied  that  the  larger  public  interest  justifies  the
      disclosure of such information."

12.   The petitioner herein sought for  copies  of  all  memos,  show  cause
notices and censure/punishment awarded to  the  third  respondent  from  his
employer and also details viz. movable and  immovable  properties  and  also
the details of his investments, lending and borrowing from Banks  and  other
financial institutions.    Further, he has also sought for  the  details  of
gifts stated to have accepted by the third respondent,  his  family  members
and friends and relatives at the  marriage  of  his  son.   The  information
mostly sought for finds a place in the  income  tax  returns  of  the  third
respondent.  The question that has come up for consideration is whether  the
above-mentioned  information  sought   for   qualifies   to   be   "personal
information" as defined in clause (j) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act.

13.   We are in agreement with  the  CIC  and  the  courts  below  that  the
details called for by the petitioner i.e. copies of all memos issued to  the
third respondent, show cause notices and orders of  censure/punishment  etc.
are qualified to be  personal  information  as  defined  in  clause  (j)  of
Section 8(1) of the RTI Act.  The performance of an employee/officer  in  an
organization is primarily a matter between the  employee  and  the  employer
and normally those aspects are governed by  the  service  rules  which  fall
under the expression "personal information", the disclosure of which has  no
relationship to any public activity or public interest.  On the other  hand,
the disclosure of which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of  that
individual.  Of course, in a given case, if the Central  Public  Information
Officer or the State Public Information Officer of the  Appellate  Authority
is satisfied that the larger public interest  justifies  the  disclosure  of
such information, appropriate orders could  be  passed  but  the  petitioner
cannot claim those details as a matter of right.

14.   The details disclosed by a  person  in  his  income  tax  returns  are
"personal information" which stand exempted  from  disclosure  under  clause
(j) of Section 8(1)  of  the  RTI  Act,  unless  involves  a  larger  public
interest and the Central Public Information  Officer  or  the  State  Public
Information Officer or the Appellate Authority is satisfied that the  larger
public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.

15.   The petitioner in the instant case has not made  a  bona  fide  public
interest in seeking information, the disclosure of  such  information  would
cause unwarranted invasion  of  privacy  of  the  individual  under  Section
8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.

16.   We are, therefore, of the view that the petitioner has  not  succeeded
in establishing that the information sought for is  for  the  larger  public
interest.  That being the fact,  we  are  not  inclined  to  entertain  this
special leave petition.  Hence, the same is dismissed.