Wife not entitled seeking the Income Tax Return filed by her estranged husband to defend her maintenance case, the Central Information Commission (CIC) observed. The commission also said that that, exemption from disclosure cannot be lifted, if information sought is not for larger public interest.
The commission noted that “The appellant wife Smt. Basavantamma filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 beforfe the CPIO, Principal Chief Commissioner of Income Tax (CCA), Bangalore seeking income tax details of her estranged husband.”
Written submission of the appellant wife Smt. Basavantamma before the commission.
“It was submitted on behalf of the appellant that the details of the income tax returns of her estranged husband, Mr. G H Sharanappa as on the date of RTI application should be disclosed to her. Further, it was requested to provide at least the gross income of Mr. G H Sharanappa to defend her maintenance case.”
Written submission of the respondent husband the commission.
“he submitted that the Income Tax Returns of some other individual is an exempted information u/Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act, 2005 and therefore, they have denied this information to the appellant.”
The commission observation
The information Commissioner Neeraj Kumar Gupta while deciding “Second Appeal No. CIC/CCITB/A/2018/631956”, observed that the nature of information is not for the “larger public interest”, and that exemption from disclosure cannot be lifted.
“it has been clarified that in a private dispute between husband and wife, the basic protection afforded by virtue of the 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’. In the matter at hand, the appellant has not succeeded in establishing that the information sought is for larger public purpose.”
The commission also clarified that “filing Income Tax Returns is not a public activity”.
“Since filing of the Income Tax Returns by an individual with the Income Tax Department is not a public activity and rather it is in the nature of an obligation which a citizen owes to the State viz. to pay his taxes, this information cannot be disclosed to the appellant in the absence of any larger public interest”
The CIC also re-iterate the meaning of “third party”.
“From the words circumscribed u/Section 2(n) of the RTI Act, 2005, it is vividly clear that any person other than the citizen making a request for information can be termed as ‘third party’.”
The commission also said that appellant is not entitled for “third party” information, in absence of larger public interest in the matter.
“this Commission after considering the factual matrix of the case is of the opinion that in the absence of any larger public interest in the matter, the appellant is not entitled to seek the details of the Income Tax Returns filed by the third party”.
However, the commission observed that the information sought by the estranged wife is not for larger public interest, but considering her “right of maintenance”, allowed the “gross income” to disclose with her.
“considering the aspect of marital discord between the husband and wife vis-à-vis her right of maintenance, this Commission is of the opinion that the respondent should consider providing only the limited information of the last six years i.e. the numerical figure(s) of the ‘gross income’ of her husband”