CIC rejects RTI appeal of Income Tax ‘informer’ regarding assets of 100 I-T officers
Rakesh Kumar Gupta, who claimed to be an informer to the Income Tax department (I-T Dept), filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, seeking information of all the records available with the I-T Dept in respect of several assessees for various assessment years. The information related to all officers working in all wings of Income Tax Offices in Delhi, Central Delhi, Chandigarh and Mumbai, which amounted to 100 odd officers.
Gupta had asked for soft copies of all records of these officers, which included their asset statements as well asset statements of their spouses and persons dependent on them for the last 10 years; details of immoveable assets acquired by them in the last 10 years along with their sources. He also wanted inspection of all these records under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
The Central Information Commission (CIC) Bench comprising Basant Seth and Prof M Sridhar Acharyulu recently heard Gupta’s second appeal. His RTI application dates back to 2011.The bench rejected his second appeal on the grounds that information sought by him was not in public interest but it was a means of making money from the I-T Dept. The Bench observed that Gupta being an ‘informer’ as claimed by him, would be earning reward money from information he would obtain, which is 10% of the amount recovered by the I-T Dept, on the basis of his information.
The CIC order quoted specific sections in the RTI Act to dispose of the case. It states, “As per Section 6(2), the applicant need not give reasons for demanding information. But under Section 8 the appellant has to inform the public interest; under Section 11, the Public Information Officer (PIO) has to examine whether there is any public interest in this demand.”
The bench further observed, “Most important factor to be noticed is that appellant is ‘informer’, which means he earns money at the rate of 10% of the tax amount recovered from the taxpayers because of the information given. The question to be considered is, if he is using RTI route to collect information and verify whether assessee has suppressed income and provides that information to the I-T office. If his tip off results in recovery, he would get 10% as incentive. Whether RTI can be used to advance income interest of individual becoming ‘informer’, or whether ‘informer’ has right to such information that could fetch him income?’’
Gupta contended that since incentive to reveal such income related information helps the state to enhance income, it is in public interest and thus he can also seek the information.
The bench replied saying, “How can taking information from the I-T department, to give it back to the same office and making money be considered as ‘public interest’? In fact, this speaks of ‘system’ of the I-T Dept or their efficiency. If their information could be analysed and used for enhancing recovery by an individual outsider, why not the Department itself do that job? On this logic, it cannot be considered to be in public interest.”
“(The) Applicant being an ‘informer’ he is interested in his incentive which is 10% of recovered tax amount from tax evaders, based on information given by the informer. There are instances ‘informer’ claimed crores of rupees as incentive, which resulted in capping of incentive at Rs2.5 lakh in 2015. This appellant wanted entire files of assets of 101 officers mentioned and hundreds of others covered in vague reference. If given, anyone can open an office¬-cum¬-workshop, probe individual officers along with their officers, assess tax evasion and give information about tax evasion to the Department so that he will earn his share. He claims that because he is a citizen he has right to information for this purpose, he is serving nation’s interest and hence there is public interest.”
The Bench cited several cases where Gupta had filed similar applications, which comprised a large amount of information. The Bench also observed that he seeks exceptionally large amount of information, and said, “It will be mind-blowing to assess the quantum of information demanded -¬ almost all office records about assets of 101 officers their spouses, dependents. It takes decades for any office to compile this information. This is only from one RTI application. He filed umpteen numbers of applications like this. Twenty of his RTI questions are referred to before this bench.”
CIC Bench Decision:
Income Tax Returns (ITRs) are held to be personal information of third parties squarely attracting S. 8(1)(j) of RTI Act. However, this section along with S. 11(1) & S. 8(2) provided for exception in case of larger public interest. The appellant failed to establish Public interest while the Public Authority successfully shown that that there was no public interest. The Commission concludes that Mr. Rakesh Kumar Gupta couldn’t show any public interest apparently motivated by some other interest and being a professional ‘informer’ he might have been interested in increasing his income by means of securing ‘incentive’ by giving Tax Evasion information. Mr. Rakesh Kumar Gupta was not just exercising his right to information.
“…Mr. Rakesh Kumar Gupta cannot be encouraged to misuse RTI. Indiscriminate demand of voluminous information is not only abuse of right by the petitioner but also threatens the core function of the public authority.”
The CIC bench referred to an order passed by the Supreme Court.
“It is relevant to refer to what the Supreme Court in CBSE vs. Aditya Bandopadhyay, (2011) 8 SCC 497, said such frivolous applicants:
Indiscriminate and impractical demands or directions under the RTI Act for disclosure of all and sundry information (unrelated to transparency and accountability in the functioning of public authorities and eradication of corruption) would be counterproductive as it will adversely affect the efficiency of the administration and result in the executive getting bogged down with the non-productive work of collecting and furnishing information. The Act should not be allowed to be misused or abused, to become a tool to obstruct the national development and integration, or to destroy the peace, tranquility and harmony among its citizens. Nor should it be converted into a tool of oppression or intimidation of honest officials striving to do their duty... The nation does not want a scenario where 75% of the staff of public authorities spends 75% of their time in collecting and furnishing information to applicants instead of discharging their regular duties. The threat of penalties under the RTI Act and the pressure of the authorities under the RTI Act should not lead to employees of a public authorities prioritising ‘information furnishing’ at the cost of their normal and regular duties.”
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)