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Why shouldn’t I-T returns of MPs come under RTI Act?

Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has invoked RTI to access I-T returns of 22 MPs and 20 MLAs whose assets considerably shot up between their two terms of offices. The information is still under wraps. I-T refuses to divulge the information while the CIC dithers

For the start, the Election Commission of India has made it mandatory for every candidate contesting elections to declare his/her last income tax (I-T) returns and also that of his/her family members. Since the last one decade, the Supreme Court has ruled that every such candidate must mandatorily declare his/her financial and criminal antecedents. However, the Central Information Commissioner in true ‘babu’ style has withheld the decision of a RTI (Right to Information) applicant seeking income tax details of 44 elected representatives in the 22nd November order, stating it needs to study it.

 

Since 2010, Anil Bairwal, national co-ordinator of Association of Democratic Reforms who has filed a string of RTI applications with various Income Tax authorities to procure details of income tax returns of 22 MPs and 20 MLAs whose declared assets showed considerable increase between the two elections was stonewalled under the garb of this information falling under various sub-sections of Section 8. The Central Information Commission (CIC) on 22 November 2012 has bought more time by reserving the order in true bureaucratic style, stating it needs to study both sides of the submissions.

 

In his argument during the hearing on 22nd November, Mr Bairwal submitted a few glaring examples of amassment of wealth by some MPs to the CIC. These included Congress MP Naveen Jindal’s assets whose assets increased from Rs12 crore in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections to Rs118 crore during 2009 elections; BJP MP Uday Singh’s assets which increased by Rs38 crore; Congress MP Vasanth Kumar’s which increased by Rs97 crore between 2006 and 2011; BSP’s MP Nand Gopal’s by Rs79 crore between 2007 and 2012. Mr Bairwal also added that several MPs have not yet filed their income tax returns like Congress MP Karan Kaur whose assets value are around Rs128 crore and Ramnajit Singh, also of Congress, whose assets are Rs20 crore.

 

Earlier, the respective Public Information Officers (PIOs) had invoked Section 11 of the RTI Act and sent the information requests to some MPs under the “third party” clause seeking permission to make the information public. MPs like Kumari Selja and Ajit Singh declined permission. The PIOs replied to Mr Bairwal stating that the disclosure had no relationship with any public activity or larger public interest. All the concerned Appellate Authorities dismissed the information request stating it was was covered under Sections 8(1)(j), 8(1)(e) and 8(1)(d) of the RTI Act and hence cannot be provided. Hence, Mr Bairwal was forced to file a second appeal with the Central Information Commission.
 

At the CIC hearing of 22nd November, officials of the income tax department which have Congress MP Sachin Pilot, Ms Selja Kumari and Ajit Singh in their jurisdiction represented them. The officials argued that Mr Bairwal had not proved the larger public interest which is mandatory to disclose I-T returns of individuals and also supported their argument with a Supreme Court order to this effect.
 

Anil Bairwal and Ashok Aneja, former Chief Commissioner (I-T) argued that it was indeed a public interest issue as they were not targeting a single MP or MLA but this entire fraternity of elected representatives. Stated Mr Bairwal, “Parliamentarians are in public domain by their own choice and transparency in their working and financial operation was essential in larger public interest.”
 

Mr Bairwal and Mr Aneja also argued that, “the Election Commission of India (ECI), vide its order No 3/ER/2011/SDR, dated 25 February 2011, has added a new section in the affidavit for contesting candidates which makes it mandatory for them to disclose various information about the last annual I-T filed by them along with their dependents and spouse. It also asks them to disclose the total income that they reported in the last income tax that they filed. Thus the information is already in public domain.”

 

Mr Bairwal and Mr Aneja also quoted the the Supreme Court order of 13 March 2003 which made it mandatory for candidates contesting elections of state assemblies and Parliament to disclose their criminal and financial antecedents, by way of a sworn affidavit to be filed as an essential part of the nomination form. Supreme Court in writ petition no. 490/509/515 of 2002 observed what was held in PV Narasimha Rao Vs State (1998) 4 SCC 626); They are the repositories of public trust. They have public duties to perform. It is borne out by experience that by virtue of the office they hold there is a real potential for misuse. The public awareness of financial position of the candidate will go a long way in forming an opinion whether the candidate, after election to the office had amassed wealth either in his own name or in the name of family members viz., spouse and dependent children. At the time when the candidate seeks re-election, the citizens/voters can have a comparative idea of the assets before and after the election so as to assess whether the high public office had possibly been used for selfaggrandizement. Incidentally, the disclosure will serve as a check against misuse of power for making quick money—a malady which nobody can deny, has been pervading the political spectrum of our democratic nation...”
 

Other documents submitted by Mr Bairwal included relevant press clippings, reports by ADR of Lok Sabha Elections showing disproportionate asset increase of re-contesting and re-elected candidates. Copies of the I-T returns voluntarily filed by four ministers, Ambika Soni, Subodh Kant Sahay, Ajay Maken, Pratik Patil to the Prime Minister’s Office were submitted.

Let’s wait and watch the next step of the CIC.

 List of Politicians whose I-T returns have been requested:


 
 
 

(Vinita Deshmukh is the 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”. She can be reached at [email protected].)

 

User

COMMENTS

nagesh kini

4 years ago

Today's papers say that the FM - PC has signed a cheque for advance tax and sent it to his wife - what is the news value that he has to make an public announcement of it?
Does it imply that others, particularly the ministers don't pay any taxes, leave alone advance tax?
Do we need to file a RTI query?
Long, long ago a very senior cabinet minister simply "forgot" to file his tax returns for 10 long years!
Yet the house allotted to him at Delhi has been gifted by the Government to his family for conversion into a "memorial" for failure to pay taxes(!).

nagesh kini

4 years ago

Today's papers say that the FM - PC has signed a cheque for advance tax and sent it to his wife - what is the news value that he has to make an public announcement of it?
Does it imply that others, particularly the ministers don't pay any taxes, leave alone advance tax?
Do we need to file a RTI query?
Long, long ago a very senior cabinet minister simply "forgot" to file his tax returns for 10 long years!
Yet the house allotted to him at Delhi has been gifted by the Government to his family for conversion into a "memorial" for failure to pay taxes(!).

nagesh kini

4 years ago

The netas are not holy cow have they landed from heavens to be granted immunity.
Not only should their assets be declared, more important their source too.
The EC and CBDT should suo moto issue public notices seeking it before declaring the election results which have to be kept in abeyance till the information is furnished.

REPLY

Ashok Das

In Reply to nagesh kini 4 years ago

It appears that Sachin Tendulkar,now an MP, also did not agree to provide information through RTI? Does anyone have sufficient details of the same?

A S Bhat

4 years ago

I fully agree

Siddarth

4 years ago

This is definitely in the public interest as the litigant mentions they come into public service of their own free will. If you are running legitimate business what is the harm in disclosing your returns? 900% increase in assets is ridiculous and deserves explanation.

REPLY

Ashok Das

In Reply to Siddarth 4 years ago

Respected Sir, I have a doubt. Most people take up their public services activities on their 'own free will', including NGOs, RTI activists, President of India, etc, not merely Government servants. In that case, everyone's IT returns should be available. But that does not seem to be the current understanding in terms of invasion of privacyof an individual. Someone with proper understanding of all aspects should clarify that properly vis-a-vis public service, etc. Maybe the Supreme Court. Thanks.

Siddarth

4 years ago

This is definitely in the public interest as the litigant mentions they come into public service of their own free will. If you are running legitimate business what is the harm in disclosing your returns? 900% increase in assets is ridiculous and deserves explanation.

REPLY

Ashok Das

In Reply to Siddarth 4 years ago

I agree that any sudden and major income /asset increase (900%!!!) should have a proper explanation for any person, organization. While it is definitely true for MPs and MLAs isn't that true for everyone? Thanks,

A quick rundown on how to claim ‘unclaimed’ EPFO money

There may be substantial sums of money in your EPFO account even after withdrawal or settlement of your claim. Here’s a quick rundown on how you can claim unaccounted EPFO money

In the ongoing crusade to find out more about the way the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) really works, I have been contacted by present, ex-employees and several others who are proving to be a great source of information, as long as their identities are kept confidential.

 

You can read the earlier piece on EPFO here.

 

One interesting fact that has been reconfirmed concerns those who have withdrawn their Provident Fund (PF) money as part of a claim, at any time in the past, literally from the inception of the EPFO onwards. It seems that the EPFO had an interesting way of calculating the balance and interest. They often accounted for money in your accounts till the end of the previous financial year only. Anything after that by way of interest earned, or contributions deposited by your employers, was kept in your account or in a suspense account of some sort. This is where it either languished forever, or was quietly siphoned out. There are several reasons for this:

 

  • The claimant had already pre-signed a blank pre-receipt with a Re1 revenue stamp.
  • The claimant did not know that even after ‘settlement’ there was money accruing in the PF account—as interest earned on balance and interest “not claimed”
  • The EPFO chose not to make any public announcements on this subject
  • There is no provision in the EPFO for anything but a ‘claim’ by a claimant
  • Being a retirement benefit in most cases, original contributors often did not have the wherewithal to fight it out
  • If the original contributor had passed away, then establishing bonafides as the claimant was difficult, if not impossible
  • Any enquiries on this were brushed aside with the answer that this was probably service charges or taxes deducted
  • This “left behind” money has long been considered a perquisite by certain people

 

To give an example, let us say your last date of service was 30 June 2005. By the time you claimed for settlement of both EPFO contributions and pension it was anytime between end 2005 and early 2006, maybe even later. Your forms were, as usual, pre-receipted blank.

 

This is what, most likely, would have happened:

 

  • Interest earned would typically have been calculated as on amount in your balance on 31 March 2005. Or the 31 March of the year preceding the date of claim. Some interest earned would not have been credited to your account at time of settlement
  • EPFO contributions for the last few months of service may or may not have been credited into your account till date of settlement with you. Transfers from other EPFO accounts may not have taken place. This happens often too. This amount would also then flow into your account, and linger there, earning interest
  • The EPFO itself may have declared bonus interest earned for some financial year period, before or after withdrawal, which also would then flow into your EPFO account

 

Viewed dispassionately, and taking into account the manual calculations of the “least loss to EPFO” sort, it is not surprising that there are varying sums of money in EPFO accounts that by rights have had claimants already go through ‘settlements’. As of now, they continue to also earn interest and in all likelihood also remain tax-free on principal and interest earned. The interest earning element will discontinue if there has been no fresh contribution for three years.

 

If you are, or have been, an EPFO claimant, or are a direct heir/nominee of an EPFO claimant, what do you need to do?

  1. If you do not have the EPFO account number of the claimant, file a Right to Information (RTI) query to the EPFO office, with as much detail as you can. Simultaneously, also approach the employers where the person worked, for details
  2. Armed with these details, file a second RTI on the relevant EPFO office seeking current balance in both Provident Fund as well as Pension accounts. Ask the EPFO to provide you with certified copies of this information
  3. Once you discover that there is indeed some amount of money still lying in your EPFO account, file a claim form

Currently, the EPFO, in its wisdom, does not have a specific form for this sort of a secondary claim. It has been suggested by ex-employees that you file the relevant Form 19 (if the contributor is alive) or Form 20 (if contributor is deceased/incapable) and enclose a copy of the information on balance received by RTI application, along with a simple letter explaining why this is being claimed again. If the relevant EPFO office rejects the claim, then file it on the EPFO HQ by registered post and follow up using a judicious mix of the public grievance portal (http://pgportal.gov.in/) as well as an RTI query.

 

Good luck.

 

(Veeresh Malik had a long career in the Merchant Navy, which he left in 1983. He has qualifications in ship-broking and chartering, loves to travel, and has been in print and electronic media for over two decades. After starting and selling a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing.)

 

User

COMMENTS

Sriram

4 years ago

I filed an RTI to know the monthly statement of account and interest computation for an EPF account that I transferred to my new EPF account but the EPFO has a standard reply that they cannot provide monthly statement of account.

I don't understand why it is not possible for the EPFO to provide monthly statement of account. I think this is because they want to hide what is described in this article.

REPLY

Veeresh Malik

In Reply to Sriram 4 years ago

Dear Sriram, agreed, EPFO appears to have lots to hide, and it is our job to unearth it.

For monthly calculations, they had put up an online passbook scheme, but that seems to have not surfaced.

What you can do is file an RTI asking for total amount and all calculations, entries, computations till 31st of March of the latest FY, in this case, 31mar2012.

That way atleast you have a fixed reference point to start from.

Same advice good for everybody else - place an RTI application seeking balance, interest, charges, computations from inception till 31st March 2012 to start with and secure the same.

Best of luck/VM

NSriramamurty

4 years ago

Excellent Useful Information for all Employees of Public/ Private Sector with EPF account. Many Thanks for guidance to all.

REPLY

Veeresh Malik

In Reply to NSriramamurty 4 years ago

Dear N. Sriramamurthy, you are welcome - and this is even more useful information for retired people or heirs of deceased people who have already claimed their EPFO fund and pension - because some amount will still be lingering in their EPFO accounts, ostensibly "unclaimed". Since there is no provision for automatic settlement of excess amounts, a fresh claim after an RTI application will need to be made. Please encourage all retired people and family members of deceased people to file this.

Regards/VM

Sushila Pursnani

4 years ago

There may be thousand's who can reclaim. Instead of individuals filing for RTI, can the investigations not be converted into a PIL? and the regulator puting the information in public domain.

How does one get hold of the account number if not known?

How one goes about dealing with funds lying with PF trust of employers?

REPLY

Veeresh Malik

In Reply to Sushila Pursnani 4 years ago

Sushila ji, thank you for writing in.

I do agree that something like a PIL or similar needs to be filed, or a reference made to the CAG.

Getting hold of an EPFO number if not known is difficult but not impossible and explained in the article itself.

The issue of private provident funds is easier, if the company or it's successors are still around. Please ask the company and also file an RTI application with the ministry of labour as well as with the EPFO HQ.

best of luck. Bit of a long haul but can be done.

Regards

VM

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