The informer, who claims to have provided vital clues of huge tax evasion to the principal director of income tax (investigation), Kolkata, on the basis of which the central bureau of investigation (CBI) and enforcement directorate (ED) were able to arrest Enamul Haque, known to be the kingpin of cattle smuggling, desired to know the investigations done by these agencies.
Taking the route of the RTI Act, the informer flaunted in his RTI application that “the total investigation/ enquiry against the cattle smuggler Enamul Haque in Lalgola district Murshidabad was done on the basis of my Information. I unearthed the secret sources of his unauthorised income and his illegal cattle smuggling and informed the Principal Director of Income Tax (Investigation) Aaykar Bhavan, Kolkata, the ministry of finance and the Prime Minister's office.”
He sought the following information on 8 April 2022:
(I) Date from which the above investigation of evasion of income tax against the said Enamul Haque was started by the income tax department Kolkata.
(II) The total amount of black money related to the illegal cattle export recovered from the said Enamul.
(III) The total amount of income tax including fine & penalty recovered from Enamul Haque in relation to the illegal cattle smuggling/ export to Bangladesh since 2015 till date.
The central public information officer (CPIO) forwarded the application on 10 May 2022 to the relevant authority but replied that the information sought by the RTI applicant falls under personal information and so is exempt from disclosure under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act and 8(1)(e) of the RTI Act (as the information is held in a fiduciary capacity.) The CPIO also stated that his public authority is not within the ambit of the RTI Act. The informer filed a first appeal in June 2022 but did not get the information.
As the informer had filed a second appeal, his case was heard early this week, on 25 April 2023. Central information commissioner (CIC) Saroj Punhani heard the appellant through video conference and CPIO Amit Kumar Barua, through audio conference.
The informer argued that his reward as an informer was based on these documents and, in any case, Enamul Haque had been established as a hard-core criminal so information about him should not be a secret. He said to the CIC, “Enamul Haque is a hard-core criminal, evader of huge income tax, owner of huge illegally acquired property and having an international terrorist connection, so he cannot be treated as normal income tax payee.
“The total investigation all over lndia against Enamul was initiated by the income tax, CBI and ED and the recovery of huge unauthorised/ illegal income tax evaded money was on the basis of my information. And if no information would have been provided by me; there was no scope by the income tax or other department to proceed for any investigation and recovery of a huge amount of illegal money and income tax.”
The reason why he must have his information was: “As I have to give evidence before the court to prove the offence related with income tax and other departments; as it is related to the payment of informer reward; as all the investigation by the IT department against Enamul in relation to my complaint/ information has been completed by the income tax investigation unit; as the income tax assessment unit is not falling under the provision of exemption under RTI Act and not mentioned in the 2nd schedule; as the information sought was only in relation to the unauthorised and illegal money acquired from the illegal cattle export to Bangladesh,” he should be provided the information.
The commission observed that the reply of the CPIO is appropriate in the matter. Ms Punhani further noted that “the information sought for by the applicant such as assessed incomes, income tax demands, penalties, etc., are personal information and are exempt from disclosure under section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act…that information sought by the informer related to third parties and disclosure of the same stands exempted under Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.”
The CIC quoted the exemption of Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act which states, “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen: (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.”
Ms Punhani also observed that the informer has not argued larger public interest in the disclosure of the information, “rather has harped on the fact that he was the informer and therefore has a right to the desired information so that, if required, he can supplement the case further in court against Enamul Haque and that it concerns his informer reward. The same does not translate into larger public interest,” and, hence, rejected the informer’s second appeal and upheld the CPIO’s reply.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife. She is also the 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”.