The Telangana High Court has held that a direction to produce income tax returns in Court will not violate right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution, as they are government documents accessible to others.
The Court held so while deciding a civil revision petition which challenged the order passed by a Trial Court dismissing an application to summon the income tax returns of the defendant in a civil suit.
The suit was filed by a company seeking a declaration that a property purchased in the name of the defendant was benami property, as the sale consideration was actually advanced by the company. As per the plaint, the defendant was an additional director of the company, in whose name the property was purchased. He was later removed from the directorship of the company. However, he refused to return the property by claiming it as his own. In this backdrop, the suit was filed.
In the suit, the company filed an interlocutory application to summon the defendant's income tax returns to prove its claim that he had no financial capacity to purchase the property.
The trial court dismissed the application relying on a decision of a High Court of Kerala in Raju Sebastian and others vs Union of India which held that demanding information about income tax returns without statutory backing will violate right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution. Challenging this order, the company filed the revision petition in High Court.
Allowing the revision, Justice T Amarnath Goud of the HC held that the decision in Raju Sebastian case was no applicable in the instant case, as the issue involved here was whether the defendant had financial capacity to purchase the property. It is essential to produce the income tax returns to decide the issue.
"If the same are produced before the Court below, the same does not result in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, as they are Government documents and are accessible to others", the Court observed.
Referring to an earlier decision of the HC in Pentakota Surya Appa Rao Vs. Pentakota Seethayamma, it was observed that that income tax returns are public documents and they can be summoned by the Court.
In Raju Sebastian case, a division bench of Kerala HC held that bank accounts and income tax returns constitute personal and private information, and demanding the same without statutory backing result in violation of right to privacy. On this ground, the Court held illegal the demand of petroleum companies for bank statements and income tax returns of dealers of retail outlets.
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