A wife is not entitled to seek the details of the Income Tax Returns filed by her husband by filing RTI application, the Central Information Commission has observed.
Information Commissioner Neeraj Kumar Gupta observed that the filing of the Income Tax Returns by an individual with the Income Tax Department is not a public activity. "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 applicant in the absence of any larger public interest .", the Commission said.
In this case, a wife had filed an RTI application seeking income tax details of her estranged husband. The Income Tax department had refused to provide the details on the ground that the Income Tax Returns of some other individual is an exempted information u/Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act.
The commissioner referred to the Supreme Court judgment in Girish Ramchandra Deshpande v. Central Information Commission [(2013) 1 SCC 212] in which it was held that the details disclosed by a person in his income tax returns are "personal information" which stand exempted from disclosure under clause (j) of Section 8(1) of the RTI Act, unless involves a larger public interest and the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the Appellate Authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information.
The Commission also referred to the Delhi High Court judgment in Vijay Prakash v. Union of India [AIR 2010 Delhi 7] in which it was held 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'.
The Court also noted the definition of 'Third Party' and observed that the husband in this case is a 'third party' for the purpose of the RTI Act.
"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'. Therefore, Mr. G H Sharanappa being a person other than the RTI applicant surely comes within the definition of 'third party'. Moreover, the CPIO has also not intended to disclose the information treating it as confidential and has rather pleaded that there is no public interest in the matter. This Commission also does not find any public interest which outweighs the harm caused in its disclosure."
In the matter at hand, the appellant has not succeeded in establishing that the information sought is for larger public purpose, the Commission held. However, the Commission asked the Department to consider providing only the limited information of the last six years i.e. the numerical figure(s) of the 'gross income' of her husband for using the same to defend her maintenance case.