Info on IT returns can't be disclosed under RTI: Apex court

The Supreme Court has ruled that the details of a person’s income tax (IT) returns and job performance cannot be disclosed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act unless larger public interest is involved.

Otherwise, making public those information would amount to unwarranted invasion into privacy, the court added.

A bench of Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra passed the judgement while declining to entertain a special leave petition filed by Girish Ramachandra Deshpande.Deshpande had sought information on IT returns and service details of an enforcement officer at Akola in Maharashtra which was denied by the Central Information Commission. Deshpande’s challenge to the CIC’s order was earlier dismissed by the Bombay High Court.

In his plea, he had contended that if the provisions of the law were properly interpreted, it could not be said that the information pertaining to employment of a person holding the post of enforcement officer has no relationship to any public activity or interest. However, the apex court did not agree with his contention.

“The performance of an employee/officer in an organisation is primarily a matter between the employee and the employer and normally those aspects are governed by the service rules which fall under the expression “personal information” the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or public interest.

“On the other hand, the disclosure would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of that individual. Of course, in a given case, if the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) or the State Public Information Officer (SPIO) of the Appellate Authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information, appropriate orders could be passed but the petitioner cannot claim those details as a matter of right,” the bench said.

The apex court further said: “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 it involves a larger public interest and the CPIO or the SPIO or the Appellate Authority is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies its disclosure.”

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