Bombay HC starts hearing of the petition seeking disclosure of IT return of Ajit Pawar
In November 2012, the former information commissioner at Central Information Commission (CIC) Mr. Shailesh Gandhi had filed an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act seeking details of the Income Tax (IT) returns of 2009 of the Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar. The request for disclosure of information was denied on the grounds that it was third party information and was exempted under the Act. When the matter came up in second appeal, the CIC concurred with the decision of the rejection of information relying on a Supreme Court verdict that classified IT documents as ‘personal’. The CIC held that the disclosure would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy and there is no larger public interest in disclosure.
Against the order of the CIC, Shailesh Gandhi had filed a petition in the Bombay High Court which came up for hearing before Justice R M Sawant yesterday. In his petition, he argued that exemptions under section 8 (1) (j) of the RTI Act do not apply here since Pawar was an elected representative holding public office and such information was warranted in public interest. It was further contended that if the Income Tax documents of public servants are disclosed, transparency will be restored and public perception of all politicians being corrupt might even be dispelled. Justice Sawant asked, “Is it your submission that a public servant is not entitled to any privacy at all?”
The hearing is likely to continue on April 10. The issue being debated is essentially is what category of information can be exempted as personal information in case of a third party who holds high public office and whether disclosure in public interest should override exemption to IT documents.