Information regarding Net Professional Fees paid to Surveyor and amount of TDS deducted by Oriental Insurance Co - information was denied u/s 8(1)(d) - CIC: only the net professional fees paid in aggregate terms may be disclosed
1. Appellant submitted RTI application dated 7 September 2012 before the CPIO, Oriental Insurance Company Limited, Bhubaneshwar seeking details in respect of the Net Professional Fees paid to Sri Beni Prasad Mohanty, Surveyor and amount of TDS deducted for the years 20052009.
2. Vide CPIO’s Order dated 17 September 2012, disclosure of information was denied to the Appellant under section 8(1)(d) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, there shall be no obligation to give any citizen, information including commercial confidence, trade secrets or intellectual property, the disclosure of which would harm the competitive position of a third party, unless the competent authority is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information; of the RTI Act, 2005.
3. Appellant preferred first Appeal to the First Appellate Authority.
4. Vide FAA’s order dated 19 October 2012, CPIO’s Order was upheld.
5. Being aggrieved and not being satisfied by the above response of the public authority, the appellant preferred second appeal before the Commission.
6. Matter was heard today. Both the parties were present today at the hearing at Bhubaneshwar through videoconferencing. Third party, Shri Beni Prasad Mohanty was also present at the hearing.
7. Third party submitted that the information sought does relate to the larger public interest. Appellant submitted that daughter of the third party has lodged a criminal case (FIR No. 152 (18) dated 20/8/2011) against him pertaining to the dowry related issue and now ‘State of Orissa’ is pursuing to prosecute Appellant before Sub Divisional judicial Magistrate, Bhubaneshwar in Criminal Case No. 2525/2011.
8. Commission in the present case has heard both the parties in detail.
9. A similar issue has been heard by the Commission in the case In Re: Manoj Kumar Saini, CIC/LS/A/2010/001044DS dated 24 March 2011.
10. The Commission has observed that:
“…14. The mandate of the RTI Act to disclose personal information under Section 8(1)(j) is even stricter since it appends the expression "larger" to "public interest". Mere public interest will not suffice in the disclosure of personal information such as the IT Returns of an assessee unless the Applicant can prove that a "larger" public interest demands such disclosure. The expression "larger" cannot be defined or carved into a straight jacketed formula and neither can it be easily disposed of. If the Applicant incessantly stresses on the argument that false dowry cases are a matter of "larger public interest" and that the information relating to IT returns of his father in law be furnished to him, then an equally challenging rebuttal could be that the Income tax Act, which defines the procedure of disclosure of such IT Returns to him, is a public policy which has been enacted by the State keeping in mind the larger good of the society. It is not the case of the Respondents that objection to disclosure of the documents is taken on the ground that it belongs to a class of documents which are protected irrespective of their contents, because there is no absolute immunity for documents belonging to such class.
15. In my view, having assessed the factual situation and the legal reasoning at hand, the correct position of law is that the right forum for seeking the IT Returns of an assessee by a third person is either the Chief Commissioner, Income tax or the Concerned Court, if the matter is subjudice. My view is furthered by the fact that the position after the repealing of section 137 of the Income tax Act, 1961 by Finance Act, 1964 is that the Court in a subjudice matter can direct the IT Authorities to furnish the information pertaining to IT Returns of an assessee for inspection by the Court. Thus, disclosure will be warranted if such line of action is followed. There is no absolute ban on disclosure of IT returns.
16. Since, the present appeal raises important questions of law; it is our duty to apply the law as it stands today. In S.P. Gupta v. Union of India  2 SCR 365, a seven Judges Bench of the Apex Court held that "the Court would allow the objection to disclosure if its finds that the document relates to affairs of State and its disclosure would be injurious to public interest, but on the other hand, if it reaches the conclusion that the document does not relate to the affairs of State or the public interest does not compel its nondisclosure or that the public interest in the administration of justice in a particular case overrides all other aspects of public interest, it will overrule the objection and order the disclosure of the documents. "It was further held that" in balancing the competing interest, it is the duty of the Court to see that there is the public interest that harm shall not be done to the nation or public service by disclosure of the document and there is a public interest that the administration of justice shall not be frustrated by withholding the documents which must be produced if justice is to be done.
17. In light of the above view taken by the Apex Court, I am inclined to make an observation in this case. I have already discussed the settled point of law regarding public interest but it is in the pursuance of the principle of that public interest only where we feel that the information pertaining to net taxable income of an assessee for the period of year 2000 till date be furnished by following the section 10 of the RTI Act to his Income tax Returns. We shall distinguish the present case from the decision of the CIC in the case of Milap Choraria v. CBDT IAppeal No. CIC/AT/A/2008/00628, dated 1562009] and in the case of P.R. Gokul v. CIT[CIC/AT/A/2007/ 00405, dated 1562007]. The Milap Chorarias case (supra) did not deal with the issue of information pertaining to net taxable income perse while the P.R. Gokuls case (supra) was not centered around the issue of larger public interest for the purpose of disclosure of net taxable income, unlike the present case. In S.P. Guptas case (supra), Supreme Court stated "The language of the provision is not a static vehicle of ideas and as institutional development and democratic structures gain strength, a more liberal approach may only be in larger public interest..."
11. In the light of the above observations, the Commission is of the view that the only Net Professional fees paid to Sri Beni Prasad Mohanty, in aggregate terms (for the respective years 20052009) may be disclosed under the RTI Act, 2005 by the CPIO as the current matter attracts the ‘larger public interest’. However, Section 10 of the RTI Act is to be followed severing his Income tax Returns in disclosing information.
12. Information as above is to be disclosed, free of cost to the Appellant within two weeks of the receipt of the information.
(Smt. Deepak Sandhu)
Information Commissioner (DS)
Citation: Shri B.B. Das Adhikary v. Oriental Insurance Co. Ltd., in Appeal: No. CIC/DS/A/2012/002663