Information regarding the total amount of black money declared under the Income Disclosure Scheme was sought - CIC: Confidential handling of declarations made under the Scheme is of utmost importance to the Income Tax Department
O R D E R
The Appellant vide his RTI application sought information on 03 queries regarding the total amount of black money declared, state-wise and city-wise figures under the Income Disclosure Scheme, 2016 announced by the Government.
The CPIO vide its letter dated 28.10.2016 stated that Income Declaration Scheme, 2016 was maintained with absolute confidentiality about the declarants and the amount declared. Sharing of such information in public domain might cause the declarants vulnerable and jeopardize their security. Dissatisfied with the response of CPIO, the Appellant approached the FAA. The FAA vide its order dated 05.12.2016 provided information for query no. 01 that total amount fetched under IDS, 2016 was Rs. 67,382 crore which had been made by 71,726 declarants. However, with regards to query no. 2 and 3 the reply of the CPIO was upheld.
Facts emerging during the hearing:
The following were present: Appellant: Absent;
Both the parties remained absent during the hearing. Mr. Avnish, Network Engineer at the NIC Studio, Kanpur Nagar confirmed the absence of the Appellant.
On perusal of the records, it is evident that the First Appellate Authority had categorically stated that after final reconciliation, the revised figure of actual declarations received and taken on record under Income Declaration Scheme 2016 was Rs. 67382 crores made by 71726 declarants. With regard to point 2 and 3 of the RTI queries, the information sought was not disclosed on the ground that sharing of such information in public domain could make the declarants vulnerable and jeopardise their security and that the confidentiality clause was incorporated in the statute itself.
The Commission took note of the press release issued by the CIT, CBDT, New Delhi dated 15.09.2016 wherein it was stated as under:
“The CBDT has so far refrained from issuing any statement regarding number of declarations received, amounts declared or taxes paid under the Scheme in order to ensure complete confidentiality. The confidential handling of declarations made under the Scheme is of utmost importance to the Income Tax Department and the CBDT is aware of its responsibility towards fulfilling this crucial role.”
The Commission also referred to the judgement of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of Bihar Public Service Commission v. Saiyed Hussain Abbas Rizwi: (2012) 13 SCC 61 while explaining the term “Public Interest” it was held as under:
“22. The expression "public interest" has to be understood in its true connotation so as to give complete meaning to the relevant provisions of the Act. The expression "public interest" must be viewed in its strict sense with all its exceptions so as to justify denial of a statutory exemption in terms of the Act. In its common parlance, the expression "public interest", like "public purpose", is not capable of any precise definition. It does not have a rigid meaning, is elastic and takes its colour from the statute in which it occurs, the concept varying with time and state of society and its needs (State of Bihar v. Kameshwar Singh([AIR 1952 SC 252]). It also means the general welfare of the public that warrants recognition and protection; something in which the public as a whole has a stake [Black's Law Dictionary (8th Edn.)].”
The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of Ashok Kumar Pandey vs The State Of West Bengal (decided on 18 November, 2003Writ Petition (crl.) 199 of 2003) had made reference to the following texts for defining the meaning of “public interest’, which is stated as under:
“Strouds Judicial Dictionary, Volume 4 (IV Edition),'Public Interest' is defined thus:
"Public Interest (1) a matter of public or general interest does not mean that which is interesting as gratifying curiosity or a love of information or amusement but that in which a class of the community have a pecuniary interest, or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected."
In Black's Law Dictionary (Sixth Edition), "public interest" is defined as follows :
Public Interest something in which the public, or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected. It does not mean anything the particular localities, which may be affected by the matters in question. Interest shared by national government....”
In Mardia Chemical Limited v. Union of India (2004) 4 SCC 311, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India while considering the validity of SARFAESI Act and recovery of non-performing assets by banks and financial institutions in India, recognised the significance of Public Interest and had held as under :
“.............Public interest has always been considered to be above the private interest. Interest of an individual may, to some extent, be affected but it cannot have the potential of taking over the public interest having an impact in the socio-economic drive of the country...........”
The Appellant was not present to contest the submissions of the Respondent or to establish the larger public interest in disclosure which outweighs the harm to the protected interests.
Keeping in view the facts of the case and the documents available on record, no further intervention of the Commission is warranted in the matter. The Appeal stands disposed accordingly.
Citation: Mr. Vimlesh Kumar Verma v. Ministry of Finance, Department of Revenue in Appeal No.:-CIC/DOREV/A/2017/102892-BJ, Date of Decision : 05.03.2018