ITAT subject to RTI though case details cannot be disclosed without applicant showing public interest
The Applicant sought from the CPIO, ITAT, inspection of records relating to appeals of Escorts Limited & another and information on how third parties can become interveners and inspection of records relating to s. 4 RTI compliance. Information on the procedure to make vigilance complaints was also sought. The application was rejected by the CPIO on the ground that ‘larger public interest’ had not been established. The appeal was rejected by the appellate authority on the ground that the Applicant was “misusing the provisions of the RTI Act to create unnecessary proceedings before the authorities who are expected to do the important government work”. It was held that the Applicant was “harassing the authorities under the said Act in the name of doing certain public good work, which is known only to his imaginations”. It was also alleged that the Applicant was not a ‘whistle-blower’ but a ‘nuisance maker’ and that he may be using the RTI Act as a ‘black-mailing or arms twisting tactics’. It was also held that judicial records were not liable for disclosure. On second appeal, HELD by the CIC:
(i) The argument that because the information held by ITAT is in the form of only judicial record, such record is outside the purview of the RTI Act is not acceptable. Even the Supreme Court and High Courts have rules for disclosure of judicial information. The only requirement is that applicant must adhere to the particular rules in making an application under the RTI Act.
(ii) On the question whether the information sought by the Applicant can be regarded as “information, the disclosure of which would amount to invasion of privacy” and exempt from disclosure u/s 8(1) (j), in Rakesh Kumar Gupta vs. PIO it was held that s. 8(1)(j) would not apply. However, as that order has been stated by the Delhi High Court, the earlier order of the CIC in Raj Kumari vs. CCIT would apply where it was held that personal information given to a public authority was not liable for disclosure. Disclosure of personal information will amount to invasion of privacy unless public interest is disclosed. Accordingly, inspection of the case files of third parties cannot be granted. However, the ITAT is liable to disclose the other information sought.
(iii) The decision of the Appellate Authority seems moved more by animosity than in reliance upon the law. The Applicant represents a class of persons created by the ITAT itself to generate information regarding delinquent activities of tax payers. In doing this, it cannot treat such a resource as a mere pest but must accept responsibility for this requirement. It may be kept in mind that this resource is sustained only by financial returns promised by disclosure about delinquent tax payers to the Department. While encouraging such an activity, the Income Tax Department cannot then seek to keep itself aloof from the consequences.