PM CARES Fund: Delhi High Court seeks Income Tax Department’s stand on plea against order setting aside CIC direction : The Tribune India

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PM CARES Fund: Delhi High Court seeks Income Tax Department’s stand on plea against order setting aside CIC direction

A Bench of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet PS Arora lists the matter for further hearing on July 10

PM CARES Fund: Delhi High Court seeks Income Tax Department’s stand on plea against order setting aside CIC direction

Photo for representational purpose only. File



PTI

New Delhi, March 1

The Delhi High Court on Friday sought the stand of the Income Tax Department on an appeal challenging an order which had set aside the Central Information Commission’s (CIC) decision directing disclosure of information about the PM CARES Fund to an RTI applicant.

A bench of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet PS Arora asked the counsel for the I-T Department to file written submissions and listed the matter for further hearing on July 10.

The division bench was hearing an appeal challenging the January 22 order of a single judge of the high court which had set aside the CIC’s direction saying that the applicant, Girish Mittal, has sought information from the Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of the Income Tax department and not the PM CARES Fund and that the department does not treat PM CARES Fund as an authority.

The single judge had allowed the petition filed by the Income Tax authority challenging the CIC’s April 27, 2022 order.

The judge had said since the information sought by the RTI applicant relates to a third party, PM CARES Fund ought to have been heard. The CIC ought to have followed the procedure specified under Section 11 of the RTI Act before ordering disclosure of information as sought by the applicant, the single judge bench had said.

The judge had noted that section 138(1)(b) of the I-T Act mandates that information relating to an assessee can only be supplied subject to the satisfaction of Principal Chief Commissioner or Chief Commissioner or Principal Commissioner or Commissioner, as the case may be.

The judge had added that the court was of the view that the CIC does not have the jurisdiction to direct furnishing of information provided for in Section 138 of the I-T Act. In any case, even if they had the jurisdiction, the failure to give PM CARES notice of hearing would in itself have vitiated the impugned order.

Mittal had filed an RTI application before the I-T seeking certain information pertaining to an exemption application under the Income Tax Act in relation to Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations Fund (PM CARES Fund) as well as all other exemption applications filed before the Income Tax Authority from April 1, 2019 till March 31, 2020.

The I-T Department said the CIC order, which refused to furnish information pertaining to other exemption applications but issued directions with respect to the PM CARES Fund, was contrary to the law.

“It is well settled that judicial orders must follow a consistent reasoning and therefore if other exemption applications and their decisions were rejected on the ground of section 8(1)(j), there is no reason whatsoever as to why the same principle should not have governed the requests for disclosure of information in so far as Para (a) and (b) of the RTI Application is concerned which deals with a specific exemption application number relating to the PM Cares Fund,” the petition said.

Section 8(1)(j) of the RTI Act allows exemption from furnishing information that is personal, the disclosure of which has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of privacy of an individual.

The petitioner stated that the information relates to a third party- the PM CARES Fund- which is a registered trust and therefore the impugned order could not have been passed without hearing that party.

The I-T authority had argued that the PM CARES Fund is a body owned and controlled by the Government of India.

Mittal’s plea for information was first rejected by the CPIO on the ground that the information sought was personal in nature and not related to any public activity or interest, and would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of an individual.

The First Appellate Authority upheld the rejection while stating that PM CARES Fund did not fall within the purview of the RTI Act.

Subsequently, he approached the CIC which refused to provide information pertaining to other exemption applications on the ground that it entailed disclosure of personal details of various third-party entities.

It had, however, directed the CPIO to reply to him indicating the factual position concerning the availability of documents in terms of paras (a) & (b) of RTI application, that is, copies of all the documents submitted in exemption application in relation to PM CARES Fund and file notings granting the approval within 15 days.

#PM CARES Fund


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