The income tax department clarified, in response to a request from RTI, that its public information officer does not keep information on political party tax returns. The tax office, however, felt the need to go further and establish that it is not obligated to share this information – which it does not have by its own admission – under the Law on the right to information.
This “contradictory” response was provided against an RTI request filed by RTI activist Venkatesh Nayak, who had approached the Income Tax Department to request tax returns filed by political parties over the past ten years. .
The Central Information Commission (CIC) ordered in 2008 that the tax returns of political parties be disclosed under the transparency law. The highest arbitrator in RTI cases had consistently maintained this position in subsequent orders.
However, the tax office had more to say.
“The requester is informed that the requested information is not held as such by the CPIO [Central Public Information Officer] as recorded information, the requested information must not be kept as such by the CPIO, under the rules or regulations in force, âreads the RTI response from the IT department.
Citing an order from the Supreme Court, the central public information officer of the IT department said that when the information sought is not part of the public authority’s record and should not be kept under a law or regulation, the law does not impose any obligations on the public. the authority to collect or collate this unavailable information and provide it to the requester.
The CPIO then cited five of the 10 exemption clauses of the RTI Act to point out that the information sought, not held by it, was exempt from disclosure.
She also cited another Supreme Court order that said person’s business information is personal information that is not subject to disclosure under the RTI Act.
âThe CPIO gave a totally contradictory response to this request from RTI. She first claimed that she did not have the information. It also claimed that the information was not available in the desired form as explained in RTI’s request. para of the CBSE judgment of the Supreme Court in support of its refusal. Then she also asserted that five of the 10 exemption clauses are applicable to the information sought, âNayak told PTI.
The RTI exemptions cited by the CPIO for refusing information concern intellectual property rights, trade secrets and information of a commercial confidential nature, fiduciary relationship, threat to the life and safety of persons who give confidential information to bodies responsible for law enforcement, obstructing the investigation, prosecution or apprehension and privacy of an individual.
“How can exemptions apply to information she thinks she doesn’t have, or even who is likely to have it, is a big question she hasn’t addressed in releasing this contradictory answer. “said Nayak.
Ordering the disclosure of political party tax returns, then Information Commissioner AN Tiwari said it was recognized that political parties need significant financial resources to carry out their myriad functions .
“But this recognition is tinged with the fear that non-transparent political funding may, by exposing political parties, and through it state bodies that are under the control or its influence, to the corrupting influence of undisclosed money, inflict irreversible damage on government institutions. There is a public objective in preventing such damage to the body politic, “he said.
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